Somewhere, each of us harbors thoughts of making real what may only be fanciful, intangible thoughts, ideas, or sometimes just feelings. Yeah, it comes from deep inside, and can draw from most any desire: "You know what would be cool," and "if only..." Most times, though completed in our minds over and over, the physical realization remains elusive. Film producer Chris Zarpas earns his keep making almost-real the musings of tinseltown storytellers-not quite palpable, but nonetheless physical in 35mm celluloid. Chris's automotive conception, however, is embodied in the steel, sight, sound, and sensation generated by the 'Cuda shown here.
As Chris tells it, "When I decided a few years ago that I wanted a car built, I spent a lot of time really looking at cars, thinking about cars, and basically revisiting all of the favorite cars from my youth-cars I remembered from the time I was 10 years old." It was the heyday of the musclecar, but the cars that were most memorable to Chris were Mopars. In the part of Virginia where he grew up, these were the cars people aspired to; cars for people who really loved cars, and spent their weekends working on them. Chris's car would be a Mopar, but with such a wide selection available, which one? A stripped-down racer like a Road Runner? The ultimate combination of luxury and performance-the Gran Coupe? The outrageous Daytona?
The clincher was a visit to the Ottis Chandler Museum in Camarillo, California, one of the finest collections of musclecars in the country. According to Chris, "That's what sealed it. When I saw the collection of Mopar musclecars he had there, I decided that I had to own one, and it had to be a great one. That's when I started to look for the car." Desire cemented into a concept, met only by a particular car: It had to be a '70, the pinnacle of the genre; an original four speed convertible; a small block car, in a perfect world, a 340; a 'Cuda.
Circumstance places Chris smack in the middle of some of the best driving in the country-those famous stretches of California road between the Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway; the most important of these being Mulholland Highway in the hills and canyons of Malibu. The 'Cuda would be built for twisty two-lanes, throwing around the canyons, or more relaxed open-air excursions along the Coast Highway. While in mind the lead player was cast and the scene set, what remained was the reality in '70 Mopar metal.
After six months of casual looking, fate intervened at a newsstand when a delivery literally dropped the new Hemming's at Chris's feet. Inside was the car, a 1970 four-speed convertible 340 'Cuda-$6,000 ask, condition rough. With two other buyers on their way to steal his chance, it was time to throw-down by wire, sight unseen. The 'Cuda was had.
Chris had seen the movie Phantasm II, featuring the black Hemi 'Cuda. He tracked down the film's producer and asked him who built the car, which lead to Greg Buhlinger. This made for the collaboration which gave this car its finished form. Greg, known locally for O.E. restos, had warned Chris against a rough project car, which is just what the advertised drop-top turned out to be. "Find a nice car, and I'll make it perfect," was Greg's advice. Chris, however, felt the odds of acquiring exactly "his" car were thin, so it'd be build-from-scratch. Success came down to well-planned execution. The balance of a manually-shifted 340 E-Body provides the basis for the performance sought, while there's no questioning the visual impact of a drop-top E. Thus started what would become a 15-month restoration and modification process.
Chris relates, "I wanted a car that was high performance by modern standards, with stand-out presence. We decided that we'd build-up the 340, with the goal of making 350, if not 400 horsepower." The inspiration for the engine package came from the July '98 issue of Mopar Muscle magazine, where the Smallblock Power Combo Guide detailed the 400hp Edelbrock 340 Performer RPM Power Package. Chris continues, "That was the engine we built, and I wanted it married to a six-speed transmission. The finished car had to be something I'd want to take on road trips, run through the canyons to really enjoy the car. I was building it to drive, not sit in the garage or to be trailered to car shows." The built 340, six-speed Richmond trans, and 3.90:1 rear axle ratio makes for a car that's extremely quick, but with the overdrive ratio in the trans, still compatible with highway driving. The six speed provides the ultimate combination of quickness and roadability at high speeds.
In adherence to the plans for corner-turning performance, judicious but effective mods were made to the 'Cuda's suspension, improving road holding while maintaining the original character. In this vein, rubber-band tires on monster rims weren't considered-the car rides on resto correct 15x7-inch factory Rallye wheels, wrapped in modern, but subtle BFGoodrich skins. Underneath and out of sight, more purposeful liberties were taken, with PST Polygraphite Bushings, fat swaybars, and KYB gas shocks to reinforce the already stout factory H/D suspension. A custom 16:1 quick ratio manual steering box from Firm Feel directs the action, while providing undampened road feel.