For Bob Dalton of McHenry, Illinois, Plymouth ‘Cudas have played a key part in his family for as long as he can remember. There was one in particular though that was near and dear to his family, a FC7 Plum Crazy Purple 1970 AAR. “In 1973, my father Mike Dalton had just graduated from high school in Chicago and was in the market for a car. The girl friend of someone he worked with at Firestone knew of a guy looking to sell a used ‘Cuda and asked my dad if he had any interest” says Bob. His dad was very interested so he decided to go and take a look right away. As they turned onto the street where the car was located, a purple 1970 AAR with white interior quickly caught his attention. Mike got excited hoping the AAR was the ‘Cuda that was for sale and indeed it was.
“After checking out the car and striking a deal with the owner, the car was his. I’m willing to bet that he had no idea as to how his family’s future generations would be affected by his decision to buy this particular car. He picked his girlfriend (my eventual mother) up for dates in this car. On their wedding day, the car acted as their limo. My father and this AAR became synonymous. Their wedding day photos that adorned our home had the car in the background. I must have heard a dozen stories about this car growing up; everything from drag races on the shores of Lake Michigan to trips down to Naples, Florida where there may have been a few brushes with the law for excessive speed in Georgia. I can’t forget about the toll booth operator in Florida telling him he was lucky the State Trooper sitting at that particular toll was busy with something else after being told he made a new speed record for getting across the Florida turnpike in that car”, shares Bob.
As life would have it, Mike started a family at the young age of 21. In April of 1977, Bob was born and money was tight. Sadly, Mike’s beloved ‘Cuda was sold just before Bob’s birth to a young guy for $1,200. As it left the driveway, Mike told himself that he was certain it would be wrapped around a pole before the kid even got it home. As fate would have it, while that moment essentially ended the physical relationship between the ‘Cuda and Bob’s father, it also started the fantasy of Bob one day getting that car back into the family as the stories and pictures kept the memory alive.
Fast forwarding to Bob’s teenage years, one day while at his grandparent’s house, Mike came into the living room with a large envelope in his hand. He tossed it on the floor in front of Bob and said “here you go”. Inside the envelope was a bunch of info on the ‘Cuda such as the owner’s manual, bill of sale, maintenance records and a door key for the car. Inside the owner’s manual was the VIN which Bob quickly locked into his memory just in case he came across a purple AAR at a car show. Now that he had something solid to go off of, Bob’s hunt for the ‘Cuda was officially on! Bob tells us, “I was warned not to get too excited about finding it as my dad was certain it was destroyed long ago and probably sitting in a junk yard somewhere. I told myself if that was the case, I was going to at least find its final resting place.”
Starting his search, Bob quickly ran into a problem. How does one actually search for a car that someone else may own? At the time, Bob was 16 years old so paying the DMV $100 for a VIN search was big money to someone his age. Not to mention, aside from the money issue, he would have to let the current owner know that he was looking for it as per the DMV’s rules, and knew that would only increase the purchase price if he was able to find it. Instead, Bob decided to stay stealthy and just used the free options such as the Auto Trader classifieds and attending car shows to conduct the hunt.
In 1995, Bob started college. “There was this new technology called the internet that was all of a sudden available to me. Searching the web for any hits on the VIN began; with 0 results. Now I also had access to pages like ‘Cuda World’ to search. There was also this page called ‘TransAmCuda.com’ that also had a bunch of info on the AARs and the guy running that page, Jeff Bangert, would become a great source of info for my hunt”, says Bob. He continues to say, “Google gained popularity towards the end of the ‘90’s and into the early 2000’s and also made it very easy to find info, just not for the particular car I was looking for. I sent a handful of emails to Galen Govier, to which I received no replies (we see some things haven’t changed. –Ed). I was running out of avenues to travel to find the car! By this time, it was 2005 and I was married with 2 children and had an entry level job paying entry level salary.”
