Too many times, muscle Mopars that ended up in a junkyard during the mid-to-late '70s never came out intact. Here's one that did...and one that car's previous owner restored.
Joe Unterholzner owned this '70 'Cuda 340 convertible during the mid-to-late '70s, a time when a young man like Joe could find a high-performance Mopar for sale at a good price.
Unfortunately, that relationship came to an end when an encounter with a truck took the '70 off the road. "It was run underneath the back of a dump truck and totaled by Joe's wife at the time, who is his ex-wife now, back in 1977 or 1978," says Tom Natoli, the Lemon Twist 'Cuda's current owner. "It was towed away from the scene and was put in an impound yard, and a month later he couldn't afford the impound charges-he was just a 19-year-old kid then supporting two Mopars, the 'Cuda and a '70 GTX, so he didn't have the money."
So, Joe handed over the 1970's title, and there it sat for over a decade, untouched by scroungers and ignored by crushers. In October 1989, Tom found it, saw that it was an original A55 (and radio-delete) car, bought it, and hauled it home. He found a 340 in it-a correct replacement that Joe put in after a freeze plug failed and the OEM block cracked. "It hadn't been started in ten years, so I took it apart and cleaned it up," says Tom. "Everything looked good, so I put it back together and fired it up."
Restoring a car that was in a crash a decade before is hard enough, but Tom says one factor made this project that more difficult. "They didn't have all the reproduction parts then that they do now," says Tom. "It has an N.O.S. (new old stock) driver-side convertible quarter on it and a reproduction hardtop quarter on the passenger side that I had to cut down. Everything else on the car is swap meet."
Tom's swap meet searching skills soon turned up the other parts he needed, and his 'Cuda project was underway. "It took me six months to get the car on the road, from the day I bought it," he says. Finished in March 1990, Tom took his 'Cuda to the road and started racking up the miles on it. He also found out, via Galen Govier, that his was one of only three '70 Barracuda convertibles built without a factory radio-and he's since seen the other two.
In 1998, Tom got the re-restoration bug, and the '70 underwent another total re-do. "I took it completely back apart again and re-did it with better parts," he says.
After the '70 was completed for the second time, Tom resumed his search for previous owner Joe. "I located him through the Internet, and it turned out that he lived 15 minutes from my house," recalls Tom. "I drove it over to his house one day and shocked the hell out of him!"
Pleasantly shocked, we might add, to see that long-lost Mopar was now found and restored. As Joe says, "When he drove over to see me, he said, 'Did you ever think about getting another car?' I said, 'One day, I might.'"
About a week later, Tom came by again in the '70. "Tom said, 'C'mon-let's go to a car show,' and I said, 'OK,'" says Joe. Once there, they saw a '74 'Cuda for sale, complete but needing some work. Joe picks up the story: "Tom said, 'Look what we found-a car for you to restore.' And I said, 'Maybe-I don't know if I'm interested in a car right now,' because I'd just changed jobs.
"A week or so went by. Tom called back and said, 'Are you going to do anything with this car? The guy wants to sell it,' and I said, 'You know-let's go talk to him.' Within a week, I purchased the car."
Once the '74 was Joe's, he took a good look at it to see what it needed. "What didn't it need?" says Joe with a laugh. "It had a drivetrain in it, and it did run, but it needed lower fender work in front. It needed rear valance work, two rear quarters, trunk floors, wheelhousings and extensions, and the whole powertrain needed to be rebuilt."
Thanks to the Mopar aftermarket, there were plenty of parts available to turn the time-worn '74 into a Hamtramck-fresh treasure. Using their nights and weekends, plus Tom's garage and shop, they got it done in a time frame you may not believe. "Tom and I were so aggressive that we restored this whole car within nine and a half weeks," says Joe, who adds, "it was an awful lot of fun doing the metalwork that I hadn't done in years. Tom was there to help it along, because he'd done numerous restorations in the past. He was more like the coach, and it came out very, very nice." Joe adds, "Tom is a great friend with an abundance of Mopar knowledge, and I'm so glad to know him."
The '74 'Cuda came out so nice that it and the '70 make quite a pair when seen together. What are they like to drive?
Says Joe of his last-year E-Body: "It's a pleasure to drive. It's a beautiful, air-conditioned car." Its color scheme, Deep Sherwood Green Metallic with white vinyl top, stripes and interior, has its appeal, too. "Most of the women like it, more than the men, because of the color scheme."
