Monterey

18-19 August 2017

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Lot 244

1953 Cunningham C-3 Coupe by Vignale

  • Chassis no. 5223
  • Engine no. C-542-8-1979

Sold for $1,100,000


  • The personal car of Briggs Cunningham; retained by him and his family for 61 years
  • One of just 25 Vignale-bodied C-3s produced
  • A well-maintained original car, currently registering 10,097 miles
  • Winner of the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) National Automotive Heritage Award
  • Researched by Cunningham historians Tom Cotter and Larry Berman
  • The most significant extant C-3, with unbeatable provenance and originality


Briggs Swift Cunningham was a man with what Friedrich Nietzsche referred to as “will.” Briggs had the will to win, constantly striving to best his competition, whether during his extensive yachting career, golfing, playing football, or auto racing.

Son of a wealthy Cincinnati financier and heir to the Swift meatpacking fortune, Cunningham began his career in yacht racing at Yale in the 1920s, which eventually led to international fame by captaining the Columbia to victory in the 1958 America’s Cup. He engaged in international racing in the 1930s with his college friends Miles and Samuel Collier, who founded the Automobile Racing Club of America (later renamed the Sports Car Club of America, SCCA, in 1944).

In 1950, Briggs entered two Cadillac Coupe DeVilles in the world’s most prestigious race, the 24-hour endurance event at Le Mans. One remained nearly stock, and the other was heavily modified. They finished 10th and 11th among a sea of Jaguars, Aston Martins, and Ferraris. This early loss only increased Briggs’ will to victory, which culminated in the ultimate creation of his C-3 Cunningham automobile. At the time, homologation rules of Le Mans specified that competitors could race production vehicles, with at least 25 produced, to be eligible to race. This would have been a problem for most, but for Briggs Cunningham, the solution was clear: he must build his own brand of car. Thus, the Cunningham C-3 was born.

Cunningham developed the Cunningham C-3 by mating the newly popular Chrysler Hemi V-8 engine with a race car chassis and Italian bodywork designed by Vignale of Turin, Italy. With exclusivity and a high price point, ranging between $8,000 and $12,000 new, wealthy Americans, such as the du Pont family and the Rockefeller family, took notice and were early customers. By 1954, Briggs Cunningham was featured on the cover of Time magazine with three of his Cunningham racing cars, as the embodiment of “Horsepower, Endurance, Sportsmanship.”

Briggs’ personal C-3 was built with a heater, radio, 20-gallon fuel tank, Bendix Hydrovac power booster, and a Chrysler PowerFlite gearbox. Originally, this vehicle was built as a demonstrator model, but was never sold; rather, it was retained by Briggs and the Cunningham family for over 60 years. Most of the 25 Vignale-bodied cars produced wore two-tone color combinations. However, Briggs had 5223 painted black and fitted with a beautiful red leather interior.

Briggs Cunningham was featured with his C-3 in an article in the 23 January 1957 issue of The Motor. More recently, chassis number 5223 was on the cover of the Fall 2014 issue of Hagerty Classic Cars magazine and was prominently covered in an extensive article with photographs taken in the garage on the Cunningham family’s Greens Farms, Connecticut, estate. While hundreds of important automobiles came and went through his life, this C-3 remained with the Cunningham family until his daughter Lucie’s passing in 2014. Lucie, in her ownership, proudly enjoyed displaying and supporting the legend of her famous father by bringing 5223 to concours events, including the Cunningham Gathering at the 2011 Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach, Florida, and later the 2013 Cunningham Gathering at the Lime Rock Park 31st Historic Festival in Connecticut.

Today, 5223 remains largely original, with a few custom touches by Briggs and then later Lucie, including wire wheels and Lucie’s signature “lady bug” tire valve stem caps. When Lucie inherited the car in 2003, she could not live with the original paint’s patina, and so commissioned the car to be stripped to bare metal and painted in its original color, black. Additionally, she had the interior re-trimmed in the same red leather as when new. Beautifully preserved, this C-3’s odometer reads 10,097 miles at the time of cataloguing.

This C-3 is the definition of a “no stories” automobile—not to mention, having spent 61 years with the family of its namesake—talk about provenance personified! The HVA, the world’s largest historic vehicle owner’s organization, known for promoting culturally and historically significant vehicles, recognized 5223 with the prestigious National Automotive Heritage Award, which lists cars with this honor in the Library of Commerce in Washington, DC.

Inarguably, this is the most historically significant C-3 in existence.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more