1953 Cunningham C3

History

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

1953 Vehicle Profiles

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale

Chassis Num: 5206

Briggs Swift Cunningham was a racing enthusiast from his early years and, in fact, imported the first racing Ferrari to America. He was most famous for mounting an American assault to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in many cars including Cadillac, Corve....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Coupe
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 with Zenith down-draft carburetors pushed 235 horsepower through a semi-a....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale

Chassis Num: 5211

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 ....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Cabriolet
Coachwork: Vignale

Chassis Num: C52843235

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 que....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Cabriolet
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 o....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Cabriolet
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. E....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Continental Coupe
Coachwork: Vignale

Chassis Num: 5226

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, Brig....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale

Chassis Num: 5223

Briggs Cunningham was the son of a wealthy financier and heir to the Swift meatpacking fortune. He was an individual that as constantly striving to best his competition, which began with yacht racing at Yale in the 1920s, which eventually led to inte....[continue reading]

1953 Cunningham C3 vehicle information

Coupe
Coachwork: Michelotti
Designer: Alfredo Vignale

This Cunningham is one of 25 C-3s built in 1952 by Briggs Cunningham and bodied by Vignale. This was the only one fitted for racing.....[continue reading]

Coupe by Michelotti
Chassis #: 5206 
Coupe by Michelotti
 
Coupe by Michelotti
Chassis #: 5211 
Cabriolet by Vignale
Chassis #: C52843235 
Cabriolet by Vignale
 
Cabriolet by Vignale
Chassis #: 5441 
Continental Coupe by Vignale
Chassis #: 5226 
Coupe by Michelotti
Chassis #: 5223 
Coupe by Michelotti
 


Concepts by Cunningham



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