Cunningham C-3 Cabriolet

1953 Cunningham C-3 Cabriolet by Vignale

Offered by RM Sotheby’s | Amelia Island, Florida | March 5, 2022

Photo Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

There aren’t too many Vignale-bodied American cars, but the Cunningham C-3 is one. But there aren’t too many Cunningham C-3s, either. Only about 24 C-3s were built, all Vignale-bodied. Apparently another dozen or so chassis were built, and some of those were completed individually later on with bodywork limited only by their builders’ imaginations.

Power is from a 5.4-liter Chrysler Hemi V8 that made 220 horsepower when new. C-3 coupes are more common, and just five cabriolets were built. It’s definitely Vignale styling, and it’s another example of American muscle with a sleek Italian body – a common theme of performance cars of the 1950s and 60s.

This was a New York car when new and was shown at Pebble Beach as early as 1956, appearing there most recently in 2015. It was even owned by Briggs Cunningham’s daughter at one point. The pre-sale estimate is $900,000-$1,200,000. Click here for more info.

Update: Sold $1,215,000.

Cunningham V-7

1928 Cunningham V-7 Sedan

Offered by Bonhams | Carmel, California | August 15, 2019

Photo – Bonhams

James Cunningham founded a carriage-building business with his songs in Rochester, New York in 1882 and then died in 1886. His son Joseph ran things from then on, and by 1911 they were in the automobile business. By 1916 they were selling V8-powered cars. Never inexpensive, the Cunningham car disappeared after 1929, with a few leftovers completed during the 1930s.

Cunningham also had a very confusing naming convention for their cars. It started innocently enough, but when the five-year-old Series V gave way to the V-4 in 1922, things got weird. All powered by the firm’s V8 engine, the models would be named V-4, V-5, V-6, V-7, and apparently even V-8. Things started to make sense just in time to go out of business.

The engine in this car is a 7.2-liter V8 rated at 106 horsepower when new. It likely would’ve cost its new owner in the neighborhood of $8,500 in 1928 – quite a sum. Later, this car was owned by Bill Harrah and remained in his collection until his death. The restoration is fresh as of 2016, and the car should now bring between $150,000-$220,000. Click here for more info and here for more from this sale.

Update: Sold $80,000.

Cunningham Hearse

1929 Cunningham V-8 33286 Hearse

Offered by Auctions America | Auburn, Indiana | May 13, 2017

Photo – Auctions America

Some people think hearses in general are creepy. I don’t. But this one is. It’s that ornate, Victorian-like coachwork that makes it look like it should be driven by a ghost in a tuxedo and a top hat. Cunningham built attractive passenger cars from 1911 through 1929. From 1929 through 1936, they concentrated on hearses, ambulances and other car-based commercial vehicles (something they’d been building since practically day one).

This car is powered by a 45 horsepower, 7.2-liter V-8. That’s an embarrassing amount of power from such a big engine, considering Duesenberg’s eight-cylinder engine from 1929 was making 265 horses. But who cares, really, because as heavy as this car looks, it’s enough power to cruise at parade speed, which is really the only thing you’re going to do with it unless you own a funeral home and a time machine.

This car comes from a Detroit-area funeral home and before that it was used in Chicago. The wooden carvings on the side are very intricate. It’s an interesting enough automobile that it was on display for a time at the Henry Ford Museum. Only 5,600 Cunninghams were produced over 30 years – so good luck finding another one like this. It should bring between $80,000-$100,000. Click here for more info and here for more from this sale.

Update: Sold $137,500.

Cunningham C-3

1952 Cunningham C-3

Offered by Bonhams | Amelia Island, Florida | March 10, 2016

Photo - Bonhams

Photo – Bonhams

We’ve actually featured another one of Briggs Cunningham’s C-3 cars, but that one was a coupe. This car, although a 1952 Cunningham, wasn’t bodied for the first time until about 2012. In order for Cunningham to race the C-3, he had to build copies for the road. Those 25 cars were Vignale-bodied. There were 14 other chassis built.

The chassis and engine – a 5.4-liter Chrysler Hemi V-8 making 235 horsepower – were sold as a bare chassis/engine combo to someone in Indiana. The car later made its way to Wisconsin where it was driven (on a farm), sans-body.

