Gallery: Introducing The “Comeback Cuda” – Mopar Connection’s Most Meticulous Project Yet


cuda

September 1969, auto mechanics class, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Just a regular day of class. All the Chevy guys in one area, the Ford guys in another, and myself and the handful of Mopar guys in another. We were all classmates and we would regularly hang out together, but, there was a special bond between the Mopar guys. It always seemed like it was us against the world.

There were several cool cars in the group; a ’68 Super Bee 4-speed with air, ’69 ‘Cuda fastback with white side stripe, ’67 Sport Fury convertible with 4-speed, and then David Clay’s ’67 Satellite. Most of our cars were pretty much stock, and could hold their own of Saturday nights along the restless ribbon. Peoria Street was a favorite place to cruise in Tulsa and it was made famous in the book, The Restless Ones. But Clay’s car was a Hemi, 4-speed with a Dana and Super Track Pack 4:10 gears. Few were bold enough to ever challenge him to a grudge match race and even fewer, if any, were ever successful in beating him. The funny thing was hearing him always talking about how hard it was to keep it in tune and in top racing condition. Something all of us would have been happy to have to do to our cars.

Above: I picked up a copy of the original September 1969 Motor Trend that sparked my love affair with the ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda

That day David came in with a glow on his face and the latest edition of Motor Trend in his hand. What our eyes would see for the first time will never be forgotten. Even the Chevy and Ford boys were never more excited to catch a glimpse of the cover and see the features of the latest cars from Detroit. The red “Hemi ‘Cuda” on the cover got everyone more excited than any other magazine we could get our hands on. The change from the fast back, valiant base model, was gone, and the coolest car to ever come out of the Motor city was there for all to see.

Everything about the car was new! The body style, the awesome grille, cool tail lights, Shaker hood, high back bucket seats, pistol grip shifter, hockey stick stripe proclaiming the displacement under the hood…. And then… no they didn’t? But yes they did! They shoe-horned the infamous 426 Hemi, two four barrel, elephant into this sexy new car!

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Above: Always remember that pictures of cars on eBay are usually better than the car actually looks in person. But hey it is a red convertible Hemi ‘Cuda with a white top and interior. A guy has to bid on this if he has always wanted one.

Above left: After 45 years I finally had the two cars I loved the most out of all the Mopars that were ever produced: a ’69 Road Runner convertible, R4 red with white top, numbers matching, and now a ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible. Something that I never dreamed I would ever own since that fateful day I first saw the car on the cover of the September 1969 issue of Motor Trend. Above right: After getting the seller down on the eBay purchase price and hauling it to Nashville from Tampa, the car of my dreams was finally in my garage.

All the guys were trying to read the specification page on not only the Plymouth ‘Cuda, but it’s brother the Challenger. From that moment I wanted a 4-speed, Hemi ‘Cuda in Plum Crazy Purple, with just one more wrinkle. I wanted it in a convertible! There were a few problems. One was obviously money, but then there wouldn’t be anyway an insurance company would insure a 16-year-old in a droptop Hemi ‘Cuda.

Lack of money and needing a cool car to drive pushed me to buy a car out of a barn from my chemistry teacher. Even though it wasn’t a Mopar, it was a convertible, and the price was right. After giving Karl Skalnik my hard earned $600 I drove home my 1960 MGA. Sky blue, wire wheels, and the top came down. In spite of seeing the street go by under my feet, it was just what I could drive every day. Then with some work in the garage it would be way cool. But 2 weeks after buying the MGA it blew the top off of a piston. So, after an engine overhaul, new floors, new paint, and reworking the wire wheels, I drove it for 3 years and then sold it for a nice profit.

At this point I am sure you are wondering where is this story going and what about the title, “Comeback Cuda.” The love of the Hemi ‘Cuda convertible was started that day and continued to be a lifelong dream. No matter what car I bought, fixed up, sold, and reinvested back into the “car fund,” I was always coming back to the car of my dreams. But we all know how few of these cars were produced; 14 to be exact. And we all know what happened to the value of these cars over the years. Now real “R” code cars are selling for over $1.5 million.

Above left: The fact that the boys at Mopar would even think to stuff this elephant in a Barracuda is beyond sanity. The car did run and drive but would die in reverse. Combine that with a leaking transmission, an undercarriage completely coated in Por 15, a patched trunk floor, and the car was less than “turn key.” But all the important parts were there! Above right: The Shaker hood and breather is one of the coolest options to come out of Ma Mopar. The rumble of the Hemi and shake of the breather says “Bad to the Bone.” After tinkering with the car, I quickly discovered why the car would not run that great. Only 6 of the spark plug wires were connected to the plugs.With all 8 cylinders firing, Bam! the car was a beast.