Joe's previous 'Cuda, the '70, has an appeal all its own, per Tom, especially on the road. "It's hot," he says of the A55's performance-and its daytime interior temperature. "It doesn't have air, with a black interior, but it's a head turner."
Do these guys have any advice for those planning their own Mopar projects, E-Body or otherwise? "Today's actually a great time to restore one" says Joe. "All the parts, meaning the metal parts, are truly available, and they're correct. You can buy full quarters that, like N.O.S. quarters, go all the way up to the roof, and they weld right into place."
Meanwhile, Tom says to potential restorers and builders, "Try to preserve some of the history. Try to resist the temptation to go for the money. They did build 340 'Cuda convertibles-they didn't all have Hemis in them.
"One of the reasons that I've owned this car so long is, I know that when I sell it, it'll be at Barrett-Jackson with a Hemi in it within two years."
Why mess with perfection?...
Why mess with perfection? ’70-vintage A55 340 was installed by Joe and later rebuilt by Tom.
What Mound Road Engine should...
What Mound Road Engine should have built for the ’74 ’Cuda: a 340 with polished and ported heads, Keith Black pistons, and a Mopar Performance camshaft.
Tom (left) located his ’70’s...
Tom (left) located his ’70’s previous owner, Joe, and helped him find and restore the ’74.
'70 Plymouth 'Cuda 340 convertible
Ton Natoli, Trenton, New Jersey
- Engine: The replacement 340 that Joe installed during the '70s-all stock per Tom. (He did add a Mopar electronic ignition to it.)
- Transmission: OEM here, too-727 Torqueflite, shifted by its new-for-'70, console-mounted Slap Stick shifter
- Rear End: Same as it was built with: a 3.23-geared, Sure Grip-equipped 8-3/4.
- Suspension: Restored Stock '70 'Cuda 340: heavy-duty torsion bars, shocks and rear leaf springs with front/rear sway bars
- Steering: Restored '70 'Cuda recirculating ball, power-assisted
- Wheels and Tires: Stock 14-inch five-spoke road wheels wear BFGoodrich Radial TAs. 215/70R14 in front, 245/60R14 in back.
- Body: Original '70 E-Body convertible unibody, restored with N.O.S. parts (including one rear quarter) and swap-meet finds (including the other rear quarter)
- Paint: Tom and his buddy, Tom Kurst, sprayed on the original Lemon Twist in RM Diamonte base/clearcoat form.
- Interior: Restored to showroom-new with help from Auto Custom Carpets. Still has the original radio delete plate in dash.
Everyone’s got their standards......
Everyone’s got their standards... Tom’s ’70 ’Cuda has a (restored) standard interior in it. Note the factory radio delete plate—the 340 is sound system enough!
Cool on the inside... Joe’s...
Cool on the inside... Joe’s ’74’s cabin features repro white seats by Legendary front and back, a Tuff steering wheel, console-mounted Slap Stick shifter, plus Airtemp A/C.
'74 Plymouth 'Cuda
Joe Unterholzner, Levittown, Pennsylvania
- Engine: Instead of the two '74 engine choices (318 or 360), there's a homebuilt 340 with Keith Black pistons, Mopar hydraulic camshaft, polished and ported Mopar heads (2.02-inch intake/1.60-inch exhaust), and an Edelbrock LD340 intake topped by a Carter 850 ThermoQuad.
- Transmission: Cottman Transmission in Trenton, New Jersey, rebuilt the stock 727 Torqueflite and added a shift kit and a 3200/3400 stall torque converter.
- Rear End: 3.55-geared 8-3/4, with a Sure Grip
- Suspension: Restored stock '74 'Cuda: heavy-duty torsion bars, shocks and rear leaf springs with front/rear sway bars
- Steering: Restored stock '74 'Cuda, recirculating ball, power-assisted
- Wheels and Tires: 14-inch Mopar road wheels with BFGs: 22570R14 in front and 245/60R14 in back
- Body: Restored original '74 E-body unibody with reproduction metal where you would expect it.
- Paint: This re-do of original Deep Sherwood Green Metallic (in base/clearcoat form) was the last paintjob done by "Tom the Painter" before he changed professions.
- Interior: Restored '74 'Cuda, with new seat covers by Legendary Auto Interiors. Headliner, console, and dash gauges are all original.