Perfection Achieved: Shane Kelley’s 1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda

For most Mopar enthusiasts, there is always one car that starts it all for them. Whether it is the General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazzard” or their neighbors’ Road Runner growing up, most of us get our start in the Mopar world by seeing one car that catches our attention in our travels somewhere; one that reaches out and pulls at your heart and soul; the one car that would immerse us deep into the world that is known as Mopar. For Shane Kelley of Illinois, a red 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda AAR was the car that started it all for him.

“I grew up in a town in Southern Illinois and when I was a kid, it was a hot bed for muscle cars; especially Mopars. When I was in grade school, I would walk home and always see this red AAR sitting in a parking lot. I would just stop and look it over almost every day. I was hooked after that. I owned several Mopars through the years but like most, life got in the way and sadly, I didn’t own one for the longest time. I built and worked on them for other people but didn’t own one personally. I wanted a ‘Cuda badly and I knew if I waited much longer with the way the market was going, any ‘Cuda would be unobtainable for me,” says Shane.

Fast forwarding to 2012, Shane came to the conclusion that it was time to get back into the Mopar ownership world and had made up his mind that he wanted a nice 4-speed ‘Cuda that didn’t need to be restored; something he could bang through the gears with and enjoy. Shane tells us, “I had no intention of having a trailer queen. I started looking for a 1970 or 1971. I quickly found out that there are 3 levels of 4 speed ‘Cudas; top flight ones with huge Barrett Jackson price tags, mid-level ones that were partially restored but still quite expensive and the rusty basket cases, but even those had a pretty hefty price tag!”

He continues to say, “In early 2013, I finally found a 1971 340 4-speed ‘Cuda that was numbers matching with 3.91 gears at a classic car dealer over 1,000 miles away. I talked to the typical used car salesman there but as usual, he didn’t really know much about the specifics. There were plenty of photos showing all the numbers present and the overall condition. In the photos, the ‘Cuda appeared to be super straight with fresh body and paint done and a fair driver quality interior but I could see the engine compartment had been “dressed up” with some spray bomb on the engine and related parts. That didn’t bother me though as I had every intention of making more power with it anyway. At the end of May, a deal was struck and I had the car delivered. I had figured there would be some things hiding with the car and would just have to deal with whatever popped up.”

When the ‘Cuda arrived, the first order of business for Shane was to get all of the mechanicals squared away and make sure it was dependable. “I have restored and painted many cars and I currently run a body shop. Every time I looked at the car, I would see something I didn’t like and would tell myself I could live with it. However, something just didn’t seem 100% right with the body work. My wife and friends just kept saying I would end up redoing the car. I would say no it’s fine; I just want to drive it. After about 6 months of nothing but problems combined with the issues I was seeing with the body and paint, I finally gave in and tore the car apart for a full restoration in November of 2013,” laughs Shane.

In the meantime, while going through the paper work, Shane found a previous owners name and address in Arizona but no phone number. He decided to send a picture of the car with his phone number and a note saying “if you know this car, please call me.” A couple weeks later, Shane got the call and the previous owner was more than willing to share its history. As it turns out, he bought the car off of eBay in 2000. The car was located in Florida where it had spent its whole life with the same family. The story goes that a brother in the military special ordered the car new when he was still overseas. When he got home, he drove it for a few years and then sold it to his brother. After a couple years the brother ended up wrecking the car and it was parked in a garage until it was put on eBay and sold.

Shane says, “I do have a title that backs up some of the story. Now, I will say the amount of damage he claimed it had from the wreck didn’t align with what I found once the car was torn down and stripped. I have the feeling he didn’t want me to know how bad it was. Something major happened on the right front and right rear corners of the car however the rust was very minimal on the car which makes the story of the car sitting in a garage all years believable.”

Once Shane had the car stripped to the shell, it was then chemically stripped and all of the jambs, engine compartment and anything crusty were sandblasted. One quarter panel and the deck lid had been replaced from the wreck but Shane didn’t like the quality or the way it was installed so he ordered a pair of new AMD quarters, a dutchman panel and a deck lid. He even found a NOS rear tail panel to finish out the rear of the car. The accident damage on the front appeared quickly as both of the fenders were really badly hurt in the headlight bucket areas along with both inner fender aprons.

“All of the damage was above the frame rails so that was a huge plus. I tried both aftermarket big name brands for fenders and just wasn’t happy with the fit. I had the shell done along with the doors back for almost 2 years. In the meantime, I was searching for a nice set of factory gilled front fenders and a header panel. During that same time, I started restoring all of the parts and pieces and was putting them on the shelf for the reassembly while buying and gathering everything needed to assemble the car once the body and paint were done. I was restoring a 1970 Challenger during this time and it helped me see all of the little odds and ends I would need for mine so basically I ordered double of everything,” says Shane.

