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Cunningham History

1953 Cunningham C3

Chassis number : C52843235

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Sold for $255,000 at 2009 Automobiles of Amelia Island.
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 the 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 a 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 through all three gears while cranking the AM radio on a drive straight through 1953.


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

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2009 Automobiles of Amelia Island

Pre-Auction Estimates :
USD $400,000-USD $600,000 
Sale Price :
USD $255,000

1953 Cunningham C3 Auction Sales

Recent Sales of the Cunningham C3

(Data based on Model Year 1953 sales)
1953 Cunningham C-3 Cabriolet by Vignale
Chassis#: 5441
Sold for USD$1,215,000
  2022 RM Sothebys : Amelia Island
1953 Cunningham C3 image  1953 Cunningham C3 image  
1953 Cunningham C-3 Coupe by Vignale
Chassis#: 5223
Sold for USD$1,100,000
  2017 RM Sothebys : Monterey
1953 Cunningham C3 image  1953 Cunningham C3 image  
1953 Cunningham C3 Coupe by Vignale
Chassis#: 5206
Sold for USD$869,000
  2015 RM Sotheby's : The Andrews Collection
1953 Cunningham C3 image  1953 Cunningham C3 image  
1953 Cunningham C-3 Continental Coupe
Chassis#: 5211
Sold for USD$341,000
  2012 Gooding and Company - Pebble Beach Auction
1953 Cunningham C3 image  1953 Cunningham C3 image  
1953 Cunningham C-3 Continental Coupe
Chassis#: 5226
Sold for USD$539,000
  2011 Gooding and Company - Pebble Beach Auctions
1953 Cunningham C3 image  1953 Cunningham C3 image  
1953 Cunningham C3
Sold for USD$255,000
  2009 Automobiles of Amelia Island
1953 Cunningham C3 image  1953 Cunningham C3 image  
1953 Cunningham C3 Competition Continental Coupe
Sold for USD$374,000
  2006 Monterey Sports & Classic Car Auction
1953 Cunningham C3 image  1953 Cunningham C3 image  

Cunningham C3s That Failed To Sell At Auction

1953 Cunningham C3's that have appeared at auction but did not sell.
VehicleChassisEventHigh BidEst. LowEst. High

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1953 Cunningham C3 Profiles

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
Chassis #: 5211
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
Chassis #: 5206
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Cabriolet
Coachwork: Vignale
Chassis #: C52843235
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Cabriolet
Coachwork: Vignale
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Cabriolet
Coachwork: Vignale
Chassis #: 5441
Engine #: C52-8-43235
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Continental Coupe
Coachwork: Vignale
Chassis #: 5226
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale
Chassis #: 5223
1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information
Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale