1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe

Coachwork by Vignale

Briggs Swift Cunningham, born into wealth, epitomized the American sportsman with his passion for speed, relentless drive, and ample funds. He began racing in 1940 with his “Bu-Merc,” a hybrid of a Buick chassis and engine with a Mercedes-Benz SSK body. After WWII, he intensified his racing efforts.

In 1950, Cunningham entered two Cadillac Series 61s in Le Mans: a stock fastback coupe and a custom-bodied roadster nicknamed “Le Monstre” by the French. They finished 10th and 11th overall. This experience, along with other races, led Cunningham to develop his own racecar in 1951.

The Cadillac-powered C-1 saw no track time due to Cadillac’s lack of support, so Cunningham turned to Chrysler, which provided Hemi V8s at a 40% discount. He developed the C-2R based on the C-1’s chassis in 1951. Although powerful, the C-2R was hindered by its weight, DeDion rear axle, and 3-speed transmission, which increased brake wear.

Le Mans’ new rule requiring manufacturers to produce road-going versions of racecars prompted Cunningham to create the C-3. The C-3 had a ladder-tube frame, independent front suspension, and a live rear axle, powered by a 331ci Chrysler Hemi V8. Vignale in Italy built the bodywork, assembled in Cunningham’s West Palm Beach factory.Retailing at $9,000 for coupes and $10,000 for convertibles, 25 C-3s were produced.

Photos by Theodore W. Pieper courtesy of RM Sotheby’s