Let's be honest. We don't call ourselves Mopar nuts without good reason. After all, to champion the underdog musclecar marque with blind devotion as we do, we've got to be a little off center. It's just that some of us have more nuts stashed away than others.

As a trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Tom Lembeck has worked hard to collect enough nuts to play the Mopar game the way most of us can only dream about. Early last year Tom decided to put his pile of nuts to work on his obsession with Hemi 'Cudas. Following an eight or nine year slump in Mopar purchases, Tom made up for lost time in a big way-four Hemi convertibles acquired in a three-month period. The jewel of the lot is this 1971 four-speed convertible originally exported to France, complete with matching numbers, build sheet, and French title. Whew!

Tom's interest in the car piqued as he watched the 'Cuda's price drop in a Hemming's Motor News ad from stratospheric to mere atmospheric. Enroute to his cousin's wedding in San Diego, Tom decided to trade some frequent flyer miles and a little cash for a detour to Denver in order to see the car in person. He wasn't exactly blown away by the convertible at first blush. Yeah, the car had more goodies than a candy store-Dana, Hemi four-speed, Rallye dash in kilometers (because the car was ordered for European export), power windows, heavy-duty underpinnings, power brakes and steering, Rallye wheels, and basically anything you could want in a Hemi drop-top and more-but that subdued silver/gray topcoat just didn't seem to match the hardware underneath.

"The car was restored to show condition," says Tom, "but had a few flaws, and for some reason did not present itself the way I had anticipated a 1971 Hemi four-speed convertible should."

But that didn't mean he wasn't interested. Back home in Chicago a few days later, Tom moved to buy the drop-top from owner John Burns. The initial bargaining session produced no results, so Tom proceeded to fill his garage with a couple of '70 four-speed 'Cuda convertibles he bought through friend Steve Klein. Still, Tom couldn't shake the allure of Burns' French 'Cuda.

So Tom placed another call to Denver. The new price was close, but not close enough. Tom called again and threw out another figure. Burns took a day to mull it over, then called Tom back saying he would work out a one-day offer the next day.

"Send the money, take the car."

Three weeks later the elusive 'Cuda was delivered to Chicago.

"Immediately after getting the car from outside Denver back to Chicago," says Tom, "I drove it up to Aloha Automotive in Wisconsin to check it on the road and then have Tom White and the boys at Aloha give it a full inspection. By the way, it was a two-and-a-half hour drive through nasty Chicago/Milwaukee traffic.

"Basically, we tried to analyze what the previous restoration shop had done to the car, what needed to be fixed or reworked, replaced, tweaked, massaged, or, to make a long story short, where the money needed to be put to get the car to a level it deserved, being as rare as it is. The quality of restoration needed to be fine-tuned. The inside door handles were wrong [Challenger]; the front header panel to fender area needed to be reworked; the bumpers were poor quality and needed to be 'show' chrome; the car ran poorly because the carburetors needed reworking and one lifter was bad; the fan clutch was incorrect; the power windows worked erratically and with a poor fit; the rear taillight was filled in, resulting in a poor line definition between the quarterpanel and taillight panel; and the alternator belt was loose due to a stripped upper bolt in the engine block. These items and more showed that attention to detail was lacking in the previous restoration."