19 January 2007
1971 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda Convertible
- Chassis no. BS27R1B269588
Sold for $2,420,000
To be auctioned on
500+hp, 425hp rated, 426 cu. in. vee eight-cylinder engine, dual four-barrel carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, Hurst pistol grip shifter, independent front suspension with torsion bars, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, front disc, rear drum power assisted hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 108"
Three times Chrysler Corporation has relied upon the Hemi to transform its products and image from dull to sparkling, and three times the Hemi has delivered. In an American car market that has been characterized by glitz, fins and bulk, the technical sophistication of Chrysler’s hemispherical combustion chamber V8 engine has been a refreshing demonstration of the appeal of elegant, thoughtful engineering.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s it also acquired a bad boy image of politically incorrect power and performance, establishing a mythical presence that has made the Hemi a legend.
During development work on World War II aircraft engines, Chrysler’s engineers had seen firsthand the potential for hemispherical combustion chamber engines. In addition to the thermal efficiency of the hemi chamber’s low surface area and its low-restriction cross-flow porting, the angle between the valves ideally disposed the ports for efficient breathing in a
Chrysler was the ideal company to pursue the hemispherical combustion chamber V8. It had a longstanding tradition of investigating, developing and perfecting advanced engineering ideas. Unlike its major competitors, Chrysler had neither overhead valve nor vee-configuration engine history, and thus no preconceived notions of how it should be done. Its engine designers could – and did – explore every conceivable engine idea. Their research showed that the hemispherical combustion chamber not only gave better performance than a comparable wedge-chamber head but also tolerated appreciably higher compression ratios.
The hemispherical head V8 was introduced in the Chrysler line in 1951. With 331 cubic inches displacement in a short stroke oversquare design, Chrysler’s FirePower V8 delivered 180 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 312 lb-ft torque at 2,000 rpm. The performance potential of the Hemi was quickly recognized, most famously with the Chrysler C300 and its successors, which set the pace both on the highway and on NASCAR’s speedways. By 1958, however, manufacturing economics swung the pendulum in favor of the wedge-chamber V8s. The Hemi was phased out in 1959 … but not for long.
In the early 60s the 413 and 426 Wedge engines were dominant in drag racing but lacked the continuous high rpm performance needed on NASCAR’s speedways. Dodge and Plymouth were being trounced, a situation that couldn’t be allowed to stand. Faced with a need to develop a high performance, free-breathing engine quickly, Chrysler’s engineers turned to the solution they already knew worked, the Hemi. They stuck with the overall dimensions of the Raised Block 426 Wedge so existing fixturing and machining setups could be employed and maintained the original Hemi’s dual rocker shafts and 58° valve included angle. To adapt the Hemi head to the Raised Block engine, the ingenious Chrysler engineers rotated the combustion chamber toward the engine’s centerline about 8 1/2°.
Completed and delivered to the track just days before the 1964 Daytona 500’s green flag, the 426 Hemis proved to be invincible, sweeping the top three places in NASCAR’s most important race.
Production of the second generation Hemi ended after the 1971 model year as emission restrictions and insurance surcharges gave horsepower, which had never been entirely socially acceptable, a distinctly antisocial taint. Chrysler would twice more resurrect the Hemi, however, first as a crate engine program for hot rodders and later as a third generation production engine that brought DaimlerChrysler back to the forefront of performance at the beginning of the 21st century. Like some other forms of antisocial behavior, horsepower has proven to be addictive.
The Hemi ‘Cuda
Of all the Street Hemis built, the most famous, attractive and desirable are the 1970-1971 E-body Plymouth ‘Cudas, combining the visceral delight of the Hemi’s power and torque with the ‘Cuda’s lightweight, streamlined and refined 2+2 platform.
The first Barracuda was introduced in 1964 and in the late 60’s Chrysler engineering and Hurst performance shoehorned Race Hemi engines into the Barracuda’s engine compartment for NHRA drag racing. Seventy-five were built, sold and successfully campaigned around the country. When the Barracuda was redesigned for the 1970 model year the engine compartment was made large enough for the legendary 425 horsepower 426 cubic inch Street Hemi.
The Plymouth Barracuda was the cleanest, most refined and elegant of all the pony car designs. Distinguished by its wide grille, long, flat hood, short rear deck and ominously raised rear fenders – deliberately shaped like the haunches of an animal crouching before a leap – the appearance of the ‘Cuda left no doubt that this was a serious performance car.