Even though Bob was in no position to buy an AAR ‘Cuda, he was still not giving up on finding his dad’s old car. Determined to keep the search going, he picked up the phone and called Jeff Bangert from TransAmCuda.com. Jeff is a very knowledgeable guy when it comes to the AAR ‘Cuda. He has a bunch of historical information on the production and function of the car. For Bob however, he was most valuable due to the fact that he had obtained the SIAC (Special Interest Automobile Club) registry. Bob tells us that he had never heard of this organization before talking to Jeff. Apparently, the SIAC was a club consisting of AAR Cuda and T/A Challenger owners that closed up shop in the mid 1980’s. Much to Bob’s surprise, Jeff was able to tell him that the VIN he was looking for was in that registry’s database.
“When I heard those words, I almost passed out. After looking for over 10 years for this specific car, I finally had something to hang onto and confirmation that the car was not totaled hours after leaving my father’s possession like originally assumed”, says Bob. While Jeff was able to give Bob a name as well as an address as to where it was registered; the information was 20 years old. As it turns out, the address registered was less than 10 miles away from where he grew up. He wondered how he never ran across the car growing up. While that question would be answered at a much later date, for the time being, he told himself he needed to find this last known owner and get some information.
From there, the search went on for what seemed like forever. The registered owner had moved from the last known address and was nowhere to be found on the web. The VIN number had not popped up anywhere on the web either. Bob decided to check several forums on the internet and continued the hunt. First he tried ForEBodiesOnly.com where he posted the VIN and asked for help in locating it. While many were happy to keep an eye open for it, nobody had any clue where the car was. After that, he posted a ‘WTB (Want To Buy)’ ad on CudaWorld.com to no avail. Next, he watched Barrett Jackson and Mecum auctions and checked past results with no luck either. “I sent emails all over North America in hopes for a new lead. I posted on several AAR and E-body groups on Facebook however nothing came of any of them! How did I get so close and now feel miles away from any additional info?” says Bob.
For about the next decade, the search continued and as time passed, he was starting to believe something must have happened to take the car off the road and out of the registries between 1985 and 2015. Bob continues to tell us, “I about gave up. I bought a 1969 Super Bee so I had a toy for my now 11 year old son to enjoy with me. I could not even look at other ‘Cudas as I knew I would resent the car from the time it showed up due to it not being the one I really wanted. We had fun with the B-body until a lightning bolt of information I had been waiting for hit me the day after my 38th birthday.”
Much to Bob’s surprise, this bolt of information came via Facebook. We’ll let Bob share this part of the story to capture the pure excitement. “There was a picture of a purple AAR posted on the Chicagoland Petrolheads and Car Spotters page. A very simple post along the lines of “Look what my buddy bought!” The picture was of the back end of the car which had obviously seen better days. My brother-in-law actually found the picture and sent it to me via text. I had an odd feeling about it so I reached out to the individual that posted the picture, Freddy Pecoraro, and asked him if he could tell me what the VIN on that car was. He said no problem but to give him some time. About 3 weeks had gone by and I hadn’t heard back from him; that was until I woke up on May 1st, 2016. When I woke up on that Sunday morning, I saw a text from Freddy with a picture of the title for the car. I could not even finish reading it as my eyes filled up with tears. I handed the phone to my wife and asked her to read off the VIN to me….BS23J0B303536. It was dad’s car! Almost better than that was the fact that the name on the title was the name that Jeff Bangert had given me as well as the same address he had told me it was registered with! What an absolutely mind-blowing moment! I quickly called my father and told him I had found it.”
After talking to Freddy about the history of looking for the car, Bob and Mike were able to set up a time for Tuesday afternoon to go see it. “That Tuesday morning was the longest morning of my life! Once I was able to get out of work, I drove out to my parent’s house, picked up my dad and off we went to Skokie, Illinois; about a 30min drive with traffic. It was unbelievably close to my parent’s house!” says Bob. The two met up with Bob’s cousin Jerry, who was also a huge fan of the car and went into a small automotive repair facility where it was apparently sitting. After finding Freddy, they were taken to the yard behind the building and there it was; looking as if it was still in close to original condition. Bob says it sat there as if laughing at him for taking so long to catch up with it. Bob tells us, “This was a truly magical moment for me and my father. He went at the car like a detective would while examining a crime scene. “This was not on there when I had it.” “That is wrong” “Where’s the interior?” It appeared to me as if dad was not as amped as I was and still had reservations as to whether or not this was truly his car.”
