<b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text)
Lot 224
1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe
Coachwork by Vignale
Sold for US$ 313,000 inc. premium

Lot Details
<b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. 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C53-8-1852 (see text) <b>1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe</b><br />Chassis no. 5440<br />Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text)
1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe
Coachwork by Vignale

Chassis no. 5440
Engine no. C53-8-1852 (see text)

331ci OHV Chrysler FirePower Hemi V8 Engine
4 Zenith Single-Barrel Carburetors
220bhp at 4,000rpm
4-Speed Chrysler Fluid-Matic Semi-Automatic Transmission
4-Wheel Coil Springs with Independent Front Suspension and Live Rear Axle
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes

*One of only 25 C-3s produced
*Well known history
*Runs and drives
*Has been off the road for nearly 50 years
*A very complete restoration project


THE CUNNINGHAM C-3

The son of a wealthy banker, the aptly named Briggs Swift Cunningham would become the epitome of the American Sportsman thanks to his passion for speed, relentless drive, and access to ample funds. Beginning in 1940 racing his 'Bu-Merc'—a modified Buick chassis with a Buick engine and Mercedes-Benz SSK bodywork, he would seriously step up his racing efforts after WWII.

In 1950, Cunningham entered a pair of Cadillacs Series' 60s in LeMans—a stock fastback coupe and an aerodynamic roadster with custom bodywork dubbed 'Le Monstre' by the by the French. Finishing 10th and 11th overall, the experience—along with his other racing efforts—led him to develop his own racecar in 1951. His debut effort, the Cadillac powered C-1 saw no track time given the lack of financial support from Cadillac. Turning to Chrysler, who was willing to sell its Hemi V8s to Cunningham at a 40% discount, in 1951 Cunningham developed the C-2R off the C-1's chassis. While powerful, the C-2 was hampered by its portly weight, DeDion rear axle, and 3-speed transmission that limited engine braking and put undue additional wear on the drums brakes.

By this point, the organizers of LeMans had established a new rule requiring manufactures to homologate their racecars by producing at a number of road going units to participate in the race. Prompted by the rule—and looking to capitalize on selling road cars to fund his racing efforts, Cunningham set out to create a street version of the C-2R—the C-3. Featuring a ladder-tube frame similar to the C-2R's, the C-3 featured independent front suspension and a live rear axle, the latter of which weighed significantly less than the C-2R's DeDion rear axle. Power came from a 331ci Chrysler Hemi V8. After building one C2 body on a C-3 chassis, as a cost saving measure, bodywork was done by Vignale in Italy, with completed coachwork sent to Cunningham's West Palm Beach factory for final fitment.

Retailing for $9,000 for a coupe and $10,000 for a convertible when new—nearly three times the price of a Corvette—only 25 complete C-3s would leave the factory. This was all that was needed, however, for Cunningham to continue his racing efforts—now with the improved C-4R.

THE MOTORCAR OFFERED

The fourth from last C-3 produced, and the antepenultimate of 20 Coupes built, this car was originally numbered 5232 but was renumbered by the factory to the number it carries today, 5440 (this, and three other unsold C-3s received new serial numbers and plaques in February of 1954). First registered in 1954, its original owner was William C. Rands Jr.—the son of a Detroit-based bicycle part supplier magnate who had a second home in Boca Raton, Florida. Rands kept the car only about a year before selling it to fellow Michigander Howard Giradin. Mr Giradin made swift work of customizing his new car, including changing the color from the original black to red, replacing the engine with one from a new Chrysler 300, and running the power through a Chevrolet transmission. After three years, he listed the car for sale in Road & Track magazine, first in the July 1958 issue and then two months later in the September issue before selling the car to a young man from Syracuse.

The subsequent decade of the car's history is not fully known, but it is believed to have been spotted—in black and cream livery—in Newport, Rhode Island in 1965 by journalist, and now rally organizer extraordinaire, Rich Taylor. By the late 1960s, 5440 was plying the roads of Connecticut before ending up in the garage of a Mr. Frederick in New Jersey and later in a junkyard in Queens, New York. It was at that junkyard that the car was saved from the great highway in the sky by New Yorker George Anita. When found, the car was described as being in rather rough shape, with the windshield, engine, and transmission missing. Anita installed another Chrysler V8 in the car along with TorqueFlite transmission before swapping it to Ali Lugo of Connecticut for another C-3, a Convertible s/n 5441, in the early 1970s. It wasn't a complete swap, however, as Anita kept some items from the car including the left instrument cluster and the brass serial number plaque. Lugo took his new car and transferred the dash and remaining instruments and knobs to Stu Barnette—then owner of C-3 s/n 5229—before advertising the car in The New York Times in July of 1977 for $2500. Larry Tory, also of New York spotted the listing and purchased the car from Lugo. At the time, 5440 was finished in cream over brown trim and the body was said to be badly dented and rusted. Tory stripped and repainted the chassis before listing it in early 1980 Road & Track and then in the March 1980 issue of Hemmings Motor News from which it was sold to Dean Dietrich of Hinsdale, Illinois.

