Black Friday Special: This Cunningham-Built Z06 Redefines The Term

Every year on the Friday following Thanksgiving, millions of people in this country camp out in front of their local department store or mall to take advantage of the apparent “good deals” to kick off the Christmas shopping season. It’s a tradition that has been popular for decades, and we have absolutely no interest in it.

With 634 HP being pumped to the wheels, this ‘H/C/I’ LS7 is taking no prisoners around the road course.

Instead, we took our extra day off from work to shoot this gorgeous, loud, and scary fast 2008 Corvette Z06. Formerly owned and built by Ryne Cunningham of Cunningham Motorsports, this Z06, while still very streetable, was built for the road course.

Under the hood you’ll find a worked over, naturally aspirated LS7 with all of the latest hardware that makes this one mean ride. Since Cunningham is a legit car builder with a fully functioning shop and employees at his disposal, he had the ability to build the car from the ground up.

The Vette still relies on the factory LS7 block and bottom end, though just about everything attached to it has been massaged in some way or another. The heads have been replaced with Stage 2 CNC-ported castings from West Coast that were also decked for 12.7:1 compression, and the camshaft is a custom grind CMS-spec unit.

This is one Vette that WON’T be found at any drive-in car show being wiped by an old guy with a diaper.

Helping the LS7 breathe, is a cold air induction package, a FAST 102 mm intake manifold, and a ported throttle body. All of the spent gases are exhumed from the 427 through a set of Kooks long-tube 1-7/8″ headers, and a custom mid-pipe and rear section exhaust. The LS7 also benefits from an extra oil cooler for when it’s seeing extreme road course action. With all of the engine mods in place, a close-ratio Tremec TR-6060 gearbox was bolted in, and a RPS twin disc clutch was called upon to withstand the abuse of a road racer.

The results of all of this creativity add up to a total of 634 rwhp and 580 lb-ft. of torque on an E85 tune. With all of this added horsepower, the suspension has been tweaked too – thanks to T1 swaybars and a Pfadt coil-over system. Helping the suspension keep the car planted in the corners is a set of Forged Star 18-inch wheels, wrapped in sticky Toyo Proxes rubber. Bringing this C6 to a halt are the factory Z06 calipers stuffed with Hawk pads. Out back, the differential still relies on the GM-installed 3.90 gear set.

Since added safety is both a SCCA requirement and a necessity, the road race theme continues inside the cockpit of this Vette too; with a Hurst shifter, a Cobra racing driver’s seat incorporating a 5-point harness, and a custom, 4-point roll bar. 

It’s new owner, Stu Welch, just bought the car a few weeks prior to us shooting it on that Black Friday. It’s the second C6 Z06 he has owned, making it his fourth Corvette in total. His last Z, a yellow 2007 version, met with an untimely death via an engine fire while out on a road course. It might be a horrible way to end, but it’s replacement is one heck of a way to bounce back!

It was built like my last car, and it had already seen plenty of track time with Cunningham – it was perfect for me. -Stu Welch

As Welch put it to us, “This is my fourth Corvette, but after the engine fire of my yellow ’07, I still couldn’t stay out of one, so I bought Cunningham’s. It was built like my last car, and it had already seen plenty of track time with Cunningham – it was perfect for me.”

Don’t think that a previous road racing fire is going to keep Stu from babying this one, however. Being a former street racer, he has since gave that life up, and is all about legal road racing action. He skips the show and shine scene altogether. With the Corvette coming to him pre-battle hardened, Stu doesn’t have to worry about stone chips, anyway. 

Despite the nicks and scratches on the car’s exterior, the cockpit looks just as new as it did when it left the Bowling Green, Kentucky factory five years ago.

After we shot Welch’s “new” toy, he took us for a quick jaunt around the block so we could sample the power. The car is just as docile as a stocker when you’re driving along, but when you put that hammer down, it transforms into a totally different animal. Needless to say, it had us smiling from ear to ear.

This Z06 demonstrates the sheer power potential of what a naturally aspirated, modern LS engine can make. The best part is that Welch can have all of the power and reliability of a daily driver, but still have the performance of a race car. 

About the author

Rick Seitz

Being into cars at a very early age, Rick has always preferred GM performance cars, and today's LS series engines just sealed the deal. When he's not busy running errands around town in his CTS-V, you can find him in the garage wrenching on his WS6 Trans Am, or at the local cruise spots in his Grand National.
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