Above left: I took the car to several cruise in’s and it was always a hit. The Music City Mopar Club, where I serve as vice president, always man the show car entry gate at the Nashville Goodguys event. Of course I had to take the ‘Cuda. One hour after the gate opened it began to pour rain. The guys from Griot’s Garage came by and said, “We want your car in our display and we have a tent to keep it dry?” My response? “Done.” Above right: The second day of the show the sun came out and the top went down!

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Above: By the third day, the Hemi ‘Cuda was really pulling in the business for the boys from Griots. I have always used their products and found them to be the top of the line. I let them use the car to demo their awesome detail products. By the third day the car really looked great!

I tried about 20 years ago to get a Barracuda convertible from New Jersey. After I got it was just too rusty, so I sold it to a guy who was building jump cars for the TV show “Nash Bridges.” So after restoring and selling a true A12 ’69 440 Six-Barrel Road Runner; a 1971 440, 4-speed GTX; and a 1970 4-speed Road Runner, I came back to looking for a Hemi ‘Cuda convertible tribute car. Late one night on eBay, I saw a “turn key” tribute Hemi ‘Cuda convertible with less than 10 minutes left on the auction. The pictures looked good and it had a video of the car running. So I pulled the trigger. Bam! I finally had a Hemi ‘Cuda convertible.

After pointing out many issues, the deal was made. I already knew that someday I would have to tear it completely down for a total restoration, but in the meantime, I took it to the Nashville Goodguys Show and several local cruise-ins. The car looked great and the red-and-white ‘Cuda with the Shaker hood attracted any true car lover. Then, when they saw the Hemi it was game over. Fatefully, I left the cruise-in later than normal. It was already dark. On my way home on a two lane country road I came around a bend and there were about 7 deer standing in the road.

I missed the deer but took out a stacked solid stone mailbox. The ‘Cuda was hammered right at the front door and quarter panel. The impact was at the weakest point of the convertible, right at the door jam and rocker. At first I hoped it would only be a door, windshield, quarter panel, and replace the cabin floor and trunk while it was being repaired. But after a complete inspection, the hit was so hard that even the driver’s side quarter was also bent. Thankfully, I had the ‘Cuda insured. The adjuster wanted to total the car and my trusted body shop didn’t think the car could be saved. I wasn’t about to give up my dream car no matter what.

Above left: Ouch! The only good thing to say after this is no one got hurt or killed. That includes human and deer. Landscape stones, stacked in a solid manner to make a mailbox, proved to be a veritable fortress. Above right: When standing at the front of the car and looking down the body line there was easily a foot to a foot and a half of the cars structure pushed in. The windshield frame was pushed down six inches and the cowl under the hood was even bent.

Above left: The hit began at the corner of the front fender and continued into the door. Shattered glass was everywhere. It was amazing that the door would still open. When it did open, it revealed the damage done to the rocker panel. The only real structure of any great strength in an E-body convertible. Above center: The B-pillar was hit and the quarter panel was obviously damaged. Surprisingly the rear quarter glass was still intact. So far it all looks bad but fixable. Above right: But after walking around the car to the driver’s side, things got worse in a hurry. I knew that there had to be some major damage underneath the carpet. A very bad feeling deep in my stomach just made itself known in a big way!

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Above: The only way to completely access all the damage is to take it all apart. Amazingly the convertible top and frame came through without any damage. The rear seat and panel did not fare as well. With the windshield removed and all the carpet and seats out the extent of the damage began to appear.

So I contacted the miracle working guys at the AMD Installation Center, in Cleveland, Georgia. I talked to Craig and sent him some pictures. I knew their work first hand since Mopar Connection had already published an article of a ’70 Dodge Charger R/T they saved for Music City Mopar Club’s President Donny Lippard. Craig assured me they could bring the ‘Cuda back to life. So, the “Comeback ‘Cuda” was put in line for the shop to repair.

