Rearview: Can you tell this...
Rearview: Can you tell this is a tribute car and not a real 440 'Cuda? That's idea behind a tribute car.
We know that just about no other car has been as cloned into a performance machine as much as the '71 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda convertible. Noted for super-low original production numbers, and high visibility--thanks to publicity like Nash Bridges, an outrageous level of OEM detail, and the availability of restoration parts--426 Hemi-derived versions seem almost commonplace now. Truth be told, this will likely remain a popular conversion as long as donor cars can be found. While many factors are given as reasons for the many changes in E-Body production design in 1972, one of the most overlooked was the poor sales figures overall on the 1971 model--only 16,162 E-Body Plymouths of all flavors were built. There were 295 of them constructed as true 'Cuda convertibles, with an additional 853 six-cylinder and eight-cylinder drop-tops made. Taking into account normal attrition through rust, accidents, and age, the pool of available 1971 convertible bodies is small indeed.
So, perhaps at the risk of adding more fodder to the collection of tribute E-Body convertibles from 1971, we present Dan Nielson's gorgeous '71 440+6 Plymouth. Most people forget that the only 440 engine offered in performance E- and B-Body cars in 1971 was the Six-Barrel; the four-barrel was strictly a C-Body option that year. In fact, just 17 convertible Six-Barrel 'Cudas ended in the nation's dealerships in 1971. Finding one of them now proved to be difficult, and paying for one that you did find--in whatever form--is an equal challenge. So Dan chose to go his own way, creating a rock-solid reflection of the real deal.
Engine: Originally a 318-powered...
Engine: Originally a 318-powered car, Dan's 'Cuda now possesses the performance heritage 440+6 thanks to help from Jim Spetzman.
"I discovered this car at the Monster Mopar Weekend in St. Louis back in 2001, and I bought it in 2002," says Dan, who is part of the Midwest Mopars group that runs Mopars in the Park in Farmington, Minnesota, every June. "When I bought it, it had a 340 with something like a 2.91 rear gear in it. Frankly, I couldn't stand getting beaten by the local rice burners, so we took the car apart and set it up for the 440. I did all the work except the paint, and spent about two years doing this restoration." As it came from the factory, this car was sold new as an EV2 Hemi Orange Barracuda powered by a 318. When Dan bought it, it had seen over 100,000 miles of highway. The previous owner had already laid that great Lemon Twist paint on it, but it wasn't like the car was a pristine time capsule. Besides, what Dan really intended to build was a car to be enjoyed.
So, with the plan of adding 100 more cubic inches, a well-built nearly stock engine came from Jim Spetzman. The rest of the car's driveline reworking features a 727 and a little stouter 3.73 Sure Grip. Meanwhile, Dan took the car apart, detailed everything under the hood, and added a set of 440 billboard panels to the FY1-colored sheetmetal. Rather than the Shaker layout, the car retains the scalloped performance hood. For a muscle car, the wide 15x8 Goodyear tire was the best choice all around, and behind the Rally wheels is the factory brake layout; the car does retain manual brakes.
Interior: There's nothing...
Interior: There's nothing like being able to remove the roof when you're cruising on a sunny day. It makes taking pictures of the interior a lot easier too.
Comfort in addition to speed meant freshening up the interior; shifts are still accomplished by a Slap Stik in the center console, with new vinyl panels and skins from Legendary making it look and smell factory-fresh. The car has the Rallye 150-mph dash layout, and the only real mod to the cockpit was a stereo system by Audio King, with speakers mounted in the lower foot area of the back seat. While Dan was busy with duties associated with Mopars in the Park, his daughter Ashley Johnson took the convertible out on the road with us for a neighborhood spin. Some of his friends raised their eyebrows when he told them that she drives the car on a regular basis. "I let her take this car out all the time," he laughs. "Actually, some of these guys think that is crazy, but who is going to keep this stuff alive when we are gone? I feel that letting her enjoy the car now is an investment in the future of the hobby."
'71 Cuda Convertible
Owner: Dan Neilson
East Bethel, Minnesota
- Engine: The engine is an OEM-exact 440 put together by Jim Spetzman of Pure Stock 440. It's set up as a standard 390hp package using a circa-1969 Edelbrock aluminum intake with three Holley two-barrel carburetors. The cam came from Bob Karakashian, the noted guru of Six Pack fuel systems from Michigan, while the car uses the factory extreme-duty reciprocating assembly, Mopar electronic ignition, and cast iron manifolds.
- Transmission: A 727 that was built for the environment, with a standard Six Pack converter.
- Differential: A power ranger 3.73 Sure Grip is housed in an 83?4 differential.
- Horsepower and Performance: Dan admits that, like many 440+6s, this thing can hunt even Hemis on the street. He has a 12.3 time slip to prove it...
- Suspension: Rebuilt to stock specs.
- Brakes: Factory he-man layout, manual in all four corners. Ashley handles it nicely...
- Wheels: 15-inch Rally wheels with 15x8 raised-white-letter Goodyear tires on all four corners.
- Body: Dan handled almost all the work himself, taking the drop-top apart and rebuilding or replacing whatever was needed. The restoration took about two years.
- Paint: From one High Impact to another: The OEM color was EV2 Hemi Orange, but today, the FY1 Lemon Twist bright enough for sunglasses. Dan bought it that way and did not have to repaint it.
- Interior: Everything's been replaced or rebuilt, complete with Rallye gauges, fresh vinyl, and a stereo by Audio King.