1953 Cunningham C3 news, pictures, specifications, and information
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
Cuoyed by the success of his race team at the 1950 running of the Le Mans 24 hours, Briggs Cunningham turned to crafting his own sports/racing cars. A Chrysler 331 Hemi fitted wîth Zenith down-draft carburetors pushed 235 horsepower through a semi-auto transmission in the C-3. The hand-fashioned aluminum body took 9 weeks to build. Cunningham produced 18 Competition Continental Coupes for $11,422.50 each. A 1953 Corvette sold for $3,498. The museum's is one of seven C-3s built wîth an extended wheelbase and one wîth an original bench seat. With only 21,000 original miles, it is the finest remaining examples of a true American original.

Source - Volo Auto Museum
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
Chassis Num: 5211
Sold for $374,000 at 2006 RM Auctions.
Sold for $341,000 at 2012 Gooding & Company.
The example shown is a C-3 Coupe and one of only 20 ever created. The first owner was William A. Burden of New York who ordered it with a list of performance improvements from the factory. Mr. Burden owned the car from 1953 and sold it to Lawrence Leeds during the same year. John Paolantonio of New Jersey became the cars third owner in 1962. The car has since passed through several owners. At the 2002 Amelia Island Concours, after a recent restoration, the car was shown. It was awarded a First Place Trophy in the American Sports Car Class. It was sold to an Englishman in 2004 and sent to Europe where it was shown at various car shows. One of the events was the Waddesdon Manor Louis Vuitton Concours in June of 2004.

At the 2006 RM Auction in Monterey, CA it was expected to sell between $400,000 - $600,000. Chassis number 5211 was offered without reserve. At the conclusion of the bidding the car had found a new owner for just under the predicted value, at $374,000.

By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2008
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
Chassis Num: 5206
Sold for $869,000 at 2015 RM Auctions.
This C3 coupe, number 5206, is the first of 20 Cunningham coupes bodied in Italy by Vignale. As such, it is often referred to as 'the prototype.' One unique feature of 5206 is a wheelbase of 105 inches, two inches shorter than the remainder of the C3 coupes. Another feature that distinguishes this car from the remaining 19 Vignale coupes is the use of curved rather than flat glass in the side windows. In addition to the 20 coupes, there were also six convertibles produced, with the last five having been bodied by Vignale. The original owner of this car was Karl Kiekhaefer, who was the owner of Mercury Marine and a person friend of Briggs Cunningham. In 1952, Mr. Kiekhaefer paid $9,000 plus an excise tax of $900 for the car.
Coachwork: Vignale
Chassis Num: C52843235
Sold for $255,000 at 2009 RM Auctions.
Briggs Swift Cunningham II was a wealthy American who loved racing yachts and automobiles, but don't dismiss him as your everyday millionaire sportsman. Cunningham was a man of strong will and undying passion. It was his tenacious clinging to the quest for perfection, complimented by his easy funding, that fueled his desire to win Le Mans and establish an American car company as a manufacturer of high quality racing machines. Cunningham was driven to win, and the great marque that he created was driven to help him.

From the start, Cunninghams were designed as racecars. The first one, designated C-1, was built on a tubular chassis. Powered by the newly-introduced Chrysler V8 with hemi heads, this machine was well designed and fairly competitive.

Mr. Cunningham saw that further refinements were needed, so the C-2R was created based on the same concept but with useful improvements. Available with open or closed bodies, the C-2R was very capable with 300hp. Further revisions on the theme came as the C-4R and C-5R, the latter of which was equipped with torsion bar suspension and managed a third place finish at Le Mans. That podium finish would be as close as Cunningham came to realizing his dream of an outright Le Mans win.

The company is usually associated with its fine racing cars, which were the nearest threat to competition Ferraris that contemporary America could create. Cunningham, though, also had a brief foray into the production car market, albeit with a very limited production run.