In addition to documenting the complete restoration that is currently being performed at the AMD Installation Center, we will also be focusing on several steps within that process. In fact, throughout all of 2017 and beyond, we will be taking you step-by-step through the build of the “Comeback ‘Cuda” with the gracious help and support from several of our sponsors and some new great companies, who will join with us as we attempt to do what no other magazine has done with their project cars: Mopar Connection will build a 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertible as close to the way they originally came as possible. We will document each step and explore all the restoration details as the car comes together.

When complete, the “Comeback ‘Cuda” will be painted in factory-correct Plumb Crazy Purple, with a white convertible top and interior, and hockey stick side stripe; and equipped with a correct Shaker hood, A-833 4-speed, Dana 60 (with 3:54 rear gear), 4-wheel manual drum brake, 426ci Hemi. Duplicating the originality, feel and driving experience from 1970 was paramount. Sure, we could use all the new technology that the aftermarket has to offer, but that just wasn’t right for this build. We wanted the real thing, and only a true 426 Hemi, 4-speed Hemi ‘Cuda just like how “Plymouth [made] it” would do.

Above left: The force of the hit also took out the torque box and exposed the poor body work that once looked so good. This was the first time in 40 years I took a chance on a finished car. You never know what lies beneath the slick paint. Since the car was taken by the seller in a multicar deal he had zero history on the car. Above right: Yes, that is a buckle in the floor pan behind the back seat. The drive shaft tunnel was also buckled. That was the reason the quarter panel on the driver’s side was pushed back and up. It was at this point when the insurance appraiser came to see the car. He immediately wanted to pronounce that the car was totaled. I wasn’t ready to give up and insisted he do a thorough written estimate. Then I had my body shop do the same.

Above left: After my body shop tells me there isn’t any way they can fix the car, I settled with the insurance company to be able to keep the car, receive a check and release the company from any future additional claim. It was now that I contacted Craig and Bill at AMD Installations and Classic Muscle Metal. I sent them pictures and paid the deposit to get my place in line. Craig sent me a ball park estimate and said it would be about 6 months before they would get to the car. Sure enough just as Craig said they were ready for my car in less than 6 months. It was in line behind the Stephen’s Daytona Charger we just did an article on. Above right: Mopar Connection’s Editor-in-Chief, Kevin Shaw came over and helped me load the battered ‘Cuda on the trailer and deliver it to AMD Installations in Cleveland, Georgia. The detailed directions from Craig were right on and the drive was beautiful. Once there the guys lifted the ‘Cuda onto a rolling dolly. The cars that were in the shop and the level of repair that was taking place was beyond belief. It was at this point I began to believe that the ‘Cuda could actually “Comeback.”

Above left: Immediately every part was documented, listed, and photographed. The professional way these guys do business is amazing. The service and sales from Classic Muscle Metal is top notch. Whether you just need a few pieces or a complete resto these guys are the best. They will sell you the parts you need even if you are not having them installed by AMD Installations. They are one of our sponsors so click on their link for the full information about this great business. Above right: The next step was to put the “Comeback ‘Cuda” on the lift so a full and complete assessment could be done. Craig then walks you through everything they feel needs to be done. Each piece has a price and a labor cost. So, after the parts are listed the labor is known. None of this hourly plus parts, plus unknown additional costs along the way. After the estimate, all they require is payment for the parts before the work begins. Which makes perfect sense so they are not stuck with a bunch of parts if you need to pull out due to life complications.

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Mike Wilkins

Technical Editor Michael Wilkins is a lifelong Mopar owner, restorer, and car enthusiast, as well as a respected judge of OE Plymouth and Dodge B-Bodies. Wilkins has spent nearly half a century driving, racing, and restoring some of the finest Mopars in the US, earning several Antique Automobile of America Grand National Senior awards, Mopar National Best of Show and first place awards, and a co-author of "The Chrysler B-Body Restoration Guide."

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  1. Ken Johnson 12 February, 2017 at 04:51 Reply

    just curious… it’s my understanding that black is the only color available for 1970 MY ‘Cudas hockey stick stripe, am i correct, to the best of your knowledge? I know for’71 MY, white was a color available for the billboards. if white was available, as on Craig Jackson’s car(?), what is your source of information? i can’t find evidence of CJ’s fender tag or build sheet so i don’t consider that as proof it was available.

    • Kevin Shaw 13 February, 2017 at 03:41 Reply

      Yes white was available for the hockey stripe. For one, it’s shown on one of Plymouth’s press cars (red w/ white stripes, red Shaker hood), as well as a media test vehicle. We’ll have Mike Wilkins provide additional backup if necessary.

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