SEMA 2017: An Original Briggs Cunningham C-3 Vignale Shows Up

There was nothing more appealing to car builders in the 1950s than winning the 24 hours of Le Mans — the ultimate endurance race that required a full team and a stout vehicle to complete the race. The allure of a season of racing in just 24 hours lured many car constructors to the starting line with most of their dreams crashed alongside the road far before the checkered flag.

Briggs Cunningham took that challenge in 1952 when the builder blended Italian style with a Hemi V8. Cunningham began building his racecars in 1951 when suddenly the Le Mans promoters changed the rules requiring that 25 road-going cars had to be built in order to qualify for the 1952 event.

Not dissuaded, Cunningham figured that the extra cars could be sold off to offset the racing expenses. Using an Italian coach builder for the chassis and body work, Cunningham used his team to put the American V8 under the hood. His C-3 was capable of hitting 0 to 60 mph in seven seconds and could hit a top speed of 150 mph.

The second of the 25 C-3 cars showed up at the 2017 SEMA show. Cunningham never won the Le Mans race but the C-3 Vignale lives in the hearts of endurance racers everywhere. This particular car was the Cunningham media car that was used in magazine road tests and books. It won the 1952 Concours d’Elegance events in Watkins Glen, New York, and Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The car cost $15,000 to build in 1952, a large sum at the time. In the early 1950s, three new Cadillacs could be bought for the price of a single Cunningham. The Plan is to have the car, unrestored, participate in the Lime Rock, Connecticut, vintage event next spring.

Quick Specs:

  • Chassis #5207
  • Built in Florida
  • 331 cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi
  • Four Zenith single-barrel carbs
  • Custom intake manifold
  • Cadillac three-speed manual gearbox
  • Chrysler rearend
  • Owned by Tom Cotter, Davidson, North Carolina

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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