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A Timeless Classic
25.1.06. How do you improve on a classic? When it came to the Ford Mustang, the Blue Oval’s designers moved from the pretty, first-generation cars, to the more purposeful 1967-68 models, before going truly aggressive in 1969-70. Then it all went a bit wrong, and the pony car struggled to maintain its identity until the 1990s. The very latest, retro-influenced Mustang has almost come full circle, drawing deeply from the DNA of the original model.
Compare the evolution of the Mustang with Chrysler’s Dodge Challenger/Plymouth ‘Cuda E-bodied cars, which ran undiluted from 1970 to 1974, with their distinctive, clean, ‘coke-bottle’ shape. When Chrysler styling gurus decided to bring the Challenger back to life in 2006, as a concept car, what did they do? They simply topped and tailed the old E-bodied model – visually at least. It was a cult shape then, and it’s a cult shape now. The answer to the question posed at the beginning of this story would therefore seem to be that a classic is a classic for good reason, and you don’t change simply for the sake of it.
Alan Tansley, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, would undoubtedly agree with that sentiment, being a long-time Mopar enthusiast and the owner of this numbers-matching, 1970 440 ‘Cuda, equipped with the highly desirable, “6 barrel” option – three two-barrel, vacuum-assisted carburettors.
The Barracuda had been around well before 1970, but the Chrysler arsenal lacked a true coupe rival to the trend-setting Mustang and the curvaceous Camaro, and in 1970, the company introduced its E-bodied show-stopper, which echoed Camaro styling (interestingly, the 1970 Camaro departed from this style altogether). The Barracuda name remained, although the performance models were simply dubbed 'Cudas, and featured five different V8 options – the 340, 383, 440, 440+6, and the mighty 426 Hemi.
The 440s and the Hemi models received a special, high-performance suspension to put all that power to the road, and in addition, as with the car featured here, received a number of highly desirable factory additons, including the Super Trak Pak, with heavy-duty cooling, power-assisted disc brakes and Dana rear axle with 4.10 gears. Further options fitted to Alan’s’Cuda included an optional shaker hood package, so named because it bolted to the engine and shook with it, plus a slapstick shifter for the three-speed automatic gearbox and the customary 8-track tape player. Standard Barracudas came with a flat hood, while 'Cudas were fitted with dual, non-functional hood scoops. The 440+6 was a formidable package, although it was said to be tricky to drive, with the vacuum-actuated front and rear carbs cutting in with little warning.
The Barracuda rode on a two-inch shorter wheelbase than the similar Dodge Challenger, and was 6.7 inches shorter overall. To the casual observer, both models may appear identical, save for unique front and rear embellishment, but amazingly, none of the exterior body panels are interchangeable, meaning they really are two totally different cars. It’s difficult to imagine such a concept being signed off in this day and age, when one of the prime directives of the automotive industry is to find ways of sharing as many vehicle components as possible in order to save costs. As a case in point, the new Challenger concept apparently rides on the Chrysler 300 chassis platform.
Alan imported his ‘Cuda in 1988, through a company called RPM, based in Aldershot. It was a dream come true, he remembers, having been brought up on a diet of Hot Rod magazines from the age of 17. Over the years, he acquired a number of cars to help fulfil his muscle-car passion, including the UK’s answer to the Mustang, the Ford Capri 3000E, before moving on to a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am, which Alan remembers as being slower than the Capri! Now he’s spoiled for choice, with a Hemi Charger in the garage, a 1935 Master Coupe currently being rebuilt, and the ‘Cuda.
Alan recalls the car being in pretty good shape when he purchased it, but over the intervening 17 years, he’s undertaken a sympathetic, minor update while enjoying it to the full. “I probably do about 2000 miles a year,” he says, “but in between, there are always jobs to do. It’s now got 452 head castings with bigger valves and hardened seats, so it can run on unleaded fuel, and I’ve found it performs well on Optimax. I’ve also fitted an MSD ignition system, which allows you to pre-set the rev limit. Now the engine ticks over so much better and runs stronger.”
The final addition is a set of Tri-Y headers, again chosen in the interests of improving engine flexibility. Other than this, the 390 horsepower, 7.2-litre engine is stock. The monster motor, which produces 480lb ft torque, is mated to the previously mentioned three-speed Torqueflite 727 transmission, equipped with a factory-option, slapstick shifter.
Getting that sort of power to the ground through the factory wheel and tyre package is always going to be a problem, and although you could be forgiven for thinking that the rolling stock on Alan’s ‘Cuda is standard, the eagle-eyed among you may spot the 8x15-inch wheels at the rear in place of the standard-issue, 7x15-inch items. That extra inch not only seems to fill the wheel arches more sympathetically, but also provides a moderate amount of extra traction.
So what’s it like to drive? “The biggest difference between the ‘Cuda and a modern car is in the way it steers and stops” says Alan. “Despite having front disc brakes you do need to leave plenty of time to slow close to two tons of car down with 70’s technology braking. Typically, the power-assisted steering is overly light, as with just about any American car of this period, and again it takes time to adjust. However, what really beggars belief is the amount of power and more specifically the torque this engine develops, which would still put 90 per cent of modern, so-called ‘performance cars’ to shame.”
Moving inside the ‘Cuda reveals even more tender loving care with pristine surfaces throughout and a fully working complement of gauges and switches. A new dashboard and roof lining have been fitted, but other than this the car is pretty much original. Alan rates his ‘Cuda as a 9 out of a possible 10, but on close inspection, it’s difficult to see where that extra point would come from, as the car really is difficult to fault.
Condition and originality are key ingredients of any classic car, and with a matching-numbers engine/drivetrain and a highly desirable list of factory options, Alan’s ‘Cuda certainly seems to have it all, especially when you factor in current Challenger and ‘Cuda prices, which have gone through the roof. A recently advertised, 1970, 440 'Cuda on e-bay carried a price tag of $80,000, and the asking prices for other examples indicate this is not a one-off. “That seems reasonable for a car in this specification/condition,” adds Alan. Maybe we should all be putting our savings into muscle cars?
Story & photos: Andy Kirk