Nowadays, it's getting tougher to find project-ready E-Body Mopars. There's our own Project Tetanus Shot, (i.e. Big Challenge), which had almost as much rust as intact steel on it when we found it. But it was Chris Santomero's luck to find less than that-and end up with a 'Cuda that looks like this.
When he went to Carlisle back in 2005, he'd been looking for a Mopar project for a while. "I had my heart set on it, and I was watching the prices for them go up," he recalls from his Bedford, New York, home. "That's when I knew I wanted a car that was in disarray so I could make sure it went together correctly from start to finish, instead of getting someone's project car that they couldn't finish. I wanted to get one from the very beginning and work through the whole car step by step."
He got his wish, and he came home with what looked more like a massive trailer load of parts than a '70 'Cuda. "It was disastrous! It was ready for the junkyard," he recalls. "There was, basically, a box of parts and a promise for the rest of it. It was rolling on the frame, parts were in primer, and there was no interior or anything like that. The engine was out, the tranny was out, and the rear was out." This wasn't an abandoned project ground to a halt by a lack of funds or desire to keep going. "The gentleman who sold it was more of a parts guy," Chris says. "I think he had it and said to himself, 'If I sell it, great. If not, maybe I'll part it out.' I came in and picked up the whole package."
But the big package that he hauled home from Carlisle wasn't whole enough to build a running E-Body-not yet. "Maybe 40 to 50 percent of what I needed was there," Chris says. "The guy had other parts for me, and he came through with another box of parts for me to restore it with."
Chris enlisted Russell Jacobs at RJ Cars in Arkport, New York, to turn the collection of parts into the 440 Magnum-powered, Lemon Twist-hued 'Cuda you see here. "He's good at everything," Chris says. "His specialty is Mopars, his passion is Mopars, and his desire since he was a kid was to have a Mopar restoration shop." Looking into the stash of parts that Chris had accumulated, they found that they had a lot of OEM stuff from Ma Mopar that they needed. "We bought only original parts," Chris says. "It was to the point that anything that could be date-coded correct was done."
Just over a year later, the pile of parts was now this Lemon Twist 'Cuda, restored to showroom-new condition. What's it like to drive? "It's phenomenal!" Chris says. "The car is unbelievable." It's also a trophy-winner, including one from a recent event that Chris turned into a family adventure. "I hooked up my son's booster seat, and we went to a car show in Fishkill, New York," says Chris. "They gave out maybe 25 trophies to the top cars in the show, and we were one of them. The judges came over, looked at it for not even two minutes, and said, 'Great car,' and away they went. We drove 70 miles to the show in it, cleaned it up, put it in-the car's great." Needless to say, the 70-mile trip home went quickly!
Chris is looking for another distinctive Mopar to add to his collection-but not just any Mopar. "We're looking seriously for a '70 Superbird, B5 Blue-very specific," he says. "A lot have come up, but not specifically what we're looking for." (Yet.)
If you're looking for a Mopar project of your own, Chris has this advice: "Don't settle for something just because it comes along. Keep plugging away, keep looking, and stick to what you're looking for. It's out there-when it shows up, jump on it."
'70 Plymouth 'Cuda Coupe
Owned by: Chris Santomero, Bedford, New York
Restored by: RJ Cars, Arkport, New York
A U-Code 440 Magnum sits in...
A U-Code 440 Magnum sits in the 'Cuda's engine bay. The Mopar battery is just one of the period-correct details. Note the original fender tag.
- Engine: Rebuilt '70-vintage U-code 440, with Carter four-barrel carburetor.
- Transmission: Console-mounted 727 TorqueFlite, with the new-for-'70 "Slap Stick" shifter
- Rearend: 8 3/4-inch rear end with Sure-Grip differential and 3.23 rear gears.
Lots of original parts were...
Lots of original parts were used in the restoration, inside and out.
- Suspension: Restored original. Front: HD longitudinal torsion bars with tubular shocks and stabilizer bar. Rear: HD leaf springs with tubular shocks
- Brakes: Front disc/rear drum, power-assisted
- Wheels/Tires: Correct '70 Rallye wheels wear repro F70-14 Goodyear Polyglas GT tires
No bench seat here. This 'Cuda's...
No bench seat here. This 'Cuda's got front buckets standard in the '70. Chris' also boasts a woodgrain steering wheel and Slap Stick shifter-equipped console.
- Body: Original '70 Barracuda coupe unibody restored by RJ Cars, Arkport, New York. Shaker hoodscoop and dual outside rearview mirrors added during restoration
- Paint: Diamont R-M 5300 clearcoat over Diamont Lemon Twist Yellow (original color), applied by RJ Cars. RJ Cars also painted the Shaker the correct Argent Silver color.
- Interior: Restored original 'Cuda interior includes console with Slap Stick shifter, AM radio, rally gauge cluster, and woodgrain steering wheel.