In 1980, at the senior age of 13, Jim Czachoroski of Birmingham, Michigan, purchased his first car. That car was a '74 Barracuda sporting a 360 and a four-speed. Working alongside his dad, they spent five years restomodding the car, and it was completed when Jim reached his 18th birthday in 1985. They built it as a modified car, and as such, placed a 440 with a Six Pack in it. According to Jim, the car was nicely done. He used it mainly for shows and occasionally to pick up a date. In 1988, the car took First Place at the Mopar Nats in the E-Body Modified class.
A '74 'Cuda equipped with a four-speed can be considered a rare fish indeed. Only 398 four-speed cars were produced, and since, from a collector's perspective, small-block Barracudas were so overshadowed by big-block musclecars, most cars were lost, forgotten, crushed, or parted out-meaning out of only 398 cars, few are remaining.
A few years ago in 1996, a friend of Jim's decided he wanted a '74 'Cuda with a four-speed. During their hunt, they flew to Missouri, had pictures of various cars sent to them from New York and Pennsylvania, and searched high and low for any '74 'Cuda, regardless of its engine. "All were wild goose chases," admits Jim. One day, while Jim's buddy was driving through a subdivision in a neighborhood close to home, he saw a later-model 'Cuda's rear end poking out of a garage. He stopped and talked to the lady of the house and then called Jim to tell him of the find.
The lady stated she thought it was powered by a 360 and had a shifter in it. "Of course, I didn't believe him," Jim says, citing his friend's inability to decipher a VIN on his own. So, Jim met him, and they drove by to see if the garage door was still open. When the pair returned, the door was indeed open, and Jim walked through the garage and knocked on the door. While he was waiting for someone to answer, a quick glance at the VIN quickly confirmed the find. They had truly found what they'd been looking for-an original '74 'Cuda with a 360 and a four-speed-only a few miles from home.
The gentleman of the house, while visiting a neighbor, noticed a pair of strangers and came home to see what was going on. When Jim asked the owner if the car was for sale, he said he hadn't thought about it, but his wife said if it were up to her, she would have sold it years ago. The owner allowed Jim to check the car out further. He found the original buildsheet, owner's manual, shipping papers, and more in the glovebox.
The car was basically untouched, with the exception of a cheap paint job. It was sporting chrome valve covers and a couple of other chrome pieces in the engine compartment, and with 50,000 miles on the odometer, the body seemed solid.
Jim pulled his buddy aside and told him to offer the guy $4,500 and see what he said. "The owner said he would have to think about it, but he would let us know," says Jim. "My dumb buddy blurted out, 'How about $5,500?' " Then, Jim grabbed his friend and said out loud, "I think you better check with your wife first or you're going to put yourself in the doghouse." Jim continues, "He still didn't get my hint and said, 'I don't have to check with her-I'm the boss in my house.' " After another nudge, he finally caught on. We would guess he's not much of a poker player. Again, the owner said he would think about it and let them know.
Well, good ol' poker face couldn't wait and called the owner the next day, offering $6,500, to which the guy agreed. He was probably laughing all the way to the bank; when this happened in 1996, the 360 'Cuda was still an overlooked collectible, so the previous owner got what he thought was top dollar (and may have been) for the car at that time.
After a few months, Jim's friend agreed to let him give it a concours-style restoration since he was well versed in these cars. As he was getting deep into the restoration, Jim found yet another buildsheet under the rear seat and countless original paint markings, identification tags, and so on. "We surmised that this car might have been an audit car going down the assembly line," adds Jim.
After a year into the project, Jim's buddy bailed out. It got too expensive, so he asked Jim if he wanted to buy the car. They agreed on a price, and Jim continued the restoration. Every detail of the car was documented with pictures and video. This included making templates for all the paint markings and documenting the location of them to reproduce what was done on this particular car. Additionally, a Chrysler parts manual was used to locate original N.O.S. parts for this car. Jim was able to locate an unbelievable amount of original N.O.S. Chrysler parts found at numerous dealerships throughout the country. Most of them were still packaged in the old dusty boxes. Many pieces were the last in existence, including the radiator overflow bottle and radiator cap.
Unlike most top restorations, this car was not given to a high-end restoration shop; it was completed entirely by Jim and his brother, Bob. Jim handled all aspects of documentation, bodywork, paint, and assembly, while Bob researched the car, gathered needed parts, and completed engine and transmission work as well as most of the mechanical chores. The first year it attended the Mopar Nationals was 1998. At that outing, the car took First Place honors in the E-Body original class.
The following year, the car competed in the Senior Division at the Nats and didn't even place, in part because too many people are restoring cars with information they believe to be true. They simply copy what they see on other cars. This car was restored to the exact state in which it was found. During the judging of the Senior Division, the car lost points in a couple of areas. A portion of the lost points were for the painted body plugs in the floor pan. It has always been thought they were installed after painting the car. Another loss of points came from the body lines. Apparently, the judges thought they weren't as crisp as body lines on other cars. They didn't realize, however, that after four years of stamping panels, the edges of the stamping dies had worn.
After taking a couple years off the show circuit, the 'Cuda was brought back to the Nats to compete in OE Certification. Jim came prepared to answer questions, carrying with him all documentation to prove the results of the restoration. Keith Rohm, the head judge, even admitted to learning some new things that year. So there you have it-the story of how this 'Cuda went from resting in the dark to sitting in the limelight and becoming a benchmark for others.
Body: '74 Cuda
Owner: Jim Czachoroski
Location: Birmingham, Michigan
Engine: 360 four-barrel rated at 245 hp; original bore and stroke
Trans: four-speed with Pistol Grip shifter
Rear: 8 3⁄4 Sure Grip, 3.23 gears
Special Specs: Only 398 four-speed, 360-equipped cars were built. Car is restored as close as possible to factory condition.