Cunningham C3 Continental Vignale Coupe

Cunningham C-3
Cunningham C3
Cunningham C3

Total Production: 27 1951 - 1954
During the 1950s, Mr. Briggs C. Cunningham Jr. made it his personal mission to claim victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans, and he financed the entire endeavor himself. Several times, he nearly accomplished his goals.

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.

In 1952 a new car was needed, one that could comply with the ever-changing rules and regulations. For 1952, the biggest hurdle was satisfying the homologation rule requiring the construction of 25 production vehicles. 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 235-horsepower Chrysler unit sending power to the rear wheels through a semi-automatic Chrysler transmission. The C-3 Continental Competition Coupes could race from zero-to-sixty mph in under seven seconds.

Inside, the occupants were treated with 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 between 1952 and 1953 by Cunningham and his team. In October of 1952, the second C-3 constructed appeared at the Paris Auto Show. By 1953, the 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