The $700 Cunningham Corvette

Cunningham Corvette #1

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Now this is a tale for the ages! If you are a serious Corvette nut, you might know a little bit about the Cunningham Corvettes. For the rest of us, here is a bit of quick history. Briggs Cunningham, a wealthy businessmen and race enthusiast, took 3 1960 Corvette Chassis and had light weight bodies crafted and installed that resembled the early Corvette. He then entered the cars in the 1960 Le Mans. Only one of the cars finished, but that one happened to win it’s class! After the race was over, the cars were converted to street cars and sold. That’s where this story gets real interesting! About 5 years ago this car, car #1 popped on craigslist for just $700! Read the rest of this story below.

1960 Cunningham Corvette

The seller clearly didn’t know what they had, with an asking so low. The ad was riddled with errors, so no one really gave it much thought. Thankfully a few enthusiasts took notice and eventually determined it was the missing Cunningham Corvette. From here on out the story gets a bit hazy as there was a major legal battle over ownership shortly after the truth of what it was was revealed. I haven’t been able to make heads or tails of said battle, other than that a Gino Burelli ended up owning the car in the end.

Cunningham Corvettes At Le Mans

Supposedly, the car is now awaiting a full restoration so that it can earn the owner top dollar at auction, think in the multi-million dollar range! If the current owner walked away with this car for just $700, they may have gotten the greatest deal ever. I would hope they actually told the seller what they had and made a more appropriate offer, but perhaps that is what the lawsuit was about? Can you imagine finding something like this on craigslist for a price you can actually afford? Read more about this story here on Hargety’s blog. Special thanks to Fred W and Jim K for the tip!

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  1. RayT

    I am no expert, but I’m not buying this story, as wonderful as it sounds, as there are far more unanswered questions than facts from what I see in this story and the Hagerty story.

    First, the body: the photo of the three Cunningham cars Josh picked shows them with the side coves used on ‘Vettes of that era. Not so for the purple car. The noses of the three at Le Mans appeared stock, with dual headlights. Again, not so for the “Cunningham” car. The rear ends of the three have the stock taillights; the purple car doesn’t. That certainly isn’t the remains of a factory hardtop the car is wearing. Finally, even allowing for lens distortion in the camera, the proportions strike me as “wrong” for a ‘Vette of ANY vintage.

    Again, and I stress this, I am no expert on Corvettes in general or the Cunningham cars in particular. I never saw one “in person,” though I remember seeing photos in magazines of the era. But I can’t help feeling that this is someone’s cobbled-up “special” or “custom” masquerading as an ultra-rare, incredibly valuable piece of history. Not using words like “forgery” here; after spending a number of years professionally around collector cars, I have learned that people interpret stories they way they want to, be it for financial gain or plain ol’ bragging rights.

    Myself, I’d have to see a thick pile of authentication (and authentication of the authentication) before I’d say this story is true. Otherwise, I might go for $700 the next time it shows up on Craigslist. As it stands, it appears to me there’s a very good chance that someone is going to spend a half-million scoots on restoration and end up with a nice REPLICA of one of the “Cunningham Corvettes.”

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  2. Andy Frobig

    Actually, the ones in the photo all have ’56-57 style head and taillights. The top, of course, is removable. The cove is another story. But I agree, a big stack of convincing documentation would have to come with it, for it to be anything but an old ‘Vette.

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  3. James

    Some of what you are reading is literally BS, and media hype. Some of it is true. The true part is that this IS the #1 Cunningham Corvette. During that LeMans race, it was heavily damaged and caught fire. What you see here is the “customized” version that emerged after the collision repairs.

    The car was advertised here in the Tampa area and I saw the listing at the time, but it wasn’t advertise for anywhere near the $700 claimed. The car was owned by a man who bought it for $700 back in 1974 from someone he worked with at a local body shop. That guy never titled it, because he only used it to drag race. It was then stolen from his driveway when his son was 9yo and somehow wound up in the storage warehouse of a local crooked judge. It was the judge’s son who listed it on Craigslist in 2012. The 9yo son of the rightful owner grew up, now a retired cop, always wondering what happened to Dad’s old car. Some people tracked the Cunningham car to this retired cop by the title that was still in the old owner’s name from 1974 because his dad never transferred it and they tried to buy the ownership rights to it (the title) but didn’t tell him why.

