The Influence of Cunningham Sports Cars on American Car Designers & Builders: Press Release Photos – Part 1


Note:  This is the first in a series of stories about the Cunningham sports and race cars based on press release photos made available by Don EdmundsClick here to review each of these stories on Undiscovered Classics.


Hi Gang…

How do we get into the mind of creative designers who wanted to design and build their own sports car back in the 1950s?  We do this in several different ways.

* First, we can talk to those who were part of that era and who built their own cars – a definite “plus” when possible.

* Second, we can study the magazines and books available in the era.

* And third – and most powerfully – we can study the cars that were being heralded as “Americas newest sports cars” that were appearing on the scene.

In this venue there was much talk but few new American sports cars to discuss in the early 1950s.  So much was being tried and mostly in a “one-off” capacity.  Two early examples come to mind with the first being the Kurtis Sports Car (later modified and produced as the Muntz sports car).  The next one – and the subject of today’s story – are Cunningham Sports Cars produced from 1951 through 1955.  And what attractive and powerful cars these were.

Let’s talk chronologically.  The following information is used with permission from Larry Berman’s and his website on Briggs Cunningham sports and race cars.  We’ll start our discussion with the first Cunningham of sports car design – the “C-1” built in 1951.

Cunningham Sports Cars:  1951 C-1


Appetites whetted by their impressive finish (10th and 11th) in the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans in a virtually stock Cadillac Coupe Deville and a similar car with an aerodynamic body, the Cunningham
team embarked on a program to design and build its own cars and win the race outright.

Four roadsters and a coupe were planned, and the first real Cunningham, the C-1 (above), was finished in late 1950. It utilized a Cadillac OHV V-8 engine and Cadillac three-speed manual transmission
installed in a massive frame made of three-inch steel tubing with a tubing cruciform x-member in the center to augment the front and rear crossmembers.

A Ford-based coil spring independent front suspension was used, along with a Cunningham-built de Dion rear axle assembly. The wheelbase was 105 inches and the track, front and rear, was 58 inches. The C-1 was the prototype from which the C-2 was to be developed and, as things turned out, the next three cars were C-2s, but with Chrysler Hemi V-8 engines instead of Cadillacs.


Cunningham C-1 Press Release Photos:

These seven 8 x 10 photos below were shared with us by Don Edmunds – designers and developer of the Cheetah race car that he co-developed with Bill Thomas.  Thanks for passing these our way Don.  The reason why Cunningham  sports cars are important to us is the timeframe and publicity.  Since the C-1 was introduced in 1951, the soon-to-be car building young men of America would have looked to this car as a source of inspiration to build a car body and chassis of their own.

Let’s have a look at the Cunningham C-1 as it was meant to be seen in the original press release photos from 1951.  And remember….you can click on each picture below to make it larger on your screen.





I love the idea of a radio to listen to while you drive and race. The early years of American sports cars were filled with dual purpose “drive ’em and race ’em” designs.




The Cunningham Influence Carries Forward:

When Cunningham started to build his cars, enthusiasts across America were watching and listening.  And…rooting for his success too.  And some of our favorite fiberglass designers were watching too.  One of these was Jerry Gardner who decided to create his own version of a Cunningham C-1 from scratch in fiberglass.  He even used a Cadillac mill  as the power – but this was the ’42 Flathead Cadillac and not the ’49 and newer OHV version.

Here are a few pictures of the Gardner Voodoo Special.  A quick comparison shows how similar his car is/was to the Cunningham C1.



And…click here if you would like to learn more about the Voodoo Gardner Special.


Thanks goes to Don Edmund for making these photos available to us as well as Larry Berman who has created and supports the Briggs Cunningham website:   For more information about Cunningham sports cars from 1951 to 1955 please visit Larry’s website by clicking on the following link:

Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…

Glass on gang…



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