With its redesign in 1970, Plymouths Barracuda really came into its own. No longer the sporty stepchild of the A-Body lineup, the new car was a completely different fish from the ground up. It was wider, lower, sportier, and most importantly, able to platform any engine the factory put between two fenders. Together with the Challenger, the new E-Bodies offered a new home for ol King Kong hisself, the 426 Hemi.
Nonetheless, as production for the two models tooled up, nobody expected insurance rates, increased environmental legislation, and changing times to make 1970 the high-water mark for sales of the infant E-Body. In hindsight, it was bound to happen. Just as other elements of the radical 60s would reach their pinnacle at places like Altamont and Kent State, the supercar era created a backlash. The following year the Detroit performance industry quickly and quietly fell back. Luckily for Mopar fans, the factory didnt try to castrate the Hemi; it died at the end of that season strong as ever.
The 1971 model year also saw Chrysler creating some of the most radical car designs ever. At Plymouth, the B-Body GTX and Road Runner got a redesign almost as radical as the Barracuda, and refinements to the Duster 340 package made it more sporty as well. As for Cuda, the Barracudas standard-bearer in terms of performance, it now had four headlights instead of two and a radical-appearing grille. Elastomeric bumpers would get you a color-matched grille, while four louvers (non-opening) were now integrated into the front fenders.
The Sassy Grass Green example you see here was purchased in late 1971 at M&L Motor Company in Lexington, North Carolina, and is one of the final Hemi cars to leave Chrysler. The buyer decided that he wanted the works on the car. To wit, in addition to the Hemi, it got the Shaker hood, the billboard graphics proclaiming the engine, and a color-coded front bumper. The buyer was planning to drag race it, so the order blank called for the Super Trak Pak, which included a New Process four-speed outfit behind the elephant and automatically meant a Dana 60 rear stuffed with a SureGrip 4.10:1 cog. The Hemi also meant big rubber (actually, some of the biggest at the time) F60x15 Goodyears mounted on 7-inch Rallye wheels. The only major external options selected were front road lamps, mirrors and hood pins.
Meanwhile, the interior benefited from the standard Rallye dash with 150 mph speedometer and a Hurst Pistol Grip shifter coming up through the floor between the two front buckets. Power steering and other such comforts are nowhere to be found. In the trunk was a space-saving spare. That was about it; as we said, this car was built for speed, with comfort as an afterthought.
After spending some time eating Chebbies and Ferds on the quarter-mile, the car eventually came back into the possession of M&Ls sales manager, Smith Stokes. Repossessed by the bank, the car was showed its racing heritage via abuse (the driveline was missing), but Smith was in the right position to correct that. The car became part of a small collection that Smith had amassed since the end of the supercar era, which includes the Hemi Superbird shown in Mopar Muscle in March.
In 1990, Smith founded a very successful dealership, Smith Stokes Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Reidsville, North Carolina. With major help from Year One, the green monster began to go back together. Every piece of paper from the original buyers order form, factory order blank, and more, was with the car. As a stock-type restoration, it needed to be right, and Smith spared no expense in bringing the car back to as-built specs (he admits he threw away the receipts partway through the process so that his better half, Cindy, wouldnt go through the proverbial roof).
Of course, a project like this doesnt happen overnight and without help. Smith was busy enough with his successful business that he called on Bruce Lopp, who got the process started and did the suspension work. Next, Ken Marsh, Smiths partner at the Five Star-Rated dealership, took over the reins and led the project to a faithful conclusion. Ken admits he spent too many hours getting the car right, but the fruits of his labors are visible to any onlooker.
Of course, as you might imagine, the Plymouth is now back to like-new shape, and sees only limited street duty. Still, you would agree that a car like this should get driven around every once in a while, right? So, while we were taking the pictures, I said to them, If you ever need someone to take er out for you, you know, cruise it around, limber up the suspension, blow the carbon off the pistons, sure, let me know. Yeah, Id do that for ya, pal. Sure, come on over any time to do that. Just give me a couple of days advance notice so I can get it ready for you.
That was Ken Marshs reply to my request about driving Smith Stokes pristine Hemi Cuda. As we were getting ready to run the feature on the car, I called and asked if the offer was still good on the outside chance that Ken might be a little fatigued one afternoon (and also knowing that once they read my editorial last month, I would probably never get near a muscular loaner again).
Lets face it, how many people have ever had the chance to drive a four-speed Hemi car under any circumstances? I certainly had never done it. This would be a chance to get an idea of what it was like to be in the drivers seat of what is arguably the stoutest street musclecar package from Detroit426 Hemi, A833 four-speed, 4.10 SureGrip, Dana 60. There were certainly race Hemi packages that would have been even more radical, but this was as stout as they came off the dealership floor for the boulevard. The fact that it had a High Impact Paint, the Shaker hood, and billboard stripes didnt hurt either.
The Hemi mill in Smiths car is basically stock. It had been gone through (Ken had built it himself), but as a restoration, it had not benefited from a lot of modern technology. As a result, and since the four- and five-speeds I had driven in the last decade were all behind four-bangers, I didnt ask if I could take it out to nearby Farmington Dragway for a gear-grinding workout. After all, these guys were my friends, and this one wasnt a rental car.