    Fast forward to 2012, the original craigslist ad claimed it was a “prototype” and was a factory custom and was serial number 1, etc. All BS. It did have the #1 stamped on some items but that was from Cunningham. Asking price was over $100,000 and if I am not mistaken, closer to $150,000. So it was NEVER a $700 craigslist find. I would have bought it for that in a second as would hundreds of other local car guys. $150,000 was a lot of money for what appeared to be a customized beat up old vette.

    However, the VIN’s of the Cunningham cars were documented and somebody thought to inspect and check the actual VIN to the car, discovered what it was and bought it on a Bill of Sale. Then announced to the World what they had found and planned to unveil it at Carlisle.

    The two guys that had approached the man who still owned the title, then approached him again, told him more about what the car was and that’s when the retired cop then transferred the old 1974 title in his name and went to Carlisle to try and get his dad’s car back.

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    • Keith

      That sounds a lot more logical than someone posting a Corvette….in ANY shape/year or form, for $700.

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      • jaygryph

        I dunno man, there’s a lot of 80’s cars out there that are pretty cheap. I sold a title and bare body shell / frame to an 81 for $200 a few years ago. Wasn’t much left of it, and it wasn’t a highly optioned car to begin with so was really just parts and a title. Can find stuff all the time for good prices if you just poke around. $700 for this vintage vette in any shape, yeah, no chance.

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  4. Van

    I read a similar story about a Cobra Datona coupe.
    That story involved Phil Specter and a woman who pored gas on herself and was burned to death.

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  5. ChasMember

    The story is a little strange, especially when you see that all three Cunningham cars had quad headlamps and this car has duals. Also, all three Cunningham cars had a distinct Corvette cove on the front fender and door, and this car does not sport that same cove. The tailights, top and length all seem different as well. Finally the front end appears different than the Cunningham cars. Not sure that I am convinced about the authenticity of this story, either.

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  6. Dan A

    I think James is correct with his story because I remember reading about it somewhere myself. The retired cop part struck a memory with me. Not sure where I read about it but, there has been a lot of sneaking around it seems on this car..and for good reason when you see the guys in question as owners have Italian names..LOL…

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  7. Jim

    I’ve been following the story of these cars and this one in particular for a few years, I have a friend who was a neighbor of the police officer involved and had seen it numerous times at the dragstrip and laying dead at his house for quite a while. Remember when these cars were originally built they used whatever was at hand and frequently three “identical” cars weren’t, each one being hand built, not built out of the Summit catalog. I’d love to see the car in its original race-prep condition but experience tells me most of the original parts have been consumed by use and replaced by modification over the years, how original the car will ever be is a crap-shoot, even a high end restorer would need tons of pictures and documentation to recreate all of the parts. The C1 vettes bodies were a simple early fiberglass that was easy to repair or section also. I also know from road racing and drag racing most of the suspension parts were swapped out when getting the car prepped to drag race. I’m afraid the car will never be original again just a vin tag with a recreation built around it, how much would someone pay for a car that is 4% original and cost $400,000 to build and no matter how nice it’s still just a vin tag. Just my thoughts

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  8. James

    It will not be a technically difficult repair but will cost a bit. This car restored is an easy two million plus car when finished and it is in the hands of the man that did a great job on one of the other Cunningham LeMans cars. It has most of it’s original tub and frame with the frame numbers. The rest can be easily sourced.

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  9. Glen

    I don’t get the cost of restoring this($500,000, according to Hagerty article) and I don’t get the millions of dollars it will be valued at after restoration. I just don’t get it.

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  10. Mr. Bond

    So, does anyone know if the cop got his dad’s car back?

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  11. DolphinMember

    Briggs Cunningham was a true American sportsman. The best small car museum I ever saw was his museum in So Cal, which I visited back many years ago when John Burgess was there every day looking after it. I guess it was a slow day because he took me around and said a little about most of the cars that were on display. That museum visit made my trip.

