One Quick Cuda

Featured in Hot Rod Magazine April 2021

Richard Prince Hot Rod Magazine
This gorgeous 1970 Cuda has returned to the track after a thirty- year slumber and it’s quicker than it has ever been!

Plymouth’s Barracuda conclusively shed its economy car roots with the introduction of the nameplate’s third generation in 1970. The completely redesigned car was built using the sportier E-body platform, and its crisp lines, high haunches, and stunning proportions all combine to give it a beautifully aggressive stance. Though buyers could still configure a Barracuda for low initial cost and very economical operation, at least according the fuel consumption standards of the day, by sticking with the base 198 cid six-cylinder engine and few options, those with deep pockets could also go to the other extremes, with a luxury-laden grand tourer or fire-breathing performer.

At the maximum horsepower end of the spectrum, enthusiasts ponied up for six-pack 440 or 426 Hemi powered Cudas, but those interested in more balanced performance had another choice, the now legendary AAR Cuda. In a six-week window of time, from Mach 11th through April 20th of 1970, Plymouth built approximately 2,724 of these beasts. The AAR Cudas were so-called in honor of All American Racers, the Dan Gurney led company that campaigned Plymouth’s iconic muscle car in Trans Am, a road racing series that pitted potent pony cars from Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Mercury, AMC, Dodge and Plymouth against one another on most of America’s iconic road circuits.

AAR Cudas have a number of unique features designed to help them get around a race track quicker. These include a relatively light yet powerful and high-revving 340 cid engine wearing three 2-barrel Holley carburetors, front “eyebrow” spoilers, rear “ducktail” spoiler, lightweight fiberglass hood with functional scoop, heavy-duty shocks, revised rear springs, and oversize G60x15 rear tires. Ironically, our feature Cuda, which started life as a 340 cid, 4-barrel, 4-speed car and was transformed into an AAR Cuda, has spent much of its life competing on drag strips, not road courses.

Stephen Tate bought this car in 1971 in a suburb of New York City, when it was only about a year old and in near mint condition. For the next couple of years he street drove his Cuda and regularly raced it at Island Dragway in Great Meadows, New Jersey in a pure stock class, with no modifications whatsoever.

Early in 1973 Stephen decided to take his Cuda off the street and turn it into a dedicated competitor, with all of the modifications permitted in factory stock class racing. These included slicks, aftermarket axles and gears, and few other changes. By May of ’73 he was very actively racing it, and that summer shifted his way to an F/S class win at the Summer Nationals. He continued racing the car for almost ten more years before retiring it in the early 1980s. It was tucked away in the garage and remained there, undisturbed, for the next three decades.

In October 2013 Stephen attended a SuperCar Races event at Englishtown, and while there he met SuperCar founder Ralph Barbagallo. SuperCar Races was created to organize and promote drag racing for muscle cars made between 1957 and 1979. There are three categories for cars – Factory Appearing, Factory Stock, and Pure Stock. The rules for these three vary, but the philosophy underlying all of the categories are pretty simple; the cars competing should look virtually identical to how they looked when new. That means they race with their correct, factory engine blocks, heads, manifolds, transmissions, rear ends and suspension. It also means they race on the type and size tires they were originally equipped with, which in most cases means pretty thin bias ply tires. Participants are allowed to make internal engine, transmission and differential modifications, add certain safety equipment, and make other relatively modest changes that must be hidden from view.

Stephen told Ralph he was interested in selling his Cuda, but by the time the conversation was over Stephen decided to keep the car, and get back to racing it. Ralph, who just happens to be a lifelong Mopar fanatic, agreed to oversee the car’s restoration.

Ralph disassembled the car and the body went to Connecticut Collision Center. Fortunately, all those years of track-only action and then three decades of indoor storage kept the sheet metal almost completely rust-free. The techs at Connecticut Collision Center installed new front fenders and deck lid, and then massaged the rest of the body to perfection before laying down new B-5 Blue paint using PPG two-stage materials.

While the body was being restored Ralph enlisted Auto Services of Old Saybrook, CT to build a stroked 340-based engine. Auto Services had the Mopar experts at Compuflow Performance do the machining and balance the rotating assembly. The car’s cylinder heads went to Dwayne Porter at Porter Racing Heads for extensive porting and polishing. Auto Services did the final assembly of the engine.

After the paint was finished the car went back to Ralph for reassembly of the body, suspension, and interior. All correct emblems and other trim went back onto the body, returning it to exactly how it looked when new. The suspension was rebuilt to factory stock with the exception of the installation of Engineering Competition 90/10 shock absorbers, and the elimination of the pinion snubber and front anti-sway bar. To freshen the interior, Ralph turned to Legendary Auto Interiors for correct reproduction seat covers, carpet and headliner. The remainder of the interior remains original.

