1952 Cunningham C3

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.

Vehicle Profiles

Coachwork: Vignale
Designer: Giovanni Michelotti

Chassis Num: 5210
Engine Num: C52-8-8717

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. ....[continue reading]

West Palm Beach Coupe

Chassis Num: 5206X

In the early 1950s, Briggs S. Cunningham built racecars at his West Palm Beach factory. His goal was to produce an American racecar that could compete in the famous LeMans.....[continue reading]

Coachwork: Vignale
Designer: Giovanni Michelotti

Chassis Num: 5208

In order to qualify for production car status at LeMans in 1953 all entrants had to build 50 cars and to establish himself as a manufacturer, Cunningham produced the C-3 Coupe and Cabriolet and, although the project fell short of the 50 cars 25 Vigna....[continue reading]


Chassis Num: 5236

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 ....[continue reading]

Coachwork: Vignale
Designer: Giovanni Michelotti

Briggs Swift Cunningham was born in Cincinnati. He aspired to race at Le Mans, and ultimately finished 4th in 1952. He financed Enzo's Ferrari and envisioned his Cunningham as the American version of the famous Italian sports car. Much like the Pinin....[continue reading]

Coupe by Vignale
Chassis #: 5210 
West Palm Beach Coupe
Chassis #: 5206X 
Coupe by Vignale
Chassis #: 5208 
Chassis #: 5236 
Coupe by Vignale


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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