The Cunningham C3 was to be the only non-racing car ever built by Briggs Cunningham and his team, and it only came about due to a last minute rule change to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1953.
This new rule called for all entered cars to have a production run of at least 25 units, and Briggs saw it as an opportunity rather than a problem – his racing team had been spending a huge amount of money, and he’d be able to make a few dollars back by selling cars with his name on them.
Briggs and his engineering team decided to use the stiff, lightweight tubular steel chassis, with independent coil-spring front suspension and live axle rear end that they’d already developed for the Cunningham C2R. Power was provided by a 331 cubic inch OHV Chrysler Hemi V8 with four Zenith single-barrel carburettors, and power is sent to the rear wheels via a Cadillac manual transmission or an optional semi-automatic.
When it came to styling the body of his new car, Briggs turned to Giovanni Michelotti. The brief was simple, it had to be better looking than the Ferraris and Jaguars that it would be competing against, and it had to be as aerodynamic as possible. Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale was chosen as the coachbuilder, and the completed rolling chassis were then finished in the USA.
The most significant problem faced during the limited production run was the time it took Vignale to build each body. The Cunningham team could build a rolling chassis each week, but the coachbuilder took as long as two months to shape the body from sheet metal using traditional techniques – and refusing to cut corners.
The Cunningham C3 that you see here is a significant example of the C3, because it’s the only one that was actively raced in period. It was entered by the Cunningham team at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, piloted by Phil Stiles. The car was then run in the feature race of the day – the 6-hour, 492 mile, 120 lap Collier Memorial handicap race. It was raced again a year later at the same venue, it would later compete in the 200 mile Governor Dan McCarty Memorial Race and in 1956 it raced in the Fiesta del Pacifico race in San Diego.
Once it retired from active competition it found its way into the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and more recently it’s been through a full restoration to exact original condition.
RM Sotheby’s will be offered the two-tone Cunningham C3 at the upcoming Arizona Auction on the 28th of January, the estimated value is between $900,000 and $1,100,000 USD – but it’s not hard to imagine it going for quite a bit more. This is an exceedingly rare American car that can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the finest Ferraris of the era.
Photo Credits: Robin Adams ©2015 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s