He continues to say, “One day I called a friend that restores Mopars to see if he knew of any fenders for sale. He said he had bought a bunch of parts and there were 2 sets of fenders in the deal; but they were not for sale; of course. I asked him if they were to be for sale, what would it take to buy them? He shot me a pretty high price but not out of line and finished by again saying they are not for sale. The next day, I gathered up cash along with my current fenders and a nice T/A K-member I had to sweeten the pot and headed his way. I showed up at his shop and he acted surprised. I told him I wanted to see those fenders and he told me they were stacked in a storage trailer. I pulled out a wad of cash and said I really want to see them and needed a couple pretty bad to get my car finished. He agreed but wanted to keep the nicest pair for himself. A deal was struck and I was back in business.”

Once he had the fenders, Shane got back to work finishing the body and paint. He spent lots of long weekends and nights of bodywork and panel alignment, followed by endless hours of block sanding until it was finally ready for the paint process. Shane tells us lots of effort was put into all the small hard to get details. In November of 2016, he finally started the paint process using Sikkens 1971 B5 Blue base/clear paint. On May 8th, 2017, the ‘Cuda was finally painted, cut and buffed and ready to come home for reassembly. Thankfully since Shane already had everything laid out and organized for the assembly, the ‘Cuda was assembled, got a front end alignment and was ready for the first car show just a month later! In July, the ‘Cuda went to the GoodGuys show in Columbus Ohio and won the Homebuilt Heaven award! Shane says besides the added rear wing and billboard decals, the exterior is finished exactly as it came from the factory.

Shane’s ‘Cuda is packed full of goodies everywhere. Underneath, the car has been lowered 1½-inches all the way around for a killer stance. It features Magnum Force tubular sub frame connectors, Hotchkis sway bars, adjustable shocks, adjustable strut rods and upper control arms with PST torsion bars. The ‘Cuda is stopped by Wilwood 6-piston disc brakes up front with slotted and drilled rotors and factory 11-inch drums out back. It rides on YearOne Aluminum Rallye wheels (17×9” rear and 17×8” front) wrapped with BFGoodrich 275/40/17 and 245/45/17 tires.

Under the hood is a non-original 1971 340 with 11.1 compression. It’s been fitted with a 507/494 COMP Cams hydraulic flat tappet camshaft with factory cast 273 rocker arms, Edelbrock RPM aluminum heads, Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake, Quick Fuel Q750 mechanical secondary carburetor, Mopar Performance billet distributor and chrome ignition box finished off with Taylor plug wires. The 340 breathes through TTI headers and a full TTI exhaust system with Flowmaster Series 40 mufflers. According to Shane, the engine put out 351 RWHP but he currently has the heads and intake out for porting with the goal of achieving at least 400 RWHP. He also tells us that the original 340 is sitting on a shelf for safe keeping.

The original A833 numbers matching 4-speed transmission was completely gone through by Brewers Performance and fitted with a Center Force dual friction clutch assembly. The original Hurst shifter box and original pistol grip handle were both fully restored as well. Backing the 4 speed is a chromoly driveshaft with solid U-joints and forged yokes. The original SureGrip 8 ¾ rear has been upgraded with Dr. Diff heavy duty axles and green bearings.

On the inside, the interior was completely restored with new parts. The seats were upgraded to the optional leather you could have gotten in 1971 and the steering wheel was upgraded to the optional Rim Blow. The tach and clock were sent off to Redline Gauges for modern electronic upgrades and the ‘Cuda features complete new wiring harnesses throughout. To keep the noise manageable inside, Dynomat was used throughout the interior. Shane tells us that everything else was replaced with the way the car came; the only other exception being the factory cassette player.

“The car runs really strong and handles absolutely excellent. It’s a whole lot of fun to drive and I drive it like it should be!” says Shane.

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Cody Krueger

Car Feature Editor – Since the age of 4, Cody has been obsessed with everything Mopar. On Christmas of 1998, Cody's parents gave him a rusty '69 Charger shell that his father saved from a field. Cody's garage still features that '69 Charger as well as the additions of a '71 Charger R/T, '71 Super Bee, '73 Duster, '08 Challenger SRT8 and a '13 Ram 3500. Cody can truly and proudly say that he is a true Mopar nut in love with all types of Mopars!

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