The car that brought Cunningham to the streets was the C-3, the first of which was built for late 1952. By early 1953, the C-3 was being produced for customers in modest numbers. Available as a coupe or cabriolet, the vehicle offered coachbuilding by Vignale. Styled by Giovanni Michelotti, the C-3 had a well-proportioned design reminiscent of some earlier Vignale-bodied Ferraris. Its looks were handsome enough to earn it a place on a list of the world's 10 greatest designs compiled by Arthur Drexler, the head of New York's Museum of Modern Art at the time of the C-3's introduction.

Cunningham's West Palm Beach, Florida plant produced the C-3's chassis, which used a tubular latter-type construction. Its front suspension was independent, with a live rear axle using trailing arms with coil springs. This rear suspension design was much simpler than the De Dion setup used on earlier Cunninghams.

Completed chassis were shipped to Italy, where Vignale installed the finished bodies. Ironic given the high cost usually associated with renowned coachbuilders, the Vignale bodies actually made the C-3 much cheaper to produce. If Cunningham had built bodies itself, the company would have needed to spend $15,000 on the production of each C-3. With a price of $8,000-$9,000 already announced, Cunningham needed a cheaper means to style its cars. Vignale was contracted to provide that means. The end result was terrific: a sleek Italian shell for one of the most potent American cars available, all delivered at a cost much closer to the promised price tag.

This Saturday, RM Auctions will be offering a 1953 C-3 Cabriolet at its Automobiles of Amelia Island event. Production numbers for the C-3 are estimated at 18 coupes and just 9 cabriolets, making this vehicle a very rare sight on the auction block. A $400,000-$600,000 sale estimate has been announced.

With over 61,000 miles on it, the Cunningham offered by RM received a lot of exercise during its lifetime. This relatively high mileage should come as no surprise. With its 331c.i. Chrysler FirePower V8 throbbing under hood to the tune of an estimated 220hp, the C-3 was not a car created for standing still.

Regardless of the mileage, this vehicle's wonderful condition is testament to caring past owners who evidently pampered every one of the C-3's miles. Incredibly, this Cunningham is believed to be an unrestored example. With so many over-restored garage queens making their way to auction, it's a relief to see such an original machine that has been both driven and maintained.

With its two-tone color scheme featuring a sporty orange finish with swoopy black side panels complementing its rakish body lines, this C-3 exudes speed. The interior is done in tan leather with a three-spoke, wood-rimmed steering wheel waiting ahead of the driver's seat. The cozy interior looks like a great place to kick back and shift trough all three gears while cranking the AM radio on a drive straight through 1953.

Further information on the Cunningham C-3 to be offered by RM Auction is available on their website here: http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=AM09&CarID=r125.
Other Sources:
Wise, David Burgess. 'Cunningham, USA 1951-1955.'The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Automobiles. 2000.
'1954 Vignale Cunningham C3.' ClassicCars.com 12 Mar 2009

By Evan Acuña
Coachwork: Vignale
Much has been written of the heroic Cunningham racing program of the 1950s when Briggs Cunningham fought hard to win at LeMans. Not so much is known of the road cars he had to build in order to be classed as a manufacturer for the race. This is one of four convertible C-3 Cunninghams built at West Palm Beach and bodied by Vignale in Turin, Italy. The engine is the Chrysler Hemi V8. Advertised with a price of $14,000, this is an expensive and exclusive car, especially in this rare convertible style. The C-3 coupe was a little more successful and around twenty were sold. Cunninghams were admired by those 'in the known' but for Briggs they were a means to an end; he wanted to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The C3 chassis was produced at Cunningham's plant in West Palm Beach, Florida. It included the same mechanical features as the racing cars - a ladder-type tubular frame, coil-spring suspension and a modified Chrysler V8 engine with hemispherical combustion chambers. The body, made of aluminum and displaying an oval grille, was designed by Giovanni Michelotti and built in Italy by Carrozzeria Vignale. The original 105-inch wheelbase was stretched two inches to accommodate 2+2 seating.

