Spring is on the horizon and convertible season is about to begin. If you’re looking for a drop top, put down that Sawzall and take a look at this absolute beauty. This 1953 Cunningham C-3 Cabriolet was built to satisfy the 24 Hours of Le Mans homologation rules and one man’s dreams to race. I can’t stop staring at this charming vehicle.
This wonderful vehicle is going up for sale at RM Sotheby’s. The car is the brainchild of Briggs Cunningham, a man who sounds like a lot of gearheads.
He loved to go fast in anything with an engine, regardless if it flew, sailed, or sped down the blacktop. He was born in 1907 to a financier and heir to the Swift meatpacking fortune. And as his site notes, he fell in love with auto racing at an early age. As a teenager after World War 1, Cunningham participated in street races with his uncle in a Dodge powered by a Hispano-Suiza aircraft engine. That sparked a need for speed that carried him all of the way to his death in 2003.
Cunningham’s biggest obsession was with Le Mans. He raced in the event nine times between 1950 and 1963. And his goal wasn’t just to win the race, but win it in an American car driven by an American driver. His cars were pretty wild, from a biography on Cunningham’s site:
When Cunningham’s Fordillac (a 1950 Ford with a Cadillac engine) was rejected by the Automobile Club de l’Oest for entry into the 1950 French race because it was seen more as a hot rod than a production model, he bought and entered two Cadillacs-one with the standard Coupe de Ville body, the other in an ungainly body designed and built after hours by a group of engineers from Grumman Aircraft. It was immediately dubbed Le Monstre by the French.
And Cunningham didn’t just want to win in any American car, but his own. So he opened the B.S. Cunningham Company to build Le Mans racers. It first built the C-1 for Le Mans practice and the C-2R racers. In 1952, Cunningham had to play by the rules, Hagerty notes, and in order to compete as a manufacturer he had to build 25 production vehicles. That would be horribly prohibitive for any mere mortal, but Cunningham was not any normal person. Enter the Cunningham C-3 Cabriolet.
The C-3 rode on a tube frame chassis similar to the C-2 with a coil-spring live axle out back with upper and lower trailing arms on each side. The suspension parts were off-the-shelf components from different manufacturers.
Under the hood is a Chrysler 5.4-liter FirePower Hemi V8. In stock form, this was good for 180 HP. But with four Zenith single-barrel carburetors power got bumped to 220 HP and 300 lb-ft torque.
Those would be solid numbers even for today! You got that for $10,000 to $13,000, or $106,093 to $137,921 in today’s money.
The RM Sotheby’s ad details this car’s history:
This Cunningham C-3 was shipped to Vignale on 3 February 1953, returning to New York a month later. Completed in 1953 and finished in red, it spent the summer of 1954 on display at Alfred Momo’s in New York. In August, racer and rare book collector Irving Robbins of Northern California purchased the car, giving up his race-damaged Cunningham C-2 on trade. Mr. Robbins would ship the car to California and it would be shown in 1956 and 1957 at the then-fledgling Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. In 1957 the car was featured in Road & Track and in the Encyclopedia of American Cars.
Amazingly, it and the other 24 C-3s built are all accounted for.
The car has changed hands several times since then and today it’s offered for sale by a private collector. It’s expected to sell for $900,000 to $1,200,000, so maybe you might want to pick that Sawzall back up.