Names like Petty, Gurney, and Sox come with certain expectations. So does AAR, the acronym Plymouth chose for its 1970 Trans Am spin-off model. It stood for the name of Dan Gurney's team, the All American Racers, which fielded Plymouth's new ponycar that year.
While Gurney and company duked it out on the Trans Am tracks, the street version broke its share of new ground, adding a trio of Holley carburetors to the already-hot 340 small-block, side-exit tailpipes, and oversized G60 Goodyear Polyglas GT tires—larger than its front E60s, and larger even than the Hemi 'Cuda's F60s. While the 'Cuda is known for its legendary big-blocks, the caffeinated small-block, and its handling suspension, gave the limited production AAR its own personality.
Detroiter Michael Kilano was in the market for a big-block 'Cuda when he spotted this AAR on a dealer's lot in 1997. Taking a closer look, Michael determined that the 340 Six Barrel engine and TorqueFlite transmission were original, numbers-matching. But despite having only 52,000 miles, it was what Michael calls a "20-20" car.
"It looked great from 20 feet, and ran good at 20 mph," he quips.
Michael haggled over price, but the dealer wouldn't budge. In the end he paid the full asking price.
Michael enjoyed it as a driver for a while, flaws and all. But eventually, as it always does, the time came to upgrade. In 2005, the engine was pulled, and full restoration was underway. A friend knew a painter, and a cousin knew a guy who was really good with Six Barrel Mopars. A few spot-rust repairs were made, and the paint job and fresh graphics did wonders for the body.
The engine was in good hands too. The engine guy turned out to be Bob "Mr. Six Pack" Karakashian, former IHRA record holder. Bob suggested getting rid of the big cam and headers, and going back very close to stock.
"Bob told me, 'I can get you more horsepower out of the motor stock than you're getting now,'" Michael remembers.
Basically stock, the numbers-matching 340 now pumps out around 320 horsepower.
Intrigued, Michael liked the idea, and the build was underway. With careful attention to machining, the engine was assembled in a stock configuration—stock heads, block, crankshaft, even the OEM exhaust manifolds. The few departures from stock are in keeping with the rules of the Pure Stock Drags, which make realistic allowances for service wear and a bit of tuning. The factory points-type Prestolite distributor was converted to a Chrysler electronic ignition, and low-restriction K&N air filter was installed. Bob also installed one of his proprietary Mr. Six Pack cams, which retains stock lift and duration, but have improved ramps for quicker valve movement.
The real key to making an AAR run is tuning of the Holleys. They're a lot of carburetion for a street engine turning the relatively slow rpm of a stock engine. But Bob has been tuning them for decades, and as a successful racer running some of the fastest Mopars out there, he has an indisputable "track" record.
The finished engine was tested and fine-tuned on a dyno where it made 363 hp. Installed, it made 319 hp at the rear wheels, that with modest, pump gas-compatible 9.9:1 compression.
With the car looking and running strong, Bob suggested that Michael attend the 2006 Pure Stock Drags.
"I had never been down the track. The only racing I had done was on the street as a kid," he confessed. A buddy's Corvette club rented Milan Dragway (near Detroit), and Michael got a taste of driving the AAR for e.t.'s.
"My first pass was 14.30. The next pass was 14.20, then I ran a 13.97 at 98 mph. I was hooked on drag racing!"
Three passes, and he was into the 13s. At Stanton, he continued to improve, qualifying at 13.83 at 100 mph, after some instruction on launching and shifting from Bob. Matched against a 1966 Tri-Power GTO, Michael red-lit in Round One, but won the next two to win his shootout.
Since then, Michael's been a regular, getting advice from other racers, learning his car, and improving at each outing. In 2007, a few changes were made to optimize the car's quarter-mile potential. The original 3.91 gears were swapped for steeper 4.30s, and the factory 21⁄4-inch exhaust was upgraded to a 21⁄2-inch, mandrel-bend system with DynoMax UltraFlo mufflers. Michael also eliminated a restrictive bend in the tailpipe, but the tips still exit in the stock location as mandated by PSD rules.
That made a big difference, and his ET continued to improve. To date, the AAR has proved to be one tough customer.
"It's been in seven shootouts now, and won all but one," Michael says proudly.
With the exception of the Autometer tach, it looks as it should—factory fresh.
At the 2009 Pure Stock Drags it all came together for a 13.12 at 105.33 pass, the car's best ever, making it the fastest small-block Mopar at the Pure Stock Drags. The 340 has been supremely reliable too.
"In over 200 passes, I've never even pulled a valve cover. Never touched the carbs to this day either," Michael declares.
He's quick to give credit where it's due.
"Without Bob I'd probably still be in the 14s."
Michael feels he's done what he intended to do with the AAR. It now lives the easy life in his garage, making ice cream runs on the weekends, as Michael readies his next project, a 1970 Hemi Road Runner.
Sounds All American to us.
1970 AAR 'Cuda
Langley, British Columbia, Canada
Engine: The numbers-matching 340 was rebuilt by none other than Bob Karakashian. With careful machining, the stock configuration—stock heads, block, crankshaft, even the OEM exhaust manifolds tested and fine-tuned on a dyno where it made 363 hp. The factory points-type distributor was converted to electronic ignition, and low-restriction K&N air filter was installed. Bob also installed one of his proprietary Mr. Six Pack cams, which retains stock lift and duration, but have improved ramps for quicker valve movement. But Bob has been tuning Six Packs for decades, and has an indisputable "track" record.
Transmission: The numbers-matching 727 was put back in service.
Rear: It's a basic 83⁄4, now with 4.30 gears. Getting ice cream just got a whole lot quicker.
Suspension: It's stock, but rebuilt.
Brakes: Manual discs and drums.
Wheels/Tires: Repop Polyglas rubber on factory rims.
Paint/Body: The body was in decent shape, but in 2005, the engine was pulled, and a full restoration was done. That's right, we said 2005. A friend knew a painter, and a few spot-rust repairs were made, and the paint job and fresh graphics did wonders for the body.
Interior: Look stock? Look again—it's got an aftermarket tach. Who are we trying to kid? It looks great.
AAR Racing Tips
Michael has a few recommendations for getting quicker et's out of a street AAR.
Go Lean. 80 percent of the time, those Six Pack carbs are way too rich. We dialed back the jets three sizes from stock. Leaning it out and knowing how to set it up with a guy like Bob makes a huge difference.
Bias-Ply repop Tires. "I tried radials, but switched to the stock looking Polyglas GTs. I run 32 psi rear and 45 up front. No drag shocks. Best 60-foot was a 1.97.
Ready, Set, Slow. Come off the line easy, don't punch it. Launch at just over idle, I get in it at about 100 feet out, way past the light.