In the last several years, 50th Anniversary celebrations for the muscle car era have become commonplace. While not every car is worthy of some Golden Anniversary merriment, several ground-breaking Mopars, such as a ‘68 Road Runner, a ‘69 Charger or Daytona, and the ‘70 Superbird, are superstars among all the stars. However, at the declining end of the muscle car era, the high-water mark for performance was established when Plymouth introduced the ‘71 Hemi Cuda in the fall of ‘70.
“Mr. Norm” Kraus’ famous dealership, Grand Spaulding Dodge, sold all types of Dodges in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but it was his performance-oriented cars that made him a household name. In the last several decades, Mr. Norm had become the face of all Mopar high-performance. So, he, working with Larry Weiner, his business partner for the past 30 years, decided it was the perfect time to transform a new Challenger into a Mr. Norm’s GSS ’71 Hemi Cuda tribute.
During the development stage of the 50th Anniversary GSS Hemi Cuda, Mr. Norm and Weiner were in total agreement that the creation must be a faithful yet modern tribute to the original. In October of 2020, they finalized the design. They planned to debut the Cuda at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals in July 2021.
The 50th Anniversary GSS Cuda had to be powered by a potent Hemi breathing through a functional Shaker hood and backed by a manual transmission. Additionally, since the ’71 Cuda had a one-year-only quad headlight design, sawtooth grille, die-stamped fender gills, and bold Hemi billboard graphics, the GSS Cuda would share each of these features. Gold for the Hemi Billboards was chosen for the contrast color to salute the half-century celebration of this memorable vehicle.
With the plans finalized, the build quickly ran into one hold-up after another. The never-ending COVID-related shortages and delays immediately put pressure on the project’s completion date. Ninety days are usually required to complete most of the Mr. Norm’s cars, but recently, the builds have taken longer to finish.
The first snag was the time it would take to receive an ordered 6.4-liter Challenger Widebody from the factory. Rather than wait, after a nationwide search, a perfect candidate was found at a Dodge dealer in Arizona.
To replicate the ’71 fender gills, Weiner needed to locate another pair of factory Widebody fenders, which took two months to procure. After acquiring the fenders, they were stamped with a tool and die and prepped for paint within days of receiving them.
Rounding up all the Shaker hood parts needed for the Cuda also required a nationwide search. The Michelin Pilot SP Sports Radial Tires were so scarce it took Weiner weeks to locate the last four in the United States.
Even with all the delays, the worst was yet to come. In February 2021, Mr. Norm unexpectedly passed away. His death stunned the Mopar world. Generations of Mopar enthusiasts mourned his passing, and Weiner may have been hit the hardest. Not only did he lose a business partner, but he also lost a mentor and close friend.
Interestingly, Mr. Norm always signed each of the cars at a national event after they were completed. However, with this build, Weiner, through supernatural intervention, decided that because of all the COVID travel restrictions and project delays, he would send a part to Mr. Norm to sign and return, which fortunately Mr. Norm did just before his passing. Thus, the 50th Anniversary GSS ‘71 Hemi Cuda tribute was the last vehicle Mr. Norm created. Therefore, it became the final vehicle to be honored with his signature.
Prior to his death, Mr. Norm and Weiner developed several new parts that debuted on the Hemi Cuda. Among them were a set of stunning 20-inch wheels based on the original ’71 Rallye wheel design. The one-piece, forged CNC machined wheels feature ten windows, the same number the factory 15-inch wheels had. A distinct difference between the CNC wheel and the factory wheel was the forged wheel’s center cap was machined as an integral part of the wheel.
The center cap was sized to remain proportionate to the wheel size, which resulted in an accurate appearance. In addition, the center of the center cap had a removable plug to allow the wheel to be placed on a wheel balancer. Although there were plans to paint the center caps in the factory dark argent paint, the polished forging not only looked good, it mirrored a factory option dating back to 1970.
A pair of 305/35/ZR20 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires wrapped the front 20×11-inch Rallye front wheels. For the 20×12-inch rear Rallye wheels, Michelin 340/30ZR20 tires were installed. The 12-inch rear wheels were one inch wider than a stock Widebody wheel.
Under the hood, the factory 6.4-liter Hemi and Shaker intake system remained stock. The Tremec 6-speed manual transmission was untouched but was upgraded with a classic Hurst embossed Pistol Grip shifter fitted with authentic wood grain grips, which resembled what came on a ’71 Hemi Cuda.
In addition, the exhaust was improved with a free-breathing Flowmaster Outlaw three-inch cat-back stainless-steel dual exhaust system that provided the perfect exhaust note to match the Cuda’s performance. Finally, a set of Hotchkis lowering springs adjusted the ride height to the ideal stance, which provided a race-inspired appearance.
The front of the Cuda was fitted with a Mr. Norm’s ’71 style Cuda grille with subtle silver accents. The front fenders amplified the Cuda theme with a set of genuine ’71 Hemi Cuda chrome fender gills accented in gold to match the Hemi Billboards.
A pair of Mr. Norm’s Cuda-style stainless steel hood pins and lanyards secured the hood along with a stainless-steel hood latch. The rear window louvers were designed to match the originals but engineered to fit 2008 – 2021 Challengers. Even the mounting hardware for the louvers duplicates the original ’71 design.
All the Cuda’s badging replicated the factory emblems and were placed in similar locations to the originals. The badges included a 3D diecast Plymouth emblem added to the driver’s side hood leading edge. Additionally, a 3D Pentastar was affixed to the lower right front fender. Lastly, diecast Cuda and Plymouth emblems were strategically placed on the Cuda’s tail panel.
The beautiful exterior theme was carried to the interior. The seats were recovered in Katzkin Tuscany leather with gold stitching. In addition, both front seatbacks received the 50th Anniversary GSS Hemi Cuda ’71-’21 tribute embroidered logo. Under the dash were era-correct ’71 Hemi Cuda pedal pads and stainless-steel trim. Mr. Norm’s team created new mounting brackets to enable the proper fit of the vintage pedal pads on late-model Challenger pedals.
A four-piece Mr. Norm’s signature carpet set was installed. Additional Cuda emblems were placed on the dash, steering wheel, door panels, and passenger-side air vent, along with a pair of 50th Anniversary Hemi Cuda bright door sill accents. Lastly, a ’71 GSS Hemi Cuda tribute serial number plaque was situated on the glove box door in its rightful place.
Even with the endless backorders and the passing of Mr. Norm, Weiner was able to complete the 50th Anniversary GSS Hemi Cuda on time. It debuted at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals and was the centerpiece of the weekend-long Mr. Norm tribute that included several new Mr. Norm’s GSS Challengers, along with numerous original and modern Mr. Norm vehicles.
The Cuda was built with the same philosophy Mr. Norm and Weiner infuse in all of their cars; they are designed and built for enjoyment by the enthusiast. As a result, the vehicles are much more than simply an over-the-top SEMA-type build. Instead, the cars are affordable, and each is custom built with the customer’s needs in mind.
To see the beautiful white and gold Cuda in person, plan on being at the Holley Moparty, September 17-19, 2021, and after that, it will be at the San Diego Automobile Museum for 90 days. Only ten serial numbered, hand-built models of the 50th Anniversary GSS Hemi Cuda will be built, so if you would like one of these near-instant collectibles, call Mr. Norm’s to have one created especially for you.
The 50th Anniversary GSS Hemi Cuda is destined to hold a position of importance among all the great Mr. Norm’s Dodges dating back to 1963, and just like those cars, this Mopar earned his signature of approval.
Photography courtesy of Larry Weiner