To confirm the identity, Bob quickly checked the fender tag as well as the VIN and they both matched. The decal on the driver’s door also was still there and had the correct VIN on it as well. Over the years, the AAR had been converted to a 4-speed from the original automatic setup and quite a few pieces of the interior had gone missing. While they were looking at it, Marty, the owner came over to Bob and asked if he was interested in taking it home to which Bob replied “I didn’t look for it this long to just take a few pictures!” Now that Bob had a lot more disposable income, the two began talking about a price. Marty told Bob that the car would come with just about every part he needed to do a full restoration on it and he would cut Bob a good deal to get it back home and into the family.
After chatting a bit with his dad on the ride home, Bob and Mike decided to go in together on the purchase price and come Friday afternoon, the car was home in Bob’s garage; less than one week after finding it! When the two picked up the car, Marty had them come back to his place to get the parts he had. “As if the car wasn’t enough, when he opened his garage door we were presented with a stock of AAR parts unlike anything I would have ever believed if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. All of the interior, new quarters, fenders, trunk lid, trunk floor, doors; the list goes on and on”, recalls Bob. There were so many parts that Bob loaded his F150 with parts inside as well as the bed, his dad loaded his trunk and rear seat with parts and Bob still had to rent a U-Haul to get the rest of it home! Talk about a score!
A couple of nights later, Bob got a call from his father. Still not convinced the car was his original one, Mike asked Bob to look on the floor behind the passenger front seat for holes left by sheet metal screws. Bob quickly went out to the garage and looked and sure enough, there were the holes. Once Bob took a few pictures of the holes and sent them to Mike, he was finally convinced. As it turns out, the holes were there from when he mounted his 8-track player back in 1974!
Now that the car was home, Bob still had one thing he decided to dig into more. “I did continue looking for the guy that owned the car from 1977 until 2016. Again, I went to Facebook and was able to track him down after some time. After finally getting in contact with the previous owner, he told me he was the 4th owner. He bought it from the guy my dad sold it to only months after my father had sold it.” Much to Bob’s surprise, the car had been under his nose in the Chicagoland area its entire life! The guy had stopped driving the car on the road around 1994 and instead was racing it in the SCCA. That combined with the fact that the car was stored it in a climate controlled underground garage at his condo was a big reason as to why Bob never came across the car even though it was so close to their house.
Thankfully, due to its storage situation, the ‘Cuda has next to no rust on it! Bob was even more surprised when the guy told him that he still had a bunch of parts he did not sell with the car but was willing to sell to Bob. These parts included a new camshaft, hood, seat belts, fog lamps, door handles and a bunch of other various parts. Bob tells us that he could not have written a better ending to the story of his hunt for the elusive AAR. To make things even better, his parents were able to be reunited with their ‘wedding day carriage’ just in time for their 40th anniversary in June of 2016.
After checking out several restoration shops to put the ‘Cuda back to the way she looked when his father owned it, Bob decided on having Harry Nicodem at Studio Hotrods in Richmond, Illinois do the work. Work will begin this fall and they are hoping to have it done and back on the street in time for Father’s Day 2018. Bob wraps up by saying, “this has been an absolutely incredible journey and I look forward to watching my grandchildren enjoy this family heirloom as much as I know my father will enjoy watching his grandchildren enjoy it.” If you are interested in following the restoration, Bob has set up a Facebook page dedicated to the build. Check it out!
Posted by Bob Dalton on Sunday, October 1, 2017
THE Cuda..Due to popular demand, the car and it's restoration process, now have their own FB page
Posted by Bob Dalton on Sunday, October 1, 2017