The Camouflaged Cannonball Record Car (Cannonball History Part 3)

Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt met during the Coast to Coast (C2C) express, an amateur Cannonball racing event featuring pre-1980 cars that cost less than $3,000. They both did well in this lighthearted rally and decided to go after the overall record: the Cannonball Run Challenge. Little did they know, they would make history as the first duo to win the record twice. You can find out how the Cannonball Run began in Cannonball History Part 1 or how the modern ‘Fraternity of Lunatics’ was founded in Cannonball History Part 2.

Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt: A Legendary Team

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 17: Dmitry Cherkassky, 40, of Philadelphia checks the GPS on more time outside the Red Ball Garage in a Mercedes 1983 300 D just after 6 am as he waits for his partner Bert Potts September 17, 2016 in New York, New York.  The two first-timers were part of the 2016 C2C Express - an homage to the Cannonball Runs of the 1970's - trying to make it from NY to CA as quickly as possible. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images), The C2C is separate from the Cannonball Record.
C2C racer outside the Red Ball Garage | Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A single enthusiast spearheaded the 2006 and 2013 Cannonball records. Both lead drivers recruited a co-driver at the last minute. But the 2019 attempt was a joint effort. The co-drivers were seasoned C2C champions. The duo combined the greatest strengths of previous record holders such as Alex Roy and Ed Bolian.

After the two C2C veterans decided to go for the overall record, Arne Toman located a 2015 Mercedes E63 AMG. He boosted the engine to 700 horsepower. Then, he installed the usual electronic police countermeasures. He also improved on the standard gear with a quick-fill fuel cell and a gimble-mounted infrared camera. The camera was for their spotter to use at night.

The Camouflaged Cannonball Car

The Distinct Mercedes Benz New E63 AMG is unveiled at the New York International Auto Show April 8, 2009 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images). Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt set the 2019 Cannonball Record in the same make and model.
The Distinct Mercedes Benz E63 AMG | STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

The only downside of the Mercedes E63: it is a distinct-looking car that attracts attention. Toman went beyond any previous Cannonball Run Challenge attempts in modifying the car’s appearance. He stripped all the badges from the car, then built body-colored vinyl panels to alter the lights and grill. At speed, his masterpiece did not look like a Mercedes AMG, but like an older, budget sedan.

Doug Tabbutt was in the business of selling used luxury cars, and his network of Cannonball enthusiasts was extensive. He lined up an unprecedented series of scouts for their run on the record. Tabbutt also rivals Roy in meticulous planning. He outlined multiple routes contingent on traffic and the unseasonal weather, continuing to adjust until their departure. Cautious by nature, Tabbutt insisted they triple-check for dangerous obstacles. The team leveraged the Waze app, a team of scouts, and an in-car spotter. After adding a spotter named Berkeley Chadwick, the group departed the Red Ball Garage in the middle of a November night.

Tabbutt and Toman Attempted A Cannonball Record in 2019

Tabbutt and Toman’s 2019 record run involved multiple setbacks. These included heavy Manhattan traffic, driving behind slow cop cars for over an hour, and even a stalling motor. After stalling, the team realized they had filled up with low octane fuel at elevation. They pulled over and restarted the engine to reset the car. 

Despite the challenges, they stuck to their plan. The duo had watched other teams lose momentum during the second half of a nonstop cross-country drive. Tabbutt organized an uninterrupted escort of spotters across the eastern states. They pushed themselves to the pace of a small plane through the first night, banking enough hours to coast to a record.

A truck driver saw the Mercedes speeding. As the team listened, the trucker radioed the police. But then the dispatcher prompted him for the make and model of the offending vehicle. The trucker just stammered that it was a silver passenger sedan, and the racers disappeared into anonymity.

The 2019 Cannonball Record was 27:25

17 December 2020, Brandenburg, Schönefeld: After a traffic accident on the A113 motorway, a long traffic jam has formed on the three lanes in the direction of Dresden between Waltersdorfer Dreieck and Schönefelder Kreuz and is only slowly clearing. Photo: Soeren Stache/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images) Traffic jams are a major danger while setting the cannonball record.
Highway at night | Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

Overall, the team maintained an average speed of 103 MPH. They kept their time stopped to 22 minutes. They set a new Cannonball record: 27:25.

Toman and Tabbutt arrived at the Portofino Inn in the middle of the night. While they were taking pictures of their car, a local police officer stopped to chat. They candidly told him what they had just done, and he told them he loved the Cannonball Run movie. When they gave him some Cannonball patches they had made, he hurried to the station and back with some department patches to trade. The team all posed for a mock arrest photo before parting ways.

Toman and Tabutt had no way of knowing that the quarantine of 2020 was about to leave the highways open for not one, but two teams to shatter their hard-won record. Find out about the golden summer of cannonball in Cannonball History Part 4.

RELATED: The ‘Fraternity of Lunatics’ Pursuing The Cannonball Run Record (Cannonball History Part 2)