1954 Cunningham C3 Vignale Coupe
Lot 857 | Passion for the Drive: The Cars of Jim Taylor | Estimate: $900,000 - $1,100,000
Chassis No. 5442
Engine No. 52-8-10226
Works Order No. 21
The Cunningham car of the early 1950s was the product of revered sportsman Briggs Cunningham's determination to win the 24-hour race at Le Mans with an American-built automobile. Cunningham had attempted the feat with production-based Cadillacs but, finding them not sufficient to the task, endeavored to build his own car, backed by his not-inconsiderable fortune and bottomless enthusiasm. His team developed a strong tubular chassis with independent coil-sprung front suspension and tuned Chrysler Hemi V-8 power, wrapped in slippery bodywork, and it won at Road America and Watkins Glen in 1951.
Le Mans proved a trickier nut to crack, as the organizers insisted that Cunningham build at least 25 roadgoing examples of the design in order to qualify. He decided that selling such a model to wealthy friends would both add clout and bring in some extra revenue for the project, and, accordingly, the Cunningham C3 was born. Mechanically it was very similar to the racing chassis, built in the same shop at West Palm Beach, but the sleek, Ferrari-like coupe and cabriolet bodies came from Italian coachbuilder Vignale; chassis were shipped to Italy, bodied, and then returned to the States. The result was large, cushy, but astonishingly competent; 0-60 mph took about 7 seconds and top speed was nearly 150 mph.
In the end, Cunningham met the Le Mans organizers' goal, building his 25 cars. He finished 3rd at Le Mans in both 1953 and 1954, still a powerful achievement, to which the surviving Cunningham C3s stand in testimony. They are among the most significant and beloved American sports cars ever produced.
According to Richard Harman's authoritative book, Cunningham: The Passion, The Cars, The Legacy, C3 no. 5442, the second-from-last coupe built, was based upon the renumbered unused chassis originally designated 5213, and completed in the spring of 1953, likely in metallic grey with grey interior trim, 20-gallon fuel tank, and engine no. 52-8-10226, still installed today, carrying four Zenith single-barrel carburetors. It was originally delivered in the spring of 1954 to R.L. Parish of New York City. Subsequently it moved west and in the early 1960s was repaired following an accident while being driven by a lady in Northern California.
The car was bought in 1964 by Paul Rawn, who sold it a decade later to William Cattell, who began a complete restoration, including reconstruction of the original Vignale bumpers. Following completion of the restoration, the car was an award-winner at the Silverado Concours in 1976, and remained with Mr. Cattell for several years. Subsequently the C3 was owned by David Willison and by Briggs Cunningham's grandson, Robert B. Cunningham. In 2001 it was sold by Mr. Cunningham to enthusiast Peter Markowski, from whom Mr. Taylor acquired the car in 2003.
Mr. Taylor immediately embarked upon a complete restoration, eventually completed in this striking combination of grey hues, borrowed from the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours Best of Show-winning Horch 853 Special Roadster. Following completion of the work, the car was a class winner at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, 2nd in the special Cunningham feature class at Pebble Beach in 2015, and Best of Show at Misselwood in 2016, Award Winner in its class at The Quail in 2017, and featured as part of the epic reunion of Cunninghams held at the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance in 2018.
The intention of the restoration had been to win such awards, and then exercise the Cunningham on the road in typical Taylor fashion; however, it turned out so beautifully that it has remained a showpiece since completion. Accordingly, the car still presents utterly beautifully throughout, with an especially lovely leather interior with an engine-turned Nardi steering wheel, Wilton wool carpeting, carefully concealed AM/FM/MP3 radio with rear deck speaker, heater, and the original hammer-finished hardware; the original dashboard gauges, including a tachometer; and fitted luggage. The engine compartment is well-finished, including the original Cunningham intake manifold; windshield washer bottle; and MoPar tar-top battery. Accompanying the car are exhaustive invoices and a selection of restoration photographs.
Because of their bespoke nature and wonderful heritage, every Cunningham C3 is a significant automobile. Few, however, stand as prominently as this one, bearing an exceptional, cost-no-object restoration, in spectacular colors, and with an extremely authentic presentation that has won awards across the country. It is truly one of the very finest of its kind and a proven victor – something that Briggs Cunningham, the passionate competitor, would certainly appreciate. There is likely no finer example available.