This is a story about a car that once defined the term "basket case," as well as a story about a community that turned that junker into a gem for one of their own.

That community is the members of www.cuda-challenger.com. That Web site's forums have become a cyber meeting place that they frequent daily, much like the drive-ins and other brick-and-mortar hangouts that E-Body devotees frequented during the '70s.

Last year, one of the cuda-challenger.com members was set to leave the States for a third tour of duty with the Army in Iraq. Don Moore, then a staff sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division, was scheduled to go in September, a couple months after the All-Chrysler Nationals at Carlisle. he frequented the forums and was known as Cudaguy. Don always wanted a 'Cuda, but life and his job of protecting all of us kept that dream just shy of reality. One day, the folks at www.cuda-challenger.com came up with an idea: Why not find, buy, and restore a Barracuda for him, and have it ready to present to him at Carlisle?

After an extensive search, they located a '73 Barracuda, originally silver with a white interior. Fellow cuda-challenger.com member Tony Miller, of L.A. Miller Restorations in Fort Jennings, Ohio, says it defined the term basket case. "It was dented, rusted, half-torn-apart, and tattered pretty bad," he says with a laugh. "Basically, everything had to be gone through in six weeks." Miller's shop was where the bulk of the work was done-the teardown and the build back up-with the help of Don's dad (Don Moore Sr.), plus an uncle, and a couple brothers who stopped in about once a week.

With fellow cuda-challenger.com members tracking down and shipping parts to Miller's shop, the build went quickly, especially after the new steel went on. that not only included much of the unibody's original sheetmetal-or what was left of it-but also one important structural piece up front. "We had an issue with the K-frame.it was cracked and all busted up from a hit earlier in its life," says Tony. "I got on the web site and said, 'Hey, we need a K-frame!' within a few days, somebody scrounged one up and shipped it."

But that wasn't all. "The original engine had cracks in the side of the block," says Tony, who just happened to have a 318 that he'd pulled from a '71 Challenger convertible several years earlier. "We opened it up, and it still had cross-hatches in the cylinder walls-it looked like it had been freshly built. So we went through and regasketed it, detailed it out, and changed the cam and a few other items because it had been sitting for 8-to-10 years." Once the 318 was assembled, he fired it up and was delightfully surprised. "I didn't expect it to be that powerful. that thing's quite the whip for a 318!" Downstream, an upgraded 727 went in, shifted by a rebuilt Slap-Stick console-mounted shifter. Also in the powertrain: a 3.55-geared Sure Grip-equipped 8 3/4-inch rearend.

Along with help from the cuda-challenger.com members, Tony also got some local support during the build. "I got help from some of the students at the local technical college, the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH), which specializes in high-performance," Tony says. the students gained valuable experience through their time working on this project. "I also got some local businesses involved. we got things like the exhaust, mufflers, and a lot of other little things. We also got gas cards to help pay for the transportation of the car in an enclosed trailer to Carlisle."

During much of the time it took to turn the torn-up-and-rusted-out "before" car into an eye-catching "after," Tony had his shop closed so they could finish the 'Cuda in time for its rendezvous with destiny at Carlisle. There, it was rolled on to the main stage and covered as if it were a charity-raffle car.