No, the idea was to get the car out on the highway, drive it around a little, and record the impressions it gave. So on a crisp March morning, I met Ken in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the car was in storage. Despite the fact it had been not been driven recently, the big elephant roared to life after cranking the starter for 15 or so seconds, then belched condensation from the tailpipes as it warmed up in the bay of the garage. The plan would be for me to drive it, and a friend of Kens would follows us in a new Dodge Ram on the outside chance something unexpected might happen (you wouldnt want to leave this car unattended on the apron of a highway with a flat, either). Well, where do you want to go with it? Ken asked.
Greensboro was rich in history, notably as the closest big town in the piedmont to Burlington, where Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin had once plied their trade. But that effort was long since gone. No, a better place would be the little crossroads town of Level Cross, where Petty Enterprises has their shop and museum. It was also about 20 miles away, meaning we would get a chance to drive the car in a variety of situations. So, after breakfast at a local eatery and a splash of fuel (OK, about 12 gallons), the lean, mean, green machine was headed out toward Interstate 40/85.
As restored, the car is equipped with biased-ply G60s, and, to be honest, I had forgotten what they are like to drive on. The well-traveled traffic corridor had some truck-tire grooves worked into it, and as the car got up to speed, it liked to move around a little bit following the grooves. Steering corrections were necessary though not constant. The weather was nice, but it was easy to imagine what it would feel like to be fighting this thing up the road in heavy rain. Chalk one up for modern technology; Im sticking with the radials.
Once we got on the bypass that goes south toward Randleman and Level Cross, it was time to get on it a little. With the 4.10 ring in the back, the Hemi was already straining at the bit and just starting to breathe at 70 mph, winding up to about 4500 rpm in Fourth gear. I had declined trying to hammer it in the lower gears, knowing full well the back end would have simply broken loose and come around. Once we were clear of traffic on a long stretch of pavement I asked if it was OK. Ken nodded, braced himself, and the pedal moved closer to the floorboard.
Since the AFBs respond to airflow instead of simple mechanical linkage, the throttle doesnt just fly open. You can feel the progressive linkage on the two carbs through your foot as they are forced open. The tone of the engine changed as Amoco 93 began hitting the runners in volume, and even at 80 mph in Fourth, the feeling of acceleration was right in the seat of your pants. The Shaker scoop twisted to one side through the hood, and it took just over 3 seconds at about 75 percent throttle for the speedo to hit the triple digits.
But it wasnt just the view through the windows that was a blur. First of all, those biased-ply tires meant the car was going where it wanted regardless; this thing would have been a bear without power steering, and it swapped lanes to the right fairly quickly at the hit of the gas. Next, the sound coming from under the air cleaner and rumbling stock exhaust pretty much told you what where the engines rpm was moving at, but the big elephant hit 5700 rpm or so like nothing, no effort whatsoever. There was still a lot left. I could have pushed the hammer down farther, but going to jail (at this speed, thats the law) and having Smiths car impounded would have been a bad way to relate this tale, so discretion played the better part of valor here. The brakes (with power disks in the front) werent even needed to slow it down; letting off the gas allowed the rear gear itself to pull down both the rpm and speed quickly. Indeed, a 3.23 or higher ratio in a car like this would be serious speeding trouble; with the high rpm range achieved at 70 rpm, you could almost gauge your speed off the engines sound.
The 4.10 gear had other benefits. If youve never driven an A833 with a short Pistol Grip, the short throws make it somewhat difficult to find the difference between First and Third (I managed to put it in reverse by accident at one traffic light as well, but that was my problem). From a dead stop on level pavement, the car could actually get rolling in third gear without stalling, as the gear ratio would simply bring the engine rpm up. First gear in the transmission was not overly radical either, but then again, I never let loose with all eight barrels from a dead stop.
We got down to Pettys compound, paid to go in and see the museum, and were headed back to Greensboro in an hour. Of all the things that surprised me, I suppose the fact that the car didnt draw more stares was the biggest one. Two police cruisers came by us as we tooled back up 40/85 at the legal limit, but a glance at them yielded no responses. Perhaps in this day of multicolored import graphics, the billboard HEMI lettering on the side of the Cuda has become passe. Perhaps its just another colorful car on the street, no different from the Hondas or Acuras that are seen so often. Perhaps nobody cares about these things but a handful of us. Perhaps....but, no, I doubt it, all of it. There is little question the car would have gotten a lot more respect on a Friday evening than a Wednesday morning, even from the cops.
So, we got back to the garage and I grudgingly handed Ken the keys back. The truth be told, I was smitten; the Shaker, the sound of the engine, the Pistol Grip, and the calm demeanor of the car in street (as opposed to race) tune had made the trip a lot of fun. Any excuse I had ever made to myself that a Hemi car aint all that great went out the window; it is that great. The car went through some gas, to be sure, even without tromping on the loud pedal at every stop sign. And Ken admits that, if it wasnt a true restoration, some better tires would be in order. But all in all, it suddenly made sense just why these particular cars (Hemi E-Bodies) are enjoying the increase in value theyve had. Rare, fast, and still well-mannered enough that your non-automotive better half can drive it to the store if need be, they are indeed an ultimate in street performance. Even with the Super Trak Pak.
We talked a little more as I got ready to go. You know, Smith is getting the 69-½ Road Runner ready to go drag racing, Ken said with a grin. Nothing serious that cant be changed back to stocka 4.56 gear, manual valve body in the transmission and things. Well have it a couple of shows later this year. If you want, you can drive that one, too.
Hey, are these guys cool or what?