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Cunningham, Robert D.

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Comments from the author about writing: I have studied automotive history since my childhood in the 1960s with a keen interest in America's pioneer "orphan babies", a term I coined to describe the very small cars built by independent domestic manufacturers who are no longer in business. In 1994, I published Too Little Too Soon: America's Early Economy Cars. The limited edition book chronicled the development of American Austin, Bantam and Crosley automobiles.

By 2008, my newest manuscript, Orphan Babies - America's Forgotten Economy Cars, had grown to more than 1,500 pages. It was enough to fill three volumes with detailed text and rare photographs. I wanted to publish a truckload of facts, figures and stories about America's smallest cars. And I wanted people to read it from cover to cover. But I knew nobody would read an encyclopedia.

My novel solution was to weave together 1,500 pages of facts and photos via the vivid recollections of a reclusive car collector who lived in my home town of Manson, Iowa. Although Zeke is a fictional character, his conversations were adapted from vintage periodicals, sales brochures, and the personal memoirs of America's lesser-known automotive pioneers, scalawags, hobbyists and mentors. Orphan Babies has been described as an "historical reference novel".

My books are popular among adult automotive enthusiasts, but they were written with teenage boys in mind. For example, Orphan Babies is the engaging story of Bobby, a thirteen-year-old Iowa boy who stumbles onto a treasure trove of rusting relics in and around a tumbledown garage. Bobby's curiosity and love of old cars quickly puts him at odds with the mysterious owner, a local recluse known to the kids as Crazy Zeke.

The text immediately connects with so many readers and "car guys" whose first exposure to old cars began in a similar way. In spite of their awkward introduction, Bobby and the crusty old curmudgeon learn to understand and respect one another. They form a partnership around a single goal: To restore a 1930 American Austin coupe before summer's end.

In addition to my writing, I am an accomplished illustrator whose career began in 1977 with The Des Moines Register and Tribune. Twelve years later, I formed an ongoing freelance partnership with Farm Journal Publishing, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From my home in Des Moines, I create "$100 Ideas", turning the letters and photos submitted by inventive farmers into Farm Journal magazine's most popular page.

Literary Awards:

  • Golden Quill" award of excellence for automotive journalism, presented by Old Cars Weekly, annually since 1997

Graphic Arts Awards:

  • "Bronze" - The International Association of Printinghouse Craftsmen


  • Award of Excellence" - In-Plant Managers' Association
  • "Dandy" - The Newspaper Advertising Bureau
  • "Frank Tripp Memorial Award of Excellence" - The Gannett Corporation
  • Judge - Society of Technical Communicators Illustration Awards


  • "Addy" (including Best of Show) - Advertising Professionals of Iowa
  • "Award of Excellence" - Art Directors' Association of Iowa
  • "Award of Excellence" - Life Communicators Association
  • "Golden Quill" - Iowa Association of Business Communicators
  • "Online Award of Excellence" - Society of Technical Communicators
  • "Bronze Medal" - Vocational Industrial Clubs of America College Advertising Awards
  • Judge - Vocational Industrial Clubs of America College Advertising Awards
  • Judge - Distributive Education Clubs of America College Marketing Awards

Book Types: Nonfiction

Audience Types: All Ages

Genre: Biography, History, Realistic Fiction

Are you willing to do programs for schools, libraries, or other groups? Yes

If you are willing to do programs, will you charge a fee? No fees required for programs in the Des Moines metropolitan area as long as book sales are permitted on site. A small fee to cover fuel expenses may be required to travel outside of the Des Moines area.

E-mail Address:

County: Polk

Books By This Author

  • Orphan Babies: America's Forgotten Economy Cars Volume 3 1943 - 1969, Cunningham Studio, Des Moines, Iowa, late summer 2014 (scheduled release date)

  • Orphan Babies: America's Forgotten Economy Cars Volume 2 1927 - 1943, Cunningham Studio, Des Moines, Iowa, 2010.
  • Orphan Babies: America's Forgotten Economy Cars Volume 1 1887 - 1927, Cunningham Studio, Des Moines, Iowa, 2008.
  • Too Little Too Soon: America's Early Economy Cars, Cunningham Studio, Des Moines, Iowa, 1994.
  • Heavyweight Book of American Light Trucks (contributing author) by Tom Brownell and Don Bunn, Motorbooks International, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1988.
  • The New American Bantam Owner's Manual, American Austin Bantam Club, Des Moines, Iowa, 1980.

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