The 331.1 cubic-inch overhead-valve, V8 engine produced 210-235 horsepower and the C3 Cunningham had a top speed of 138 mph. The engine was coupled to a three-speed manual or semi-automatic transmission. The car sold for between $9,000 and $11,423 new, and Briggs Cunningham lost money on every car.

The current owner restored the car in 2009.
Coachwork: Vignale
Chassis Num: 5441
Briggs S. Cunningham, 'The Great American Sportsman,' won races on land and sea. A key goal was to win Le Mans with a car with his name on it. To qualify, he had to build 25 running chassis for road cars at his facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. Each chassis carried an enhanced version of the most powerful American production engine, the Chrysler Hemi V8. Completed chassis were shipped to Italy for custom alloy bodies and interiors by noted Ferrari supplier Vignale of Turin. Of the 25 cars, most were fast-back coupes and the rest were four cabriolets which were expensive at more than $14,000, which was double the price of the next most costly American car and about the same as an exclusive Ferrari or three times the cost of a sporty Jaguar. One of the four cabriolet buyers was nelson Rockefeller, former New York Governor and Vice President of the United States. He loaned his cabriolet to the New York Museum of Modern Art, which labeled it one of the world's most beautiful automobiles.

This Cabriolet was the last to be built and was shipped to Vignale on February 3rd, 1953. The original owner of this car was Irving Robbins of Palo Alto, CA. He showed it at Pebble Beach. It was later featured in Road & Track magazine and the Encyclopedia of American Cars. The next owner was Stu Barnett of Clearwater, Florida, followed by Charles Cawly of Maine. It was also owned for a short time by Briggs's daughter, Lucie Cunningham McKinney until her passing in 2014.
Continental Coupe
Coachwork: Vignale
Chassis Num: 5226
Sold for $539,000 at 2011 Gooding & Company.
As the only series production model manufactured at Cunningham's Palm Beach, Florida factory, the C3 was a hot rod in European disguise. Coming from one of the first American companies to manufacture for and compete in European endurance racing, Briggs Cunningham needed to produce 25 examples to be eligible for LeMans in 1953. In total, five cabriolets and 20 coupes were created.
This Cunningham C-3 was shipped to Carrozzeria Vignale in late September of 1952. It returned to the United States in March of 1953 where it underwent final assembly in preparation for delivery. When it left the Cunningham factory, it was finished in Cunningham's classic three-tone color scheme with a tan upper section, blue panels and a black main section. The interior was finished with tan trim and outfitted with a Mopar radio and heater. The first owner, Jack B. Hinkle, took possession of the car sometime after May of 1953.

It is believed that the Cunningham remained in his care until 1957, when it was sold to Larry Bass. The history of the car from that point until the early 1980s is not really known. By that time in history, the car was in the car of Melvin Olshansky, owner of the Volo Museum. Shortly after receiving the car, it was treated to an exhaustive restoration that is said to have taken eight years. It received an AACA National First Prize at the Hershey Meet in 1993.

In 2006, the current owner acquired the car. The car was then treated to another restoration and is currently finished in blue and light gray color scheme with matching dark blue interior. It rides on the optional wire wheels, period-appropriate tires and correct 'log' manifold.

In 2011, the car was brought to Pebble Beach and offered for sale at the Gooding & Company auction. It was estimated to sell for $350,000 - $450,000. As bidding came to a close, the car had been sold for the sum of $539,000 inclusive of buyer's premium.

By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2012
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
Chassis Num: 5223
This Cunningham C-3 was Briggs Cunningham's personal C-3 Coupe and the one he never sold. In 2003, Briggs passed away and left the car to his daughter, Lucie. Lucie passed in 2014 and the estate sold the car to its current owner. It has been in the Briggs' nuclear family for 61 years.

This Cunningham is the only C-3 with power windows and the only one with an automatic transmission. Another unique feature are the Lady Bug on the tire valves. It has 10,097 miles from new and wears a body by Vignale. It is also one of just 25 C-3 models built.
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.

By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2008
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C3 Continental Vignale Coupe

Image Left 1952 C31954 C-3 Image Right
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