    Although I think the story that people have arrived at for this Le Mans car is probably right, the car will need a new body / suspension / interior if it’s to get back to its Le Mans condition. I haven’t read everything on this car, but since it was drag raced I would guess that the drivetrain was changed, and will need replacing.

    I agree with Jim on this. If it gets a new, expertly fabricated body / suspension/ interior, and also a replacement drivetrain, for me there isn’t enough of the original Le Mans car to part me from my money. I would rather have something else that didn’t have so many stories and replacement parts in its history. But I’m not going to be in a position to buy a car like this one, so it’s a moot point anyway.

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  12. stillrunners

    well….I got it for free….so I made $700……

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  13. Dave Wright

    This is a real race car, they get broken, repaired, upgraded worn and repaired again. I am not a corvette guy but the Briggs Cuningham connection is huge. It looks to me like it has been well vetted……and well explained. A heavy crash on the track and major rebuild into a drag car. I am sure there are plenty of well healed buyers in the wings that will drive the price to places we mere mortals can only dream off. Real race cars are seldom sold with titles but the idea that it was stolen at some point is troublesome.

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    • Rocco

      I agree about old race cars, etc., especially with a big name connection.
      It has been proven in the past that famous well documented old race cars go for big money. As iconic as this one is, it won’t be surprising for it to fall into the same category, even with a shaded past with original parts missing. Just like that Cobra Daytona Coupe(that Phil Spector once owned), this special ‘Vette will go BIG.

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  14. Alex

    So much wrong about the body it’s hard to believe the body is in any aspect original. Look at the hood. It’s much wider than the ones in the original photos. The nose is also very much different. Why would someone go to the trouble to make all those modifications while also getting rid of the coves just to make it into a drag car?
    Of course, if it has an original VIN tag and other numbers stamped into the chassis components, someone with lots of money will drool over it and take a flyer at making it like new and hope to make lots of money on it.

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  15. Roselandpete

    Sorrry, I just don’t understand all the fuss.

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  16. Rob
  17. CJay

    Quote from “Penn Live” website. “Idoni and Burelli, of Chesterton, Ind., became parties to the legal dispute, and Mathis departed from the court fight, after the two formed a partnership and paid Mathis for his right to any financial interest in the ‘Vette”.
    From what I could find online “Mathis” is the son of the cop. So he was at least paid some thing for the stolen Vette.

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  18. JoeW

    Besides the cove being gone the purple looks a lot like the 3 cars in the leMans photo. You can see the single headlamp in the fenders of #1 and #3. especially the #3 car if you look at the left fender just in front of the man’s hand leaning on it. Those are certainly 56-57 cars.

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  19. Al

    Can’t wait to see the court battle for James Deans Spyder if it shows up. Did read somewhere the trans-axle for it has.

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  20. DanK

    Seems to me that the son of the rightful owner got taken twice on this because of a bankruptcy and the ones who bought his interest didn’t give him near what he was entitled to.

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  21. Rando

    Wow. I’m fascinated by all the stories on this car.

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  22. Cody

    According to the article posted by Rob, the son of the original owner was taken to the cleaners. After filing the lawsuit to get the car back, he filed for bankruptcy. Than the wealthy new owners of this car acquired there ownership from a trustee for 25K. It really sounds like some rich entitled “car restorers” took advantage of some guy trying to get his dads car back. This whole story really tarnishes what should be a fantastic story about a famous corvette racer.

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    • Dave Wright

      He took himself to the cleaners when he filed for bankruptcy. Then the judge didn’t help him.

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  23. James

    He should have waited until they restored it, and then claimed it.

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  24. Van

    If I had the gear shift know from Fangios Ferrari 250 TR could I build a 5 million dollar race car with history?

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  25. Casey D

    @Van if you can convince someone to pay 5 million dollars for it, then yes. That’s the trick.

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  26. Jim

    It’s pretty amazing what some people will pay for a clone, recreation or car restored from a vin tag and credit card. The hobby has changed drastically in the last 25yrs.

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