When Mopar fans start thinking about ultimate rides, all sorts of conclusions can result. Maybe a KOS-capable A-Body is your fancy, or how about a B-Body factory drag car from the early '60s. Most will also agree that the radical graphics and outrageous bodywork and grilles on the '71 E-Bodies are real attention getters. Top one of these babies off in canvas that can let the sun shine in, and it's a winner hands-down.
It's not very often that we can get a nearly identical pair of '71 'Cuda drop-tops together. From Nash Bridges on down, the desirable E-Body Plymouths are the ultimate in "wind-in-your-hair" musclecars. This particular set is sort of like a pair of identical twins, appearing pretty much the same on the outside but each with her own personality (nothing personal, but we'll use "her" because that's how us guys would be talking).
The "quieter" one is a restored 383 machine owned by Bruce Conner and his son Allen, of Madison, Georgia, while the "wild" Hemi thing belongs to Orange City, Florida's Joe Blankenship. Bruce and Joe have been friends for quite some time and when we found them parked together at Big Daddy Don Garlits' show last November, we had to do some more investigating. The "sisters" have both undergone extensive changes to be brought back to like-new shape, and we decided to let the owners themselves give us their biographies.
The Quiet Sister
I guess you could say my story began back in 1987 because that was when I first found this car under a tree in Macon, Georgia, where it had been sitting for an undisclosed period of time. I tried to buy it then, but had no success, so I went looking for another one. After ten years with no real luck, I again contacted the owner only to find out that the car had indeed been sold, but the new owner never completed the transaction. After doing a lot of negotiating, I was able to buy it myself four years ago. By then, however, the amount of time it had spent sitting under that tree meant it was going to need a lot of work.
John Owen of Youngblood Motor Co., in Madison, Georgia, gets the credit for the sheetmetal work; he replaced the trunk, floorpans and quarter-panels. John also put a new top on the car and did the Lemon Twist Yellow paint and billboard stripes. Kysor Upholstery in Conyers, Georgia, took care of the cockpit work using Legendary Interior pieces like the black vinyl seat skins and carpeting. The car has a Rim-Blow steering wheel, the 'Cuda dash cluster, and the factory AM-FM radio.
It is a factory 300-horse 383 convertible, the engine is the 8.5:1 383, and a local machine shop cleaned the block up for me, including an .030-overbore. When I put it back together, we used 10.0:1 pistons on the stock rods and pistons, but the rest of the engine is basically as stock. The A-833 four-speed has also been rebuilt, and the car has an 8 3/4 3.23 Sure Grip differential. This car was one of only 33 'Cudas built with the 383/four-speed combination. Another rare feature on this car is the Shaker hood. This option only appeared on 19 convertibles, but was ordered on 683 hardtops. The year 1971 was the last time you could get a 'Cuda convertible; to own one with a big-block is pretty cool.
The Wild One
The first time I heard about this car was back in 1996. I went to look at it (in Ocoee, Florida) then, but thought the $10,000 price was too much. I went back again in 1999 to see if it was still there; it was, but now the owner had decided not to sell it. Still hopeful, I asked him if he would like to see a car I had restored previously to show it would be redone the right way. After looking at my work, he agreed to sell it to me for the original price.
We loaded it up on the trailer; I gave him the $10,000 and asked for the title. It was then that he told he didn't have it, since he had gotten the car as part of a trade for some work he had done on a tractor. I decided to take my chances on a clean title, ended up paying $7,500 for the 'Cuda, and left.
After getting it home, I immediately began researching it with the Motor Vehicle Department and found the car was still registered to the original owner at an Orlando address. I went there to see if he might still have the title, fearful he might also decide he wanted the car back! As it was, the owner was still there and told me what had happened.
He had been in the orchestra at Walt Disney World but got fired for being intoxicated on the job. Out of work for months, he left the car at the farmhouse where he was staying in lieu of the back rent; the lady who owned the farm had made the trade to the man I bought it from for tractor work. That was the last time he had seen the car. Though his license had been permanently revoked due to his drinking problems, he agreed he would help me get a new title. We applied for a new title, which came in his name but also had a $3,000 bank lien attached to it! However, that bank was out of business. I sent a registered letter to the banking chain that had bought it, and they in turn sent me a statement that the car was free from the lien. That out of the way, the original owner signed the title to me as he had promised. I offered to pay him for his troubles, but he declined and told me to just enjoy the car.
As built, the car is a numbers-matching 340, and though it was sitting for 10 years, the only thing missing was the carb and air cleaner. I had a Hemi engine that I had bought from Steve Seigel (a former Mopar Muscle staff member), and decided to build a Hemi clone. The magazine had used this engine for a story and it was a stock rebuild. This is mated to a 727 Torqueflite and a 3.23-filled 8.75 Sure Grip rearend.
I cleaned up the rusty stuff and did the bodywork myself, then had a friend, Dale Dinse of Orange City, Florida, spray the body Lemon Twist Yellow. I also redid the interior using parts from Legendary Interiors. The factory 15x7 Rallyes use BFGoodrich tires.
This is a great car to own, but I have to give credit to one very important person in doing this, my 71-year-old mother. Because I am confined to a wheelchair, she had been a very big help in having car restoration as a hobby. In the disassembly, cleaning, bead-blasting, painting, or re-assembly, she helped all the way through the process of redoing this car, whether handing me tools or helping me set the motor mounts up. She loves the car as much as I do, and I have to thank her for her help and inspiration.
The cars are much alike in so many ways, yet each is a unique and wonderful individual. Based on what has happened already, we think these guys will continue treating them well.