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Cunningham History

1952 Cunningham C3

Chassis number : 5236

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Sold for $275,000 at 2016 Bonhams : The Amelia Island Auction.
Briggs Swift Cunningham was the son of a wealthy banker. He had a passion for speed and racing; beginning in 1940, he raced his 'Bu-Merc' - a modified Buick chassis with a Buick engine and Mercedes-Benz SSK bodywork. After World War II, he continued to step-up his racing efforts. In 1950, Cunningham entered a pair of Cadillac Series 60s in LeMans, finishing 10th and 11th overall.

In 1951, he developed his own racecar. It was dubbed the Cunningham C-1 and given Cadillac power. Due to a lack of financial support from Cadillac, it saw very little track time. Chrysler, however, was willing to sell its Hemi V8s to Cunningham at a 40-percent discount. In 1952, the Cunningham C-2R made its debut, featuring a chassis developed from the C-1. The Chrysler Hemi engine provide plenty of power, however the C-2 was hampered by its weight, DeDion rear axle, and 3-speed transmission that limited engine braking, resulting in additional wear on the drum brakes.

By this point in history, LeMans had established a new rule requiring manufacturers to homologate their racecars. The rule stated that at least 25 road going units were required to be produced in order to participate in the race. Undeterred, Cunningham set out to create a street version of the C-2R, which was called the C-3. It was given a ladder-tube frame in similar fashion to the C-2Rs, with an independent setup in the front and a live rear axle. Under the bonnet was a 331 cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi V8. One C3 was given a C2 before bodywork was turned over to Vignale in Italy. Vignale would complete the coachwork and send it to Cunningham's West Palm Beach factory for final fitment. The completed cars were then offered to the public, at a price that was nearly three times the price of a Corvette. The Coupes had a price of $9,000 while the convertibles sold for $10,000. Just 25 examples of the C-3 were built; enough to satisfy the homologation requirements.

This particular example was sold new to Hilltop Trailer Sales in Evansville, Indiana. It was one of 14 C-3 chassis that were built but never given their Vignale coachwork. The car remained in the Midwest before eventually making its way to a Wisconsin farm, where it would remain - still without a body - for decades. The car was later discovered by its current caretaker. By this point in history, the farmer had fitted a radiator and a seat, and drove it on his farm. Most of the chassis's original parts, paint, brakes and suspension were still with the vehicle.

After acquiring the vehicle, the current caretaker began a complete restoration of the running gear. New coachwork in the style of the C-2R was fabricated in aluminum by coachbuilder Bill Leahy. The original engine was retained, albeit with a cracked block, which was replaced with another 331 CID Chrysler Firepower V8. The original semi-automatic transmission was replaced with a T-10 4-speed manual.

The restoration work was completed in 2012. It was featured in the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival XXVIII in September of 2015 where it ran the re-enactment of the road course behind a C-4R that had competed there in period.


By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2016

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2016 Bonhams : The Amelia Island Auction

Pre-Auction Estimates :
USD $275,000-USD $325,000 
Sale Price :
USD $275,000

1952 Cunningham C3 Auction Sales

Recent Sales of the Cunningham C3

(Data based on Model Year 1952 sales)
1952 CUNNINGHAM C-3
Chassis#: 5236
Sold for USD$275,000
  2016 Bonhams : The Amelia Island Auction
1952 Cunningham C3 image  1952 Cunningham C3 image  
1952 Cunningham C3 Coupe by Vignale
Chassis#: 5208
Sold for USD$1,210,000
  2016 RM Sothebys : Arizona
1952 Cunningham C3 image  1952 Cunningham C3 image  
1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe
Chassis#: 5210
Sold for USD$550,000
  2014 Gooding & Company - The Scottsdale Auction
1952 Cunningham C3 image  1952 Cunningham C3 image  
1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe
Chassis#: IND 2011044
Sold for USD$407,000
  2013 Auctions America - California
 

Cunningham C3s That Failed To Sell At Auction

1952 Cunningham C3's that have appeared at auction but did not sell.
VehicleChassisEventHigh BidEst. LowEst. High
1952 Cunningham C-3 West Palm Beach Coupe5206X2011 RM Auctions at Monterey$550,000$675,000$875,000

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1952 Cunningham C3 Profiles

1952 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Vignale
Designer: Giovanni Michelotti
Chassis #: 5210
Engine #: C52-8-8717
1952 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Vignale
Designer: Giovanni Michelotti
Chassis #: 5208
1952 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Roadster
Chassis #: 5236
1952 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Vignale
Designer: Giovanni Michelotti
1952 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Vignale
Designer: Giovanni Michelotti