While the body was applied during the restoration that ended in 2012, the rest of the car is largely original – the brakes, suspension, even the paint on the chassis. The body resembles the C-2R race car and really doesn’t look like other C-3s. So here is your chance to get one of America’s best sports cars from the 1950s as, essentially, a brand new car. It should cost between $275,000-$325,000. Click here for more info and here for more from this sale.

Update: Sold $275,000.

Cunningham V-6

1925 Cunningham Series V-6 Phaeton

Offered by Bonhams | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | October 6, 2014

Photo - Bonhams

Photo – Bonhams

Cunninghams were exclusive cars built in Rochester, New York, between 1911 and 1930 by James Cunningham, Son & Company. Their target audience were wealthy individuals who cared for quality – something Cunningham could deliver.

The company built mainly four and eight-cylinder models, and despite its name, the Series V-6 was actually an eight-cylinder car. Makes perfect sense, right? The Series V-6 was built for 1925, 1926 and 1927 and all used a 7.2-liter straight-eight engine originally rated at 90 horsepower, but now estimated to be around 100. The bodies were always built in-house by Cunningham.

The car has known history back to prior to WWII and has only had three owners since the 1930s. It has under 40,000 original miles and has been repainted, although it was never completely restored. Cunninghams don’t come up for sale often, and this one should bring between $135,000-$160,000. Click here for more info and here for more from this sale.

Update: Sold $162,250.

Cunningham C-3

1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe by Vignale

Offered by Gooding & Company | Scottsdale, Arizona | January 17, 2014

1952 Cunningham C-3 Coupe

If there was some sort of “All Time Car Guys” All-Star team, Briggs Cunningham would be on the starting roster. He was lucky – he was born rich (in 1907) and found his calling as a sportsman and car guy (and collector – he once owned a Bugatti Royale). His friends founded what would become the SCCA and that’s where Cunningham got his start in the 1930s.

By 1950 he was competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans where he finished in the top 10 in a Cadillac Coupe DeVille (no, seriously). Later that year he ran an Aston Martin at Sebring. He also owned the cars he raced, and fielded cars for other drivers too.

In 1952 he started building cars of his own design in the Cunningham factory in West Palm Beach, Florida (not exactly the industrial heart of America). The C-3, as it was called, used a 5.4-liter Chrysler Hemi V-8 making 220 horsepower. He shipped the engine and chassis combo to Vignale in Italy to have the bodies installed. This particular chassis (#5210) was the factory demonstrator.

This car was restored in 2004 and is one of 19 C-3 Coupes built and one of a total of only 24 Cunningham C-3s built in total. Briggs Cunningham continued funding his racing team into the 1960s but stopped building cars in the mid-1950s. The C-3 was the only road car the company ever made. This one should sell for between $450,000-$550,000. Click here for more info and here for more from Gooding in Arizona.

Update: Sold $550,000.

Cunningham V-4

1922 Cunningham Series V-4 Model 82-A Town Limousine

Offered by Bonhams | Greenwich, Connecticut | June 3, 2012

Long before Briggs Cunningham started building his sports cars in Florida in the 1950s, James Cunningham, Son & Company (unrelated) of Rochester, New York, were building Cunningham-based cars. But these were not sporty little racers – they were high-end luxury automobiles for very exclusive clientele. Their first car was sold in 1908 and in 1916 they introduced their first V-8 engine in the Series V-1.

This is a 1922 Series V-4, which has the same 442 c.i. V-8 introduced in 1916. It is a Model 82-A (translation: long wheelbase). It was rated at 45 horsepower – a figure that would double for the 1923 model. The body style is called a “Town Limousine,” with an open area for the driver and a closed passenger compartment.

Ownership history is known from the 1970s and the restoration is over 25 years old. I’ve seen more stately Cunningham cars but I haven’t seen many Cunninghams of any type. They are very rare cars. While it’s unknown who purchased the car originally, you can bet it was someone pretty well off, as Cunningham’s could cost over $8,000 in the early 1920s. Quite a sum.

The pre-sale estimate on this car is $120,000-$160,000 which seems fair for a car with an older restoration that is rarely seen. For the complete catalog description, click here. And for more on Bonhams in Connecticut, click here.

Update: Sold $128,000.