In 1974, Dean Nishizaki became the second owner of a 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda 340 with a Shaker hood. A young kid wanting a fast car, Dean bought the car in high school for $2,200 and raced the car locally until the mid 1980’s. “I put it back on the street and for the life of me, I don’t know why but I sold it,” shares Dean. Thirty years later, he decided it was time to get another one so the hunt began.
Being located on the main island of Oahu, Hawaii, it was very tough to find a car locally, so Dean had to turn his search to the mainland. He found a 1970 on Craigslist in California that suited what he wanted so he bought it sight unseen and became the fourth owner of the ‘Cuda. Once the car arrived in Hawaii, Dean started working on it. The ‘Cuda had been basically finished two years prior by the previous owner but Dean says, “Like any 46-year-old car, it had the usual things that were not finished on the car. I’ve been working on these items and adding my own personal touches.”
Dean’s ‘Cuda was built by the last owner as a very correct-looking AAR replica with the correct hood and spoilers. Wearing mile-deep black paint with matching matte black AAR decals, this ‘Cuda is sleek and stunning. Rather than the usual chrome bumpers, the previous owner decided to go with black body-colored elastomeric bumpers instead. (We love the look so we don’t blame him!) Dean added the fog lamps to put the icing on the cake.
Once he started driving the ‘Cuda, he realized the car had some gremlins. The wiper motor needed to be rebuilt and the switch controlling them didn’t work so he went quickly to work fixing those. When out for a drive one day, Dean found out the hard way that the fuel gauge was not working what-so-ever. Once he replaced the sending unit and added a ground strap to the system; that was no longer a worry. While he was at it, he added a Carter electric fuel pump and replaced all the rubber hose fuel lines.
Adding to the list was a water leak in the trunk coming from the rear spoiler, so he added some sealant to the studs to correct that issue. Turning to more detailing versus repairs, Dean fully detailed the underside of the car, painted the wheel wells in the correct finish and coated the trunk and interior floors with POR15 to preserve them. The ‘Cuda’s paint job was in fantastic shape so Dean polished the exterior and applied a few paint touch ups.
Matching the exterior’s deep black finish, the interior is completely restored to OE factory specifications with brand new black pieces. Powering the ‘Cuda is a fully rebuilt 383 big block – obviously a deviation from the original 340 Six-Barrel AARs. Featuring a Mopar Performance cam, Edelbrock intake, Holley carburetor and an upgraded electronic ignition system and alternator, the 383 powerplant is no slouch. Dean decided to dress the engine up a little by adding a pair of custom-fabricated aluminum valve covers. Letting the engine breathe is a pair of aftermarket headers leading into a stock AAR ‘Cuda exhaust system.
Backing the 383 is a rebuilt A833 4-speed transmission coupled with the legendary Hurst pistol grip shifter sticking out of the console. The rear end is an 8.75” unit with a 3.91 SureGrip setup that Dean added instead of the 2.97 open rear the car came with when he purchased it. The suspension has been completely rebuilt to OE specifications as well and the car features power front disc brakes matched with rear drums. It also has front and rear sway bars and Monroe shocks to help it handle better in corners. The ‘Cuda wears factory Rallye wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich Radial T/As.
While the mild 383 under the hood may be enough for most, it simply isn’t for Dean. He shares with us that he and a friend are just finishing up a build of a high-winding 340 small block for the ‘Cuda. The block has been bored .20 over and forged 10.5-to-1 pistons have been added. Harlan Sharpe roller rockers, a Mopar .557 lift, .296 degree solid lifter cam, Edelbrock aluminum heads, Milodon oil pan, Moroso valve covers and TTI ceramic coated headers were also added for good measure. To get back to the AAR heritage, Dean is adding a Six-Barrel setup complete with a hard-to-find Mr. Norm’s aluminum air cleaner.
Dean says he has a blast taking the car to local cruise-in events as it allows him to get together with some of his old racing buddies. He also says he gets a laugh out of usually being the only Mopar there. Once the 340 engine is finished and installed, he has full plans to go bracket racing. Unfortunately as Oahu does not have a race track, Dean says he will have to ship the car and fly to Maui to be able to race; which will not be friendly on his wallet! He says that won’t stop him though. He firmly states this ‘Cuda is a keeper and he will never sell this one. When looking back at everything, he can’t help but share a piece of advice; “I must say that it’s never too late to do something for yourself.”
Special thanks to MJK archangelx.net for the use of their pictures of Dean’s ‘Cuda.