1953 Cunningham C-3 Continental Coupe

It’s an exotic alternative to the hordes of Hemi-powered muscle cars-a 331-ci Hemi wrapped in an Italian body on a Le Mans-inspired chassis

Wealthy American sportsman Briggs Cunningham made a heroic effort to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1950s-in cars he manufactured himself. Remarkably, he came close several times.

The first Cunningham was the C-1, a low roadster powered by a 331-ci Chrysler Hemi V8. It was followed in 1951 by the C-2R, three of which were built for racing. John Fitch and Phil Walters ran as high as 2nd at Le Mans, before bad fuel burned valves in their engine. Back in the States, the C-2Rs cleaned up, beating Jaguar and Ferrari at Road America and Watkins Glen.

The C-3 coupe was introduced in 1952, ostensibly for both road and track. Cunningham contracted with Alfredo Vignale’s Turin coachworks to build a new design by Giovanni Michelotti. The ladder-type tube chassis was similar to the C-2R, but with a simpler Chrysler rear axle. The 235-hp Chrysler Hemi V8 used four Zenith downdraft carburetors and a semi-automatic transmission for sub 7-second 0-60 times.

The 1953 Cunningham C-3 design bears more than a passing resemblance to early Ferrari 212 and 225 models. The dash is dominated by a large speedometer and combination gauge, with a clock and a small tachometer between. Luggage has to be carried in the car, as the spare and fuel tank fill the trunk.

Miles Collier

Miles Collier - SCM Contributor

Miles is a retired business executive, practicing artist, investor, philanthropist and noted authority on vintage automobiles. He nurtured his interest in art at Yale University, where he received a B.A. in Painting. When family business intervened, he received an MBA from Columbia University. He retired as Managing Partner of Collier Enterprises in 1995 and returned to painting, which he does professionally. Collier maintains a significant automobile collection in Naples, FL. He recently hosted one of his prestigious symposiums on automobile connoisseurship.

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