Larry Black, living in Seattle, Washington, had long felt that the Cunningham C4R sports-racing car was the most visually exciting automobile on the planet. In 1993, recognizing that the two original C4R roadsters and the lone C4RK coupe were preserved in world-class private collections, he decided that the time had come to seriously consider building a C4R roadster recreation. But not simply a plastic “look-alike” or kit car. Larry’s vision was to duplicate the original car with exacting precision and correct materials, and, if possible, to work with the Cunningham family to eventually deliver a small number of turn-key Cunningham C4R “continuation” cars with a direct link to the glory days of the Cunningham racing team.
Larry began by obtaining the rights to the Cunningham Company name and logo, which had long ago entered the public domain. He then established a financial partnership with a local friend, Steve Norman, assembled a small team of craftsmen and fabricators and, using photos from many sources and measurements taken from the original C4R that won Sebring in 1953, began construction of the C4R that would later become the prototype continuation car.
Not wanting to proceed further without the endorsement of the Cunningham family, Larry arranged, through Cunningham friend, journalist, and former Cunningham team driver, Denise McCluggage, to meet in October 1994 with Briggs Cunningham’s son (Briggs III), and other Cunningham family members at Seattle International Raceway to display and demonstrate his C4R recreation. Although certainly still “rough-around-the-edges”, Larry’s C4R, driven by Briggs III and professional race drivers McCluggage and Brian Cunningham, performed well, justifying further development and testing.
Largely motivated by the opportunity to honor his father and to introduce the Cunningham legacy to a new generation of enthusiasts, Briggs III agreed to buy Norman’s financial position, to reestablish the Cunningham Company, to employ Black as Managing Director, and, in late 1996, to move the enterprise from Seattle to Lime Rock, CT to complete the development and testing of Larry’s C4R and to establish a very-low-rate production capability. Additionally, at the outset, both men viewed the C4R continuation program as a stepping-stone to a larger goal, that of building on the Cunningham heritage to launch a modern American grand touring car in the tradition of the earlier Cunningham C-3 luxury sports car. Concept development and planning associated with this future Cunningham “supercar”, later to be known as the C-7, were pursued in parallel with the development and marketing of the C4R continuation cars.
Upon arrival at Lime Rock, the frame and chassis of Larry’s prototype C4R were well sorted, but much work remained to refine and complete the correct shaping of body contours and the final assembly of trim components. This process was later updated when building the production cars to be far less labor intensive by using digital scanning technology. By July 1997 the completed prototype was undergoing final track testing, driven frequently by John Fitch and Phil Walters who was, in many respects, the “father” of the original 1952 cars and without doubt one of the most competent race car drivers of his era.
The final configuration of the C4R continuation cars deviated in several respects from the original 1952 cars, which themselves were not identical. In most cases, these deviations were made to achieve a fundamental goal of delivering a car whose appearance and dynamics are period-correct, but with a nod to safety and drivability. All continuation cars are powered by 1952 Chrysler 331 cu. in. “extended block” hemi engines configured with four dual-throat downdraft Weber 48 IDA carburetors. Per customer preference, engines were delivered in various states of tune. This engine and carburetor application is an accurate duplication of one of several original C4R configurations. Although a quantity of vintage Siata transmissions, as originally used in 1952, had been located, all continuation cars were delivered with New Process (Chrysler) A-833 four-speed gearboxes. Likewise, original drum brakes were offered, but all cars were delivered with Wilwood ventilated discs. Fabricated front A-arms are used rather than the stock 1952 Lincoln A-arms. Steering is via rack-and-pinion rather than the original Dodge steering box. The rear suspension is a Dodge 8.75 inch truck axle, narrowed to a 54-inch track and located by equal-length upper and lower trailing arms, as per the original 1952 cars.
In keeping with the plan to continue the original 1952 C4R serialization format, the prototype was often referred to as R5219, the next number in the sequence. That number, however, did not appear on the prototype ID plate which simply identified the car as “Prototype” and included the engine number. From late 1997 until 2001, the completed prototype was photographed, driven, used and abused by dozens of automotive journalists and enthusiasts. Their comments were, almost without exception, extraordinarily favorable, receiving feature coverage in many national and international automotive periodicals.
Four Cunningham C4R continuation cars were built. The first production car, R5220, was sold to Bob Williams, a former owner of an original 1952 C4R, R5217. The second production car, R5221, was delivered to Martin Swig in October 2000, then sold to Peter Hosmer in early 2002. The third production car, R5223, was sold to Bob Lutz in mid-2001. And lastly, the prototype, originally intended to remain with the Cunningham family, was retired from the “media demo circuit”, refurbished, numbered as R5222, and sold to Terri Henning in late 2001, thus becoming the first car built and the last car sold. Terri later sold the car to Eric Zausner in March 2004, who in turn sold it to current owner Larry Pfitzenmaier in June 2007.
The Cunningham C4R continuation car project was terminated before reaching its full potential for a variety of reasons, including difficulty in maintaining competent and affordable vendors, cash flow problems, and business and financial issues related to the still-born C-7 project. Never-the-less, the four completed C4R continuation cars remain as an exciting and beautiful testimony to one of the greatest sagas in American motorsports. The Cunningham family has stated that it was never their intent to make money on these cars but rather to create a memorial to the man who originally built and raced them so many years ago. In that they most surely succeeded.
P.O. Box 487
1 Imperio Corte
Sonoita, AZ 85637
March 21, 2012
Photo credits: George Olson