While the E-Body Hemi cars of 1970-1971 get a lot of attention in all sorts of automotive venues these days, when it comes to Mopar race iron, few packages can beat the '68 A-Body bombers built by Hurst. Strictly for the track (disclaimers to that effect came on each example), these Darts and Barracudas continue to be a highlight in NHRA's Sportsman classes, now running under the SS/AH banner that allows automatic and stick cars to compete heads-up. A few radical hardcore Mopar guys even put these monsters on the street. After seeing this car, we think Melvin Dunsworth of Kansas City, Missouri, should be named an honorary member of that group.
Fitting a late-model Hemi in an A-Body takes some modifications and patience.
Melvin owns a '68 notchback Barracuda, though it never went through the Hurst assembly line (those were all fastbacks); however, it had spent the better part of 20 years as a drag car in Texas, with a worked 383 that could clock 11-second times with ease. Once it was in his hands, Melvin came up with a plan that would return it to the role of a street terror, but with a twist.
"It was our goal to build a Super Stock-appearing machine, with the interior and fiberglass panels like the real Super Stock cars, but add modern engine technology," he says. "We began this project in a shop in Kansas that, from the outside, looks more like a junkyard than the quality body shop it is."
That environment turned out to be the digs of Andy Masenthin, who runs the place in Dwight, Kansas. Andy spent months doing all sort of things to get the car prepped and ready for the transformation. Next, reassembly of everything was turned over to Floyd Kurzweil Jr. (who Melvin refers to as Grandpa Mopar) at Melvin's own shop in Grandview. The new components required a lot of fabrication. Floyd did most of the experimentation and, eventually, got the car ready for the new driveline.
Master mechanic Pat Forsyth was getting that ready-a basic 6.1 late-model Hemi and a worked 727 TorqueFlite. The engine was treated to a lot of dyno work, and now has worked heads, a 10.25 compression, a Comp roller cam, and tti headers. With the new engine in place and the car now looking the part, Melvin decided that he would turn it over to former NASCAR engine man Dave Weber in Martinsville, Virginia, for the final touches.
Dave, whose company is called Modern Muscle, has become one of the cutting-edge designers of late-model Hemi projects, and he had some fresh ideas for Melvin's machine. The car would get a complete SS-type interior and custom dash. Dave also wanted to use the car as a platform for a set of new Hilborn stack EFI units he was developing. Mounted to a custom intake, these things looked the part of '60s era hardware, but were developed and plumbed to take advantage of everything modern engine management uses.
The interior mimics that of the '68 Hemi cars with the exception of the aftermarket gauges
Indeed, this is where Modern Muscle shines. Dave created custom wiring harnesses, fuel system pieces, engine hardware, and more, taking advantage of a five-axis CNC machine that usually stays busy with custom NASCAR and Pro Stock heads. Dave is a former Super Stock and Comp drag racer, and race fans in the Northeast still remember the Ritter-Weber Mopars that campaigned there in the '80s and '90s.
Together with his righthand man, Larry McKinney, Dave completed the car in 2007. He brought the just-finished machine and its ominous EFI outfit to Carlisle last summer, where we shot our initial batch of photographs. We also made a run up to the Martinsville area once tuning was finished, where Dave showed us he had not lost his touch by lighting the big tires up.