Lot 340

Monterey 2023

1954 Cunningham C-3 Coupe by Vignale


$940,000 USD | Sold

United States | Monterey, California



Chassis No.
Engine No.
US Title
  • One of 20 Vignale-bodied coupes, and one of 27 total C-3 examples built
  • Exhaustively restored between 2005 and 2015
  • Highly awarded on the concours circuit, including class awards at Pebble Beach and Amelia Island, and best of show at the Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance
  • Formerly owned by Briggs Cunningham’s grandson
  • Documented with entry from the Cunningham Register, prior bills of sale, and restoration invoices and photos
  • Exquisitely restored example of an Italian-American classic

Long considered one of the benchmark examples of an Italian-American hybrid sports car, the Cunningham C-3 Coupe successfully combined competition-proven performance engineering with elegant European coachwork cues. That the C-3 was one of 10 automobile models chosen for the New York Museum of Modern Art’s famed 1953 exhibit about rolling sculpture is perhaps its most telling endorsement—even the art world recognized the aesthetic and functional purity of this unique creation.

As one of the founding members of the SCCA, the wealthy sportsman Briggs Swift Cunningham II dreamed of the day when an American car would win Le Mans, and he toiled for many years with the aspiration of fielding that winner. Starting in the early 1950s, Cunningham privately funded and built a succession of sports-racing roadsters that earned numerous wins at home, but the goal of winning Le Mans would remain elusive.

In the effort to qualify his racecars for FIA homologation, and to possibly subsidize his massive investment, Cunningham opted to build a roadgoing version of his racecar, which was dubbed the C-3. Impressed with the Vignale coachwork that was then appearing on various Ferrari models, Briggs reached an arrangement with the carrozzeria to body a short run of chassis.

Featuring tube-frame construction with coil-sprung front suspension, and powered by a massive Chrysler hemi-head V-8, these rolling chassis were sent from Cunningham’s production facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, to Vignale’s workshop in Turin before being returned to Cunningham team mechanic Alfred Momo at his New York City shop for final preparation. Twenty-five C-3 chassis (of just 27 built in total) were dispatched to Vignale this fashion from July 1951 to January 1953, of which 20 cars were finished by the carrozzeria as coupes. They remain the quintessential combination of brute American horsepower and refined European touring sensibilities, the best of both worlds.

According to the combined data of the Cunningham Register and Richard Harman’s dedicated marque monograph, chassis number 5442 was originally completed as chassis number 5213, built on the shorter 105-inch wheelbase chassis, and first painted in gray over a gray interior before being refinished in early 1954 in brown over red. Initially delivered in 1954 to R.L. Parish of New York City, the car was crashed in the early 1960s by the wife of a dentist residing in northern California. After being sold by an insurance company, the Cunningham was acquired by marque enthusiast Paul Rawn, who also owned the two-time Pebble Beach-winning C-3 chassis number 5227.

After passing through the care of William Cattell, the Cunningham was sold in 1974 to David Willison, and around this time a full restoration was conducted. Following completion of the refurbishment, the C-3 was awarded at the 1976 Silverado Concours, and it was displayed at the Laguna Seca racetrack in Monterey, California, in the early 1980s.

The C-3 was eventually acquired by Robert Cunningham, Briggs’ grandson, and it remained in the family’s possession until 2001, when it was sold to Peter Markowski of Vergenes, Vermont. Two years later, the Cunningham was purchased by a respected heavyweight collector based in New York, and he soon commissioned a comprehensive restoration that took many years to properly complete.

The investment proved worthwhile, however, when the completed car went on to achieve a stellar resume of concours appearances that included a class award at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, best of show at the 2016 Misselwood Concours d’Elegance, a class win at the 2016 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and the 2017 Quail Motorsports Gathering, and best of show at the 2023 Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance.

Since being sold to the consignor less than a year ago, this Cunningham has experienced very little driving time while continuing to enjoy fastidious upkeep and climate-controlled storage. The sensational restoration continues to present with exquisite character, from the sumptuous leather interior with an engine-turned Nardi steering wheel and carefully refurbished instruments, to the smartly detailed mechanical elements, which include the matching-numbers engine fitted with an original Cunningham intake manifold fed by four Zenith carburetors.

Further accompanied by a set of fitted luggage, and exhaustively documented with invoices from the award-winning restoration, this rare and beautifully presented Cunningham is assured by the consignor to impress with its torquey straight-line Chrysler hemi power. The C-3 would make a magnificent addition to any sporting collection, epitomizing the genius of its creator with its deft balance of American mechanical power and elegant European styling.