After three months of work, Ralph sent the reassembled car to Auto Service for installation of the killer 444 cid engine and rebuilt drivetrain. The techs at Auto Service also installed a new exhaust system, aligned the wheels, and did all of the other miscellaneous tasks needed to complete the restoration.

Beginning in 2014, more than thirty-years after tripping the lights for the final time and putting his Cuda into long-term storage, Stephen was back at it. For the next several years he competed in many SuperCar Races events, and relished every moment of it. Then, following the 2018 season, he decided to retire from driving and hand that task over to the car’s caretaker, Ralph, and he campaigned it for the entire 2019 season. When it was over, he finished in second place for year, with a best ET of 11.58-seconds @121 mph.

This winter, Ralph and his pals are making some upgrades to the Cuda and looking ahead to the 2020 season, they hope to break the existing SuperCar small block ET record of 11.44-seconds. That’s incredibly quick for a car that looks entirely stock, right down to its OEM-spec bias ply tires, but given this beautiful Cuda’s track record, we won’t be the least bit surprised when it happens.

Hot Rod Magazine Fast Facts

1970 AAR Cuda Owner: Stephen Tate

Restorer/Caretaker: Ralph Barbagallo

ENGINE Type: 340 cid bored and stroked to 444 cid Bore x stroke: 4.25” (bore) x 4.08” (stroke) Block: Stock 1970 340 cid 90-degree V8 iron block Rotating assembly: Eagle forged steel stroker crankshaft, Eagle H-beam forged 4340 steel connecting rods, and Wiseco forged aluminum pistons Compression: 12.5:1 Cylinder heads: Stock cast iron Camshaft: Jeff Patterson custom grind Valves: Ferrea 2.055” intake / 1.625” exhaust

Induction: Stock Edelbrock intake manifold, three two-barrel Holley 2300 carburetors

Fuel: Stock Chrysler mechanical and Holley electric pumps,

Mechanix Auto Works
Oiling system: Stock, full pressure, externally driven mechanical Milodon oil pump Ignition: Chrysler electronic distributor, NGK spark plugs, Mopar Performance Gold control unit, Chrysler coil, Fire Core spark plug wires, Cooling: Stock, mechanically driven water pump, stock copper-brass radiator, 17.0-quart capacity Exhaust: Stock cast iron exhaust manifolds and 2.5” stainless exhaust system.

Engine machine work by: Compuflow Performance in Medina, OH

Cylinder head porting and polishing: Dwayne Porter at Porter Racing Heads in South Burlington, VT

Engine Power: 480 horsepower and 610 lb-ft torque at the rear wheels

DRIVETRAIN Transmission: A8333 Hemi 4-speed with face-plated Liberty gears by Mechanix Autoworks, CT

Gear ratios: First 2.47:1, Second 1.77:1, Third 1.34:1, Fourth 1.00:1 Clutch assembly: Centerforce 10.5-inch clutch and pressure plate, aluminum flywheel Shifter: Stock pistol-grip Driveshaft: Aluminum driveshaft

Axles: Mark Williams axles

Rear end: Chrysler 8-3/4 Sure-Grip differential, 4.10:1 gear ratio, Richmond gears

CHASSIS Construction: Welded steel unit-body

2019 Runner-Up SuperCar Races World Championship Points Series

Front suspension: Independent, unequal length upper and lower control arms with torsion bars, Engineering Competition 90/10 shock absorbers Rear suspension: Hotchkiss type, asymmetrical semi-elliptical Mopar leaf springs, Engineering Competition 90/10 shock absorbers Steering: Stock recirculating ball, 16:1 quick-ratio manual steering Front brakes: Stock Chrysler, 11.5-inch drums Rear brakes: Stock Chrysler, 10.0-inch drums

Best Mopar Adirondack Nationals.

WHEELS & TIRES Wheels: Stock Chrysler Rallye; 15” x 7” (front), 15” x 7” (rear) Tires: F60-15 Goodyear Polyglas GT (front); G60-15 Goodyear Polyglas GT (rear)

WEIGHTS & MEASURES Wheelbase: 108” Overall length: 186.6” Overall width: 74.9” Overall height: 51.2” Front track: 59.7” Rear track: 60.7” Shipping weight: Approximately 3,500 lbs


Seats: Stock white vinyl from Legendary Auto Interiors

Instruments: Stock factory Non Rallye instrumentation, Innovate Motorsports air/fuel ratio gauge, Summit Racing Equipment water temperature and oil pressure gauges

Electronics: Stock factory wiring and electronics

Steering: Stock Chrysler steering wheel

Interior work by: Caretaker Ralph Barbagallo


Body: Stock Chrysler sheet metal and fiberglass hood

Paint: B-5 Blue, body work and paint by Connecticut Collision Center in Middletown, CT

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