Sold for $550,000 at 2014 Gooding & Company
Briggs Cunningham may have been born in Cincinnati, Ohio, right in the heartland of America, but he could have been right at home in Modena, or Maranello, Italy, such was his approach to automobile-making.
Besides being considered the builder of what many consider to be America's first sports car and earning a 4th place at the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans, Cunningham understood well the axiom of 'win on Sunday, sell cars on Monday'.
Enzo Ferrari had started out building race cars but would soon come to realize the need to build cars for the street in order to fund his racing aspirations. Furthermore, he quickly realized the current climate suggested the common person wanted the same kind of performance in their street cars as that which they had witnessed at the races. This would eventually lead to a whole new world of the luxurious sports car.
All of these stages Cunningham understood quite well. He fancied Cunningham automobiles to be Ferrari of North America. Therefore, Briggs wouldn't just have ideas for race cars rattling around in his mind. He also had notions of luxurious performers bearing the Cunningham name.
Following the expensive and luxury-light C-1, Briggs would receive some very important help. Cunningham would contact Carrozzeria Vignale based in Turin, Italy. He would propose to them his idea of building a luxurious performer. What he wanted from them was a classic body to grace his C-2 chassis. It would be known as the C-3
What Cunningham suggested was by no means a cheap and straight-forward process. This required Cunningham rolling chassis to be shipped to Turin where they would be fitted with Vignale bodies, and then, shipped back to the United States. However, Briggs believed the coachmaker to hold the key to his notion of a road-going sports car. Besides, it couldn't be any worse than the $15,000 C-1 no one wanted.
Compared to American cars of the time, the C-3 was certainly European in its size and looks. However, when compared to Ferraris and Maseratis of the same time period, the car was still much bigger.
It is not entirely clear just how many of the C-3s would be built by Cunningham. The number suggested by Briggs himself would be just around 30. One of those would be chassis 5210.
In early April of 1952, chassis 5210 would make its way across the Atlantic to Vignale in Turin. Five months later, the chassis would return with its Vignale body. The end result would be a two-tone livery consisting of metallic grey and metallic blue. Inspection of the interior would reveal a C-3 quite similar to the others completed by Vignale. However, this particular example would include a winged emblem. The car would also be the first of the C-3s to receive suspension revisions by 'Red' Byron.
Upon arriving back at Cunningham factory, 2510 would remain as a company demonstrator to serve as a vision of Briggs' intentions for his small company. Its Vignale body would lead to the car being featured in an October issue of Mechanix Illustrated in 1953 and then in The Modern Sports Car. Throughout the first couple of years of returning to Cunningham, 2510 would undergo some changes to its hubcaps, gear-selector quandrant and horn. Then, in 1953, the car would be sold to Edmond DuPont.
DuPont would keep the Cunningham C-3 in his possession until 1960 when it was sold to Wilmington Automotive Activities Inc. Before it was sold again in 1962, the car would undergo more changes. The original paint would be changed to blue and white and the original bumpers would be removed. Eventually, the car would pass to George Sterner, and, then, to Ed Jurist and his Vintage Car Store in Nyack, New York.
In 1967, David Deuble would purchase the car and would immediately set to work removing the original seats and repainting the car in American racing livery. In that condition, the car would be sold in 1975 to A. Vail Frost who would prepare to have the car undergo a complete restoration. Unfortunately, this process would not be able to begin until 2002. Still, the work would be completed in 2004 with a majority of original parts used in the process. One of the major finishing touches to the car would be to repaint the car in its original two-tone livery. The results would be rewarding, literally.
Throughout 2005 to 2007, the Cunnningham C-3 would earn Best of Show and First in the Sports Car class at the Kentucky Concours d'Elegance. It would also earn the Star Award at the 2006 Burn Foundation Concours, as well as, the Most Outstanding Hemi at Amelia Island that same year.
The C-3 would be sold again in 2007 and would be treated to further restoration and maintenance. Then, in 2009, 2510 would take part in the Colorado Grand and would complete the distance without any problems. Since then, the bumpers have been refitted presenting a nearly identical look to that which arrived from Turin back in 1952. It is fitting then that Cunningham's demonstration car would appear in its near original condition to continue in its representative role for America's first sports car manufacturer.
