One of my favorite figures of the greater vintage watch world is American sportsman and entrepreneur Briggs Cunningham. I wrote about his watches (and cars) last year in one of my favorite stories of 2016 and while this website is and always will be dedicated to watches, every now and then, we take a minute to call attention to some amazing cars for sale that have particular meaning to us here in the collectible timepiece world. Today is one of those days.
Indeed, coming up for sale next week in Monterey during car week are three very special vehicles that speak to three different sides of Cunninham’s influence in automobiles: special commissions, racing, and actual car building.
Unique 1964 Maserati 5000 GT By Michelotti, Commisisoned By Briggs Cunningham
The Maserati 5000 is considered among the most glamorous, powerful, and exclusive road-going automobiles of the 1960s. The original concept, created at the request of Sha of Iran in 1958, was to take the enormous engines used by Maserati’s successful 450S race cars and drop it into the body of a 3500 GT, Maserati’s first road-going car. Only 34 of these mega-GTs would be made and were offered only to the most important clients in the world: Fiat-magnate Gianni Agnelli, the Aga Khan, and yes, Briggs Cunningham.
Cunningham’s 5000 GT wasn’t like the others, though. Instead, he requested a special car that resembled the 450S race car as much as possible with improved aerodynamics to give him as close to a road-going 450S as possible – most Maserati 5000 GTs seemed to take almost no aerodynamics into account with square, boxy edges. Cunningham’s car was styled by Michelotti and he took the time to travel to Italy to test-drive the car before delivery – at Monza.
This special car commissioned by Cunningham is likely the fastest and most interesting road going Maserati of the era and Bonhams will sell it with an estimate of $1.1 million to $1.4 million this Friday, August 18th. More here.
1963 Le Mans-Running Jaguar E-Type Lightweight, Ex-Team Cunningham
While Cunningham’s 1964 commission with Maserati was used to get around from track to track during the European racing season, this Jaguar was meant for actual performance driving on the ring. Indeed, Cunningham had an obsession with winning the ultimate endurance rally of the 24 hour of Le Mans and since government restrictions on small-batch automobile manufacturers had limited his chances of winning using a car of his own design, he had selected to link-up with Jaguar. With the full support of the manufacturer, Cunningham brought three of these souped-up and stripped down "GTO Killers" to Le Mans with good success, finishing 9th over all.
Cunningham continued to run the lightweight E-Type at races in the United States, winning several of them. The car was sold by Cunningham in the 1970s and went through a string of prestigious collections all over the world. To this day, the light-weight E-Types are among the most desired period racers as more information on them becomes available. The cars were never promoted or advertised by Jaguar, and they they share a similar look to the well-known E-Type, very little of the production cars made their way into these special race-bound machines.
The 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweight, ex-Team Cunningham, Le Mans, and Bridgehampton will be sold by Bonhams on Friday, August 18th. The estimate is not published by the department, which, well, means it’ll be a lot. More here.
1953 Cunningham C-3 Vignale Owned By The Cunningham Family
While the present Maserati and Jaguar are incredibly special cars and no doubt will sell well into the seven figure range, there is nothing more personal than an actual Cunningham sports car. This 1953 Cunningham C-3, like all cars made with the Cunningham name on the hood, were designed and produced in Palm Beach using an American power plant, but with body work coming from Italy. The C-3 uses a Chrysler Hemi V-8 engine inside lovely Vignale styling to the body – a true hybrid of American muscle and Italian coach building.
Only 25 C-3s were produced, and each sold for around $12,000 in 1953, an enormous price for the time. The cars went to families that ran in the same circles as Briggs: Rockefeller, du Pont, etc. What’s more? This car was Briggs Cunningham’s personal C-3 Cunningham.
This rare car is still owned by the Cunningham family – Briggs’ daughter to be exact – and though it has been repainted and the leather upholsty reapplied, the car is very original and has undeniable provenance. The car at the time of cataloging had just over 10,000 miles on the odometer and this car, while arguably the most closely associated of the three cars available next weekend to Mr. Cunningham himself has the lowest estimate: $750,000 to $950,000. Having said that, RM Sotheby’s will sell this incredible car so closely associated with the great man himself without reserve, so anything is possible. Click here for more.