Photo credit: Revs Institute, Wheelsage
The B.S. Cunningham Company was operational for only five years from 1950 to 1955 in West Palm Beach, Florida, but despite this brief period, it holds a special place in the heart of every true enthusiast. The project originated from the meeting of Briggs Cunningham, the son of a wealthy Cincinnati entrepreneur, and Bill Frick, regarded in the USA as a motoring genius and celebrated for his NASCAR involvement and race car preparations.
The collaboration between the two culminated with an entry in the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans with two Cadillacs, one of which was heavily modified and named “Le Monstre” - click here to read its story. Cunningham, impressed by the excellent work, decided to acquire Frick-Tappet Motors, relocating the business to Florida and focusing on the goal of winning Le Mans with an American car bearing his name.
The C-1, with Cadillac V-8 engine, was the first car produced by the B.S. Cunningham Company of West Palm Beach.
The first car produced by the B.S. Cunningham Company was the 1950 C-1, equipped with a Cadillac engine, of which only one example was made that competed in the Le Mans trials in 1951. Its poor performance led to a switch to a Chrysler engine, with the resulting model named C-2R, which also proved to be uncompetitive.
Development continued with increasingly better results: the C-4R finished fourth overall in 1952, and the C-5R finally made it to the podium in 1953. This was Cunningham’s best result at Le Mans.
Poor performance of the C-1 and problems with GM in sourcing Cadillac engines prompted Cunningham to change and choose a Chrysler V8 for the C-2R. Three cars competed at Le Mans 1951 without achieving notable results.
The Cunningham cars, proudly wearing the American white and blue livery, exhibited a European flair, yet stood out with their sizable front radiators and, frequently, by eye-catching air intakes.
The joy from the 24 Hours result united with the obligation to become a manufacturer in order to continue the dream of fielding cars under his own name and obtaining homologation for Le Mans. In 1953, this led to the creation of the C-3 Continental, manufactured in a limited run of 25 vehicles (18 coupes and 9 convertibles), the bare minimum required by the rules. It was the only model from Cunningham available for public purchase. The production, spread over two continents, with the chassis and engine produced in Florida and the bodywork by Vignale in Italy, was limited to just 27 examples. However, its exorbitant price essentially placed it beyond the reach of the market.
The Cunningham C-3 Continental was the only model that was marketed to the public. Designed by Giovanni Michelotti and bodied by the Italian Vignale was produced in just 25 units due to its high cost.
Thus, in 1955, Cunningham abandoned the idea of building cars and focused on racing activities until his definitive retirement in 1965. These cars are exceedingly rare in the market but have a notable presence at the Revs Institute in Naples, Florida. The institute, belonging to his friend Miles Collier, acquired Cunningham’s personal museum collection following the end of his business ventures.
The C-3 Continental was also produced in a convertible version equipped with a 5,400cc Chrysler V8 engine capable of producing 220 hp.
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