Dietrich was intent on restoring the car, sending it to a shop in Iowa not long after purchase. The restoration would be stillborn, however, as the car would sit basically as it had been purchased for a score of years before being discovered and acquired in 2000 by Daniel Rapley of Connecticut. From Rapley the C-3 went to Derrick Durst and in 2001 was purchased by the current owner.

Still in rough shape and incomplete, another attempt at restoration began, this time more in earnest. Using information gleaned from fellow Cunningham owners to reconstruct the damaged bodywork, especially at the tail, Obermeyer's 41 Auto Body in Allenton, Wisconsin began to bring the Cunningham back up to snuff. The entire frame was separated from the car and rotisserie restored. Parts that could not be fabricated were sourced separately, including a new windscreen to replace the broken one on the car and a rebuilt correct-type 331 cubic inch Chrysler Hemi V8 to go in place of the later motor fitted in the car. Further hard-to-find Cunningham pieces were taken from Cunningham chassis number 5236, a late production example that had never been bodied. From s/n 5236 came the Chrysler semi-automatic transmission, the four Zenith carburetors and the unique Cunningham manifold onto which those carburetors were mounted.

Beyond the damaged bodywork, some trim pieces had gone missing. Those that could not be located, such as the chrome pieces around the hood and grill as well as the dashboard, were fabricated by International Restoration in Oaklawn, Illinois. Beyond the metalwork and trim, the car also received mechanical work that has made it a running and driving car—although it has rarely been run as the interior is still in rough, incomplete shape. Unsalvageable as it sits, the remains of the interior could provide a good rubric for patterns. Once the bodywork was completed, the car was painted in the two-tone white and navy blue it wears today.

Alas, as has often in the car's past, other projects have kept its restoration sidelined. Recently completed work includes a new set of correct wheels, hub caps and tires, the rebuilding of one of the carburetors, an engine tune-up, and service to the transmission and brakes. With the current owner's restoration work now stretching over nearly two decades, some receipts are included but not every record can be found, in addition to a selection of photos both before and during the restoration.

Ready to finally be finished by the next eager owner, this Cunningham C-3 is lusting to be put back on the road after nearly a half century. One of just 20 C-3 Coupes produced, it is a rare opportunity to join an exclusive club of owners.

And should you wish to learn first hand what it is like restore and own a Cunningham, just come to Greenwich. After all, every single C-3 ever built is coming to the Concours, so your odds of stumbling upon another Cunningham owner are as good as they will ever be!

Saleroom notices

  • The Cunningham Register reports factory records as showing s/n 5440's first owner as Abraham M. Sonnabend of Boston, Massachusetts. He only kept the car briefly before selling it to William Rands, who was original identified in the catalog as the first owner. As indicated in the catalog, Rands sold the car in 1955 for Howard Giradin, but it should be noted that Giradin installed a Chrysler 2-speed PowerFlite transmission, not a Chevrolet transmission. Giradin sold the car to a young man from Syracuse, New York. At the end of 1958, Roderic Franzius, then of Nutley, New Jersey, bought the Cunningham. In January of 1962, the engine and transmission were changed again by Al Garz of Speedway Motors in Brooklyn who installed a Chrysler Imperial 392ci V8 with a single four barrel carburetor (later changed by Franzius to a triple two-barrel setup) mated to a 4-speed T-10 manual transmission (the catalog erroneous attributes this work to George Anita). While living in Buffalo, New York, accident when another car ran a stop sign in 1963. Driven after the accident from Buffalo back to Nutley, the insurance company ultimately totaled the car and sold it to Queens Auto Wrecking in Queens, New York on August 21, 1964. Pictures of the car during Mr. Franzius's ownership, both before and after the accident, as well as a letter documenting Queens Auto Wrecking purchase of the car and the towing invoice to the junkyard are on file and available for viewing. The chronological history as indicated in the catalog is correct from this point forward is correctly described.
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