The muscle car evolution had reached a fever pitch by the late 1960s.
There was a muscle car offering in every lineup, from compact to intermediate; even full-size boulevard brutes could all sport the latest in big-block V-8 power.
By 1967, the addition of the pony car Mustang, Cougar, Camaro and Firebird also gave buyers the sportiest go-fast packages available.
At Chrysler, the Plymouth Barracuda had been available with the 383 V-8 and a special-order 440 big-block V-8 through various dealerships, but the Hemi engine everyone wanted was still a factory race piece.
For 1970, the Barracuda (or ‘Cuda) performance model was all-new and available with every engine Chrysler offered, including the lowly slant-six-cylinder. Along with the 375-horsepower 440 V-8, there was a new 440+6 option that included three two-barrel Holley carburetors for a whopping 390 hp.
For those wanting more, the 426 Hemi was just a check-mark away on the option box. With performance-proven hemispherical combustion chambers, 10.2:1 compression pistons and breathing through dual Carter AFB 3084-s four-barrel carburetors, the engine produces 425 hp at 5,000 r.p.m. and 490 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 r.p.m. Another attractive thing about the new street Hemi was the hydraulic performance camshaft. With no mechanical valve settings to worry about, it simplified keeping the big engine in tune.
Selecting the pricey $871 Hemi engine option opened doors to other equipment.
Buyers chose from a floor-shift, four-speed manual or 727 TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The latter would be a column-shift unless the buyer selected the slap-stick floor-shift with centre console.
Two axle packages were available, called Track Pak and Super Track Pak, equipping the ‘Cuda with a Dana 9 3/4-inch differential with 3.54:1 or 4.10:1 gear ratio.
Heavy-duty leaf spring suspension included six leaves on the right and five leaves, plus two half-leaves, on the left, to handle the engine’s torque and plant the power to the ground through 15 x 7-inch wheels, shod with F60 Goodyear Polyglas GT tires.
The Hemi also came equipped with the “Shaker” fresh-air package and hood pins and, for added stopping power, power-assisted front disc brakes.
Because of the stiff price for the Hemi engine, adding a few options to the base price could often drive the cost of the ‘Cuda close to the price of a Chevrolet Corvette.
Sales were 652 hardtops, 284 equipped with four-speeds and only 14 convertible ‘Cudas, five with four-speed manual.
Today, those numbers have dwindled and the Hemi ‘Cuda commands top dollar at many collector vehicle auctions.
For Marc Eger of Winnipeg, muscle cars had always been a fascination, but he never had the money or time to invest in one.
Now, Eger is retired and hanging with his friend Pat Fletcher, where he’s exposed to all of Fletcher’s collection of award-winning Mopar performance vehicles.
“With Pat I’ve learned a few new skills and a better appreciation for the cars, so I thought I’d like to own one,” Eger says.
Fletcher put Eger in touch with another local collector who had acquired one of the rare Hemi ‘Cuda hardtops in 2011 at a Barrett-Jackson auction and that he was winning to sell.
Since purchasing the car, Eger has done a few minor paint touch-ups, given it a thorough cleaning and installed a new battery and starter motor.
A completely rust-free, 55,000-original-mile car, the ‘Cuda is finished in Citron Gold with a black vinyl top and Jewel black vinyl interior upholstery.
While many wore some of Chrysler’s high impact colours, the Citron Gold was one that usually ended up on a Chrysler New Yorker and not on a fire-breathing Hemi ‘Cuda, so chances are this is one of only a handful produced.
Optional extras include power steering, Rally road wheels, Super Track Pak 4.10:1 Dana rear axle, rear spoiler, driving lamps, “Tuff” steering wheel, dual chrome racing mirrors with the left one remotely adjustable, rocker sill mouldings, wheel lip mouldings and AM radio. The ‘Cuda also came with a Rally instrument package including 150 m.p.h. speedometer, full gauges, tachometer, clock and bucket seats, but in this case, it has the high-back bench seat with fold-down centre armrest. Only 17 per cent of ‘Cuda production came equipped with the $17 optional bench seat.
Eger’s plans are to keep the car well maintained and take in a few of the cruise nights and local shows this coming summer.
Today, the Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda stands as one of the most potent and sought-after examples of the muscle car era. Rare, fast and expensive, the original cars continue to increase in value and even though there have been many replicas and clones, they don’t hold a candle to the real thing. Hemi ‘Cuda, part of the Plymouth Rapid Transit System!
Photos by Larry D'Argis / Winnipeg Free Press