Hemi-powered ‘Cudas are surpassingly rare. Built for only two years, 1970 and 1971, their low production numbers reflect the undeniable fact that the combination of the ‘Cuda platform and the Street Hemi engine was irrationally fast. It also was expensive: $871.45 in 1970 and $883.90 in 1971, a prohibitive 70% more than the 390 horsepower 440 Six Barrel.
A Hemi ‘Cuda was not for the faint of heart nor for the cautious of pocketbook. Buying one took serious commitment, backed up by an ample budget. In 1971 there were only 119 souls brave and prosperous enough to make the commitment to check off E74, the Street Hemi’s order code, on the ‘Cuda order form.
• 108 of them ordered hardtops
• Only eleven stepped up for the top-of-the-line ‘Cuda convertible powered by the 426 cubic inch, 425 horsepower dual quad Street Hemi.
• Only three of those were confident enough of their driving skills to opt for the Hurst pistol grip shifted four-speed manual transmission.
• Only two of those were delivered in the U.S.
• Both U.S.-delivered ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles were B5 Blue with
That’s only three, in all the world, that combined the Street Hemi engine with the ‘Cuda convertible body and 4-speed transmission in 1971. One of them is the car offered here, BS27R1B269588, the only one with white soft top and elastomeric front bumper cover.
The “Mountain Mopar” Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible
Built in February of 1971, this Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertible’s first owner, Ronald Ambach, lived in St. Louis, Missouri. He owned it only until the fall, accumulating the car’s only street miles, before selling it to its next owner, Nick Masciarelli, in Ohio. He decided to take the Hemi ‘Cuda Stock Eliminator drag racing and turned to renowned Detroit-area engine builder Tom Tignanelli for a hot Hemi V8. The new owner was in a hurry, and the quickest way to meet his request was to swap the original engine for a fresh race-prepared Tignanelli Hemi.
In May of 1973, the Hemi ‘Cuda convertible was sold to John Book and partner John Oliverio in West Virginia who raced it in East Coast and Mid-Atlantic events during 1973 and 1974. Its dramatic appearance, complete with gold-leaf “Mountain Mopar” identification, is documented in several period photos in the car’s documentation file.
Fortunately for today’s collectors, the “Mountain Mopar” Hemi ‘Cuda convertible was retired after 1974 and stored in a climate-controlled building in West Virginia. In 1989 it was sold to the Painter brothers. Two years later it was acquired by Milt Robson in Atlanta, Georgia, still in its as-raced condition. Robson commenced a comprehensive restoration using original or new-old-stock parts to its original, as-delivered condition in his shops, which was completed in the early 90’s. Stored inside for virtually its entire life, 269588 was never subjected to the vicissitudes of the elements which afflicted most of its siblings; its original sheet metal and interior are carefully restored and retained. The engine was rebuilt around a correct 1/19/1970 date-coded Chrysler NOS block.
In addition to the 426/425 horsepower dual quad Street Hemi and pistol grip Hurst shifted four-speed manual transmission, this unique 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible is equipped with power steering, power brakes, Dana Super Track Pack and AM-FM radio. Importantly, it is the only ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible known to have been delivered with the body-colored Elastomeric front bumper cover. Its original configuration is verified by two separate original build sheets; the ownership history is documented with a continuous sequence of titles. It has been personally viewed by Galen Govier and authenticated by him as one of the seven US-delivered ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles which have been included in the Chrysler Registry.
Finished in B5 Blue inside and out with a white vinyl top, it has been restored to better than showroom condition. Particular attention has been paid to the accuracy of its components and finishes and to the preservation of as much as possible of its almost unbelievable originality, including the carefully preserved original interior.
It has been shown only in local shows around Atlanta in the mid 90s, was featured a decade ago in a May 1995 Car Collector magazine article by Dennis Adler and has appeared in several books, copies of which come with the car.
Putting a free-breathing, high-rpm engine like the 426 Hemi in a lithe, frisky chassis like the ‘Cuda was exactly what the forces of political correctness inveighed against in the early 70s. In 1972 the Hemi was gone for the second time, its visceral appeal buried in a cascade of social responsibility, “net” horsepower and Highway Fuel Economy ratings. There is nothing politically correct, nothing socially responsible about a Hemi ‘Cuda. The 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertible is wretched excess in a nearly unimaginably limited production package.
This is absolutely the most desirable, rare and handsome of all the American Muscle and Pony Cars. Combining the brute power and torque of the legendary dual quad Street Hemi engine with the sleek, aggressive lines of the ‘Cuda convertible, it is the ultimate combination of personal car style and Muscle Car performance, a singular example and the quintessential muscle car of all time.
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