Long before Carol Shelby shoe-horned an American V-8 into a British AC roadster to create the Cobra; another American would cram Detroit V-8s into European coupes. The Cunningham debuted in 1951, in an attempt to capture the upper end luxury market, but more importantly – to go Ferrari hunting on the racetrack at LeMans. The 'luxury' coupe of the C-3 was priced out at $15,000 in 1953; by comparison A 1953 Corvette sold for $3,498. The frame, suspension and engines were assembled in Florida – but the bodies were all Italian designed, fitted and mounted overseas. The shipping back and forth undoubtedly contributed to its astronomical cost. The C-3 was built solely to meet the 25 car production holmogation requirements to go racing in the big event. Cunningham was chasing a victory on the Euro continent by an American that fortune, victory and success had not had in decades.
The C-3 is a stylish hardtop coupe that rivals the lines of later British Aston Martin and even early 60's Gran Turismo coupes from Ferrari – it was far advanced for its' time. The big Chrysler Hemi 331 C.I. Motor up front was matted to a number of different transmissions and rear ends as parts and financing became available. Punching out nearly 300 hp on a platform that set under 1800 pounds, in race trim - it was delicious beast.
The Roadster C4R (For Racing) was built specifically for pushing the limits around the track. During their inaugeral runs, the cars finished in the top 10 several times. The most notable feature of the car, beyond the big guppy opening for the radiator, is the air breather 'suck can' for the oil cooler on the hood. Racing engines get hot – and you have to keep them cooled somehow – and not everything on the track is built for beauty. The appendage would be one of the first things I would remove. While the originals are out of reach for price – fetching nearly as much as the Shelby 427 SC's – there are replicas being built.
The Cunningham C4R - Roadster and Coupe
The Cunningham C2 in hardtop and my favorite - topless roadster.
In my opinion, this car out-styles the socks off of the early Corvette both for lines and performance numbers.