Alot of us would be darn glad to own a Hemi-anything, numbers-matching or not. While anything with a Hemi in it automatically gets attention and respect, the quintessential Hemi car has got to be a '70 'Cuda.
What could be better than having an E-Body with 426 cubes and eight-barrels sitting under a Shaker hoodscoop and your name on the pink slip? That's just the situation Fred DeWitte found himself in a couple of years ago when the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, bought his '70 Hemi 'Cuda. "It was a nice car, but it wasn't a numbers-matching car," says Fred. That didn't cause him to enjoy it any less, but after owning it for five years, only another Hemi 'Cuda could fill its spot. And if you're going to trade, you might as well trade up, right?
After finding this numbers-matching car in January of 1998, it took Fred only a winter to bring it to the condition you see here. That makes it sound like not much was needed to make the car presentable, but what it actually means is that Fred had a lot of spare time on his hands. The trunk floor was completely rusted through, so a new one was installed, and the entire trunk interior and bottom side of the decklid repainted. The quarters had some rust bubbling through the paint at the bottom edge and were also repaired. Stone chips had taken their toll as well, so everything from the character line down, from front to back, was color-matched and repainted by Fred in his garage. "The paint appeared to be original, and it only had 21,000 original miles and two previous owners when I got it, so I wanted to save as much of it as I could," says Fred.
The underside of the car was given the same going over. "It was pretty heavy with undercoating, oil and grime," he says, "but that turned out to be good because everything was well-preserved." Fred put the car on stands about three feet in the air, removed everything that could be unbolted, and started cleaning. "I squirted it all down with lacquer thinner and let it soak in and soften the undercoating. Then I scraped it off with a plastic scraper and rags. I found most of the original inspection marks, so those I couldn't save were re-created. The paper ring is even still on the 4.10:1-geared Dana!" If you've ever removed old undercoating, then you know what a miserable job this was! Fred bought a special paint gun that can be used upside down (or in this case, flat on his back), and painted the underside of the car while it was still on the jackstands. Then everything was put back in place and the car was set back on the ground.
"The reason I decided on this particular car," says Fred, "is because the engine had just been completely gone through." One of the details performed during the rebuild by Dean Nicopolus Racing Engines was to paint every non-machined surface inside the entire engine. "I've got pictures of the whole thing as it was being built-even the sides of the connecting rods are painted.
At the end of a season, the oil is perfectly clean!" To make the detailed engine look right at home, Fred re-painted certain portions of the engine bay and the underside of the hood before re-installing the famous "SHAKER" sticker and other final touches.
The interior is just as it was when Fred bought the car, with a console, Rallye gauges, and leather-covered bucket seats, but interestingly isn't as it was originally delivered to owner Number One. "It was a special order car that went through with stripe delete and a bench seat," Fred tells us. We've been told that while you could get performance E-Bodies with a bench seat in place of the standard buckets, it could only be had at an additional cost. Apparently, some guys preferred the bench because it was lighter than the buckets. This would also mean that the car would have had to come through as a column shift. Of the 368 automatic trans Hemi 'Cudas made in 1970, how many do you suppose came down the line equipped this way? We're betting not many! With this option, and the stripe delete, it suggests that maybe the car saw a bit of street action in its earlier days, though there's nothing sleeper about a Shaker hood!
Today the car sees several hundred miles a year, mostly for cruising around town and weekend drives. But it's also regularly pressed into service doing pace car duty at the local half-mile paved oval track Fred co-owns with a friend. "He's a doctor, and I own a construction company. Racing used to be our hobby-we'd run cars around the track on weekends. When the track came up for sale, we went in together on it. One of the programs we've got is honorary Pace Car for guys with classic cars. If someone doesn't show up that night, I use the 'Cuda. The Pace Car speeds are about as fast as you want to go in it-'Cudas don't like to turn too well," even with the factory power steering and front disc brakes. This has also necessitated the addition of electronic ignition ("There's nothing worse than sitting out in front of 6,000 people and having your car start hard or not start!"), and a second set of tires, which go up in smoke pretty regularly-"It's for the show," says Fred. "People like to see some smoke boiling out from under those quarter-panels." Sure Fred, we know it's all just for the show. What a trooper, making that kind of sacrifice for the enjoyment of the crowds!