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Cunningham C3 Coupe: Auction highlight

We take a close look at the 1953 Cunningham C3 Coupe that is being offered for sale at RM Sotheby’s Andrews Collection Sale on 2 May

Though the minnows of the motor racing world might sometimes feel inclined to disagree, money alone doesn’t buy success. If he were still around, Briggs Cunningham would attest to that; despite his vast fortune, the hugely accomplished American sportsman never managed to build the Le Mans winner he dreamed of constructing – but he had a bloody good go.

The car, a 1953 Cunningham C3 Coupe, was a happy byproduct of his efforts, one of 27 cars built to satisfy homologation requirements. There was very little difference between the cars produced for the road and those produced for the track, as Cunningham explained to Motor Trend in 1951: ‘We don’t intend to build two separate types of car, one for racing and the other for touring. Our policy is to concentrate on one model, readily adaptable to both purposes.’

That policy meant that the lucky few who could afford a C3 (the Coupe started at $9000) got a roaring, stomping, monster of a machine: with its tuned Chrysler 331ci V8, the C3 would savage its way to 60mph in seven seconds and hit 150mph. The car’s other qualities, of course, were apparent to the flat-broke as well as the super-wealthy. The C3, bodied by Vignale, was a stunner – a truth acknowledged in 1953 by the New York Museum of Modern Art, which named it one of the ten most beautiful cars in the world.

Of the examples built in service to Briggs Cunningham’s racing ambitions, this car might be the most desirable. Chassis 5206 was the first dressed by Vignale (chassis 5206X, a very different-looking car, was built in-house at Cunningham) and boasted some unique cosmetic features when new. These days, following careful restoration and light modification, it is most obviously distinguished by its five-speed manual gearbox and hot-rodded Chrysler 300C engine. (Don’t worry – the originals are still with the car.)

Fitted with that 350bhp unit, the car would no doubt prove a force in historic racing, but it is also a superlative grand tourer, as the current owners, Paul Andrews and his son Chris, will tell you. It’s deeply desirable by just about any measure and won’t leave the Andrews Collection cheaply; although it will be offered at no reserve on 2 May, it is expected to fetch $900,000-1,200,000. That top number isn’t completely out of the question – we expect to see more than a few bidders in Fort Worth having a bloody good go at acquiring Briggs Cunningham’s bloody good go at building a Le Mans winner.

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