The other day we got a phone call from our friend Ron saying that if we were free on Wednesday we really should make it down to the shop in Concord, NC because a pretty special car was going to stop by. He gave me some details knowing we’d be into it hook, line and sinker. See what our area of North Carolina lacks in hot rods and customs, we surely make up for it in race pedigree and those who patronize the restorations of significant race cars from all walks of life.
So Wedneday comes and we’re chomping at the bit to get down there and see the car which ends up being the “Number 2″ Cunningham C3 coupe that was built in 1952 originally. From the outside the car screams European driving machine but that’s only a disguise. This car is all hot rod underneath and has everything to back up that claim. Built to compete in LeMans, Briggs Cunningham needed to build at least 25 of these cars to contend with the production car status. This being number two, there are a lot of features on this car that do not appear on the later built ones (like wind wing side glass) which makes it unique.
Cunningham built the chassis’ using a ladder bar tube frame construction with coil spring front suspension that is believed to be sourced from a Mercury. Out back power was put to the ground using a Chrysler Live Axle differential suspended to create a wheel base of 107″ and a 58″ track width. These chassis’ were then shipped to Tourin, Italy from West Palm Beach FL so that Carrozzeria Vignale could build the bodies on them.
The body is made up of steel and alloy construction. The front fenders, hood and snout are all steel while the back 2/3′s is aluminum. The bodies are reminiscent of Ferrari 212′s but easily could be mistaken for other cars that would be built some 25 years later. There’s a really interesting trim piece that ties into the front grille that’s hand made out of to pieces of brass then chromed. It starts at the snout and runs on the upper fender near the hood opening and I think it might be one of my favorite things about the car. Front glass is from a 1952 Ferrari and turn signals are from a land rover. Tail lights are reminiscent of a C1 Corvette turned up on their side and tunneled but being this is from 1952 there are all Cunningham and Vignale’s ideas. The body is painted with a tri tone scheme which will be really nice to see once the restoration is complete.
Speaking of the hood, every race car has to have something that motivates it to win and this one is no different. Under the bonnet it has a near stock 331 Chrysler engine with hemispherical heads and 7.5:1 CR. The fuel is dumped into the mighty hemi using a 4×2 Briggs Cunningham intake that’s topped off by 4 Zenith Carburetors that really wakes up it’s top end potential maxing out somewhere around 130mph. This particular car won Watkins Glen 2 years in a row with Briggs Cunningham driving both years against other significant cars of the era which really says something about the car and it’s creators.
The interior of the car features a tri spoke steering wheel with wooden rings as found in lots of sports cars of the time. The oversized gauges are from a 1952 Ferrari painted to match the exterior color. Center mounted Tach was believed to have printed the “RPH” by mistake but instead of having all them corrected BC decided to carry on with them installing them in a few of the cars.
This car is currently owned by Tom Cotter and being restored by KIR Custom Car Creations in Concord, NC. It runs and drives and I can attest to that as it shuffled off, sounding very healthy and getting up and going nicely. It was found in a garage in South Carolina and the previous owner having once owned a Pontiac dealer took this car in on trade for a Pontiac station wagon. It’s nice to know a true car guy like Mr. Cotter got a hold of it just in the nick of time for us all to soon enjoy. There’s less then 30 of these cars which makes them incredibly special but the fact that this was an American Company taking on the giants from Europe in prestigious races makes a real sight to be seen if the chance is given. There’s a lot of hot rod influence and engineering in this car and a ton of inspiration can be drawn upon looking and appreciating a car like this.
NOTE: One really cool feature on this car is the nose badge that features a hand painted and porcelainized Cunningham logo. The best part about this badge is that it was a 1952 Ferrari badge that was sanded and painted over the top which I think is worth a 1000 words.
Want a sports car? Go Forth and Build.