You can blame the Targa High Country for this project - that’s where I first saw a Cuda being driven in anger. In my younger years, I used to be into Japanese cars, but as I got older my tastes changed and I started to appreciate older cars. One of the things that helped was looking through some old family photos and coming across pictures of some old Dodge utes my dad used to have. Unique Cars published some of them.
Anyway, back at the Targa. The first year I went – I’ll always remember this – a green Plymouth Cuda with a Hemi in it lined up. I reckon the noise it made had the koalas dropping out of the trees. The skid it did off the starting line was massive, but it couldn’t do turns. You could hear it slow right down and then it was on the noise again. It was something different. Most of the cars were Holdens, Falcons and Mustangs, but there didn’t seem to be another Chrysler. From then on I wanted one.
It took a long time looking around to find something decent. There were plenty of rust buckets out there, but I didn’t want to have to rebuild a whole car and get into a whole lot of sheet metal work.
Eventually I came across this one, brought in by an importer that specialises in Chryslers, and decided to have it. It was a standard Challenger with a 318 V8 in the nose with the 904 ‘baby’ Torqueflite three-speed. Ideally I would have loved a T/A and I could have had one for just $2000 more, but it was riddled with rust and I reckon the only thing you could have saved was the roof!
My plan was to eventually turn this car into a T/A replica. I have a background in car paint and graphics – I used to work with John and the crew at RacePaint – so I have some of the skills to do the job.
What I started off with was a stocker painted in Go Mango (an orange colour) with white vinyl roof and red internal trim. You have to wonder what they were on when they walked into the dealership and ordered that combination.
Overall the car turned out to be pretty solid. These E-body cars can be shockers when it comes to rust. The boot, the floors, the rear quarters and the panel between the rear screen and bootlid are particularly prone. That last panel had to be replaced on mine. It was full of pinholes, so we cut it out, made up a template and fabricated a new piece to weld in.
Under the front left guard had a fair bit of damage and looked as though someone had been trying some Dukes of Hazard stunts. The right rear needed some minor panel-beating, as well.
It was taken back to bare metal. I probably did 80 per cent of the work but I had a lot of help. My mate Mick from Edge Paint & Panel supervised a lot of it and offered invaluable advice, while another friend, Jamie, put in time to etch, high-fill and finish off the body. RacePaint was kind enough to let me use a paint booth over a Christmas break, and luckily my neighbors were tolerant of the sanding and clouds of dust during all the prep.
The paint is off the gun – no cut and polish so far – and I’m generally very happy with it. However I was a bit rushed when it came to the preparation for the bonnet and wouldn’t mind doing that again.
People warned me that fitting the glass was the worst job, and they were right. I took the opportunity to put in new stuff, some of which went in easily and some that took hours to get right.
Probably my biggest mistake was throwing away the damaged original metal body trim. I didn’t know at that stage that firstly there were people out there who could fix it, and secondly that even the old damaged stuff was probably worth hundreds of dollars. Oh well, you live and learn. After that experience I kept everything off the car, even if it was only there to be used as a reference.
It may look like a horror story, but this is pretty good with no serious rust damage.
Getting the primer and high-fill right is time-consuming.
The powerplant got a pretty thorough going over, along with a few mods to wake it up a little.
If you’re going to have a seventies car, the engine might as well look the part, too!
This is the sort of thing that keeps people awake at night. The owner fitted a new loom.
Some of the aftermarket parts were disappointing, but the new bumpers look good.
In the end I sourced some tired T/A trim and came across Francis at Auto Bling, who did a fantastic job of restoring it.
Over time I stocked up on a heap of parts, including new headlight surrounds. It turns out the aftermarket items were nothing like the quality of the originals, so I sent them back and got the factory pieces restored. We did however manage to get some new bumpers.
We took the opportunity to put in a new wiring loom, and then turned our attention to the interior. At this stage I’m only partly done with the cabin. Overall it was going to be refinished in black, which meant replacing, recovering or repainting everything. The rear passenger cards literally fell apart when I removed them, so they were replaced, while the door cards were recovered.
As for the seats, I dyed the rear in black. The stock front seats still need to be reupholstered properly, but I will refit them as they seem like they’ll be super comfortable and do a reasonable job of holding you in. In the meantime I’ve put some 1970s Toyota Celica front seats in. I had to make up new rails for them, but they look okay and do the job for the time being.
The dash has had a new cap fitted and I decided to completely replace the existing instrument cluster. Standard these things had a speedo with a couple of other minor gauges, plus you could order a clock. I decided to go with the full four-pod cluster out of a 1972 model.
As is often the case a lot of the work on the mechanicals was caused by the car being left sitting for years. I must have cleaned out the fuel tank ten times and the carburettor was full of varnish. In the end I replaced the latter with a quadrajet.
The engine was pulled out and cleaned up, and we took the opportunity to add a few performance bits, including MSD ignition and an Edelbrock intake manifold. It’s pretty lively and does the job for the time being, though I have a 340 sitting in the shed and aim to do something with that.
As for the underpinnings, I replaced all the suspension bushes and tie-rods, to tidy up the handling side of things. There is some built-in ride-height adjustability in the front torsion bars but not at the rear. So I sourced new hangers for the springs which had three positions. We tore a weight off the driveshaft at the lowest setting, and soon moved it up. It’s now sitting at the right height.
It’s still running non-assisted drum brakes all round and I’ve got to like their very progressive feel, though one day it’s likely I’ll put in discs. For the time being, you just have to drive it within its limitations – you need to take it easy on long winding roads. It actually handles fairly well. I think the wide stance and new tyres help in that area. However it could eventually use some sway bars.
Like a lot of these projects, I’m not sure you ever really finish them. The majority of the work took about five years and there is still a list of things I’d like to do from here. That’s part of the fun of owning these cars.
BODY 2-door E body hardtop ENGINE 5.2 litre pushrod V8
POWER 171kW claimed
TRANSMISSION three-speed auto
SUSPENSION FRONT – ADJUSTABLE torsoin bars Rear – Live axle, with leaf springs
BRAKES hydraulic drums
PRODUCTION 46,880 (2-door hardtops, 1970)