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1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe : Classic Cars

In the early 1950s, Briggs S. Cunningham built racecars at his West Palm Beach factory. His goal was to produce an American racecar that could compete in the famous LeMans.

In 1952, he built a road car based on his C-2R racer and called it the C-3. The C-3, a two-door hardtop, is powered by an overhead-valve 331 cubic-inch, 220 horsepower, Chrysler engine. The car was designed by Giovanni Michelotti and bodied by Vignale Carrozzeria. The car weighed 2,800 lbs., sold for $10,000 to $11,442, and could attain a top speed of 138 mph. They had a tubular steel chassis and an independent front suspension and a complex De Dion-type rear. Less than 30 of these vehicles were produced.

There were just three Cunningham C-2Rs built and raced by Team Cunningham in 1951. All three Cunningham C-2Rs competed at Le Mans and continued to race with success in the US throughout 1951, driven by Phil Walters, John Fitch and Cunningham himself before being refitted as road cars and sold through Roger Barlow's International Motors in Los Angeles.

In 1951, Cunningham introduced the road-going C-3 model. This example, chassis number 5206X, is the only Cunningham C-3 coupe constructed entirely in Cunningham's West Palm Beach workshop. It is also the only example that was envisioned by Briggs for racing and touring. The chassis is recorded in Cunningham production records as 'Work Order 6' and was the sixth Cunningham sports car constructed. The chassis is nearly identical to the C-2 competition cars with the addition of a roll bar built into the chassis. It was originally given the same independent front suspension and De Dion rear end as the competition cars. Under the bonnet, the 331 cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi engine was fitted with the competition modifications that included four Zenith carburetors on the Cunningam log manifold which gave it 220 horsepower. There is a Cadillac three-speed manual transmission and two-speed rear axle - the same setup as the competition C-2Rs.

While still under construction, the car was sold to Cunningham friend Carl Kiekhaefer. When completed, the car was painted Brewster Green with a pleated leather bench seat, dash and two-tone door panels covered in tan. It was equipped with a radio as well as the same full instrumentation, full bumpers and modified grille as refitted to the competition C-2s prior to their sale.

Kiekhafer retained the car for only a short time, as it was not a very accommodating road-going car. The car was returned to the Cunningham shop in exchange for the first Vignale-bodied C-3 completed, which was also numbered s/n 5206.

The second owner of this car was George Schrafft of Boston and Florida. Before the car was delivered, it was fitted with a number of factory modifications which included replacing the bench seat with racing-style bucket seats. The De Dion rear end was exchanged for a live rear axle, and the original magnesium disc wheels were substituted with gear-drive wire wheels.

The car remained in Schrafft's care until 1958, when it was sold to Henry Desormeau who owned the car for 41 years. It was eventually given a restoration that included repainting it in the classic Cunningham colors of white with blue stripes. The work was completed shortly before Desormeau passed away in 1999.

Since there are two Cunningham vehicles with the 5206 serial number, a suffix 'X' was later assigned to this C-3 West Palm Beach coupe to differentiate the two cars.

In 2011, the car was offered for sale at the Monterey, CA sale presented by RM Auctions. It was estimated to sell for $675,000 - $875,000. Bidding reached $550,000, but was not enough to satisfy the car's reserve. It would leave the auction unsold.

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Sources : 1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe Photo | 1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe Article


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