Presented at the Gooding & Company auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Cunningham C-3 was drawing pre-auction estimates of between $450,000 and $550,000.Sources:
'1952 Cunningham C-3 News, Pictures, Specifications and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z8712/Cunningham-C3.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z8712/Cunningham-C3.aspx. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
'Cunningham Sports Cars: 1953 C-3', (http://www.briggscunningham.com/home/sportscars/c3-html/). Briggs Cunningham American Racing Tradition. http://www.briggscunningham.com/home/sportscars/c3-html/. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
'Lot No. 21: 1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe', (http://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1952-cunningham-c3/). Gooding & Company. http://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1952-cunningham-c3/. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
Lloyd, Barbara. 'Briggs Cunningham, 96, Racecar Pioneer and Sailing Champ', (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/05/sports/briggs-cunningham-96-racecar-pioneer-and-sailing-champ.html). The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/05/sports/briggs-cunningham-96-racecar-pioneer-and-sailing-champ.html. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
By Jeremy McMullen
Briggs Swift Cunningham was a sports car driver who raced at tracks like Sebring and Le Mans, he raced Cadillac, Corvettes and Jaguars. In 1951 he then started to build his own cars, Cunninghams, including the C-3 with a powerful Chrysler Hemi engine.
The 1952 C-3 Cunningham arrived in the USA. Alfredo Vignale's Carrozzeria Vignale Coachworks in Turin, Italy was building the bodies. The design was similar to the Ferrari 212 and 225 models. It is believed that 19 coupes and 4 cabriolets were built.
This is the car described and photographed in Mechanix Illustrated October, 1953, featured in Modern Sports Car and road tested by Phil Stiles.
The C-3's ladder-type chassis had independent front suspension and a coil sprung Chrysler rear axle located by parallel trailing arms. Leather seats, large speedometer and matching combination gauges. The engine was a stock 331 cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi with four Zenith downdraft carburetors. Horsepower was 220.
During the 1950's Mr. Briggs C. Cunningham Jr. made it his personal mission to claim victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans. Several times, he came very close to accomplishing his goals. He financed the entire endeavor himself.
The first in the series was dubbed the C-1. It was powered by a 331 cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi and matted to a tubular chassis. It was suspended in place by a De Dion rear suspension and a front coil-spring setup. Only one C-1 was ever created and it was designed for road use. The C-2, also called the C-2R, was introduced in 1951. There were three examples created, all designed for racing competition. One was driven by John Fitch and Phil Walters at LeMans where they managed to run as high as 2nd place. The fuel for the event was supplied by the French organizers which turned out to be the team's downfall. It did not work well with the Chrysler engine and eventually the Hemi's valves began to burn. When the C-2R models returned to the United States, they solidified their potential by winning at Road America and Watkins Glen.
For 1952 a new car was needed, one that could comply with the ever-changing rules and regulations. For the 1952 year, the biggest hurtle was satisfying the homologation rule which stated that 25 production vehicles needed to be created. A prototype of the C-3 was created at Cunningham's West Palm Beach factory. At the time of completion, it was estimated that the build cost was around $15,000 and the selling price of $8000 to $9000 would fall short of covering the cost.
In an effort to manage costs, Alfredo Vignale's of Turin, Italy was tasked with building the bodies to a new design by Giovanni Michelotti. The result was one of America's most stunning Gran Turisimo vehicles ever created.
The ladder-type tub chassis was very similar to the C-2. A coil-sprung Chrysler live axle located by parallel trailing arms replaced the prior De Dion rear end suspension. The eleven-inch drum brakes were borrowed from Mercury. The 105 inch wheelbase was initially used but was later enlarged to be more accommodating for the 2+2 configuration. The engine was a Chrysler unit that produced 235 horsepower which was sent to the rear wheels through a semi-automatic Chrysler transmission. The C-3 Continental Competition Coupes could race from zero-to-sixty in under seven seconds.
Inside the occupants were treated pleated leather seats and large instrumentation. The spare tire and fuel tank occupied most of the space in the trunk so luggage had to be carried inside the vehicle. The first C-3 Coupe, named Continental, was shown throughout 1952 and 1953 by Cunningham and his team. In October of 1952, the second C-3 constructed made an appearance at the Paris Auto Show. By 1953, production of the C-3 was in full swing, able to create a chassis a week. The bottleneck was with Vignale who required almost two months to finish the rest of the vehicle. In total, five cabriolets and twenty coupes were created with the coupes carrying a price of $11,422.50.
Cunningham made additional attempts at winning at LeMans with his C-4R, C-4RK, C-5R and C-6R.
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