THE SURROGATE

HAV­ING MISSED OUT ON A ’71 HEMI ’CUDA CON­VERT­IBLE, BRUCE BUN­NER BUILT THE CAR OF HIS DREAMS.

Mopar Muscle - - Contents - BY JOHN MACHAQUIERO PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY THE AUTHOR

Hav­ing missed out on a ’71 Hemi ’Cuda con­vert­ible, Bruce Bun­ner built his dream car.

Cer­tain cars have al­ways been ob­jects of de­sire, and like many other things in life, they usu­ally have a par­tic­u­lar peck­ing or­der of de­sir­abil­ity and rar­ity. In the Mopar world it would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to ar­gue that the pin­na­cle of de­sire, and at the very top of the Pen­tas­tar food chain lays the ’71 Hemi ’Cuda con­vert­ible. With only seven do­mes­tic ex­am­ples made, and when re­duced down even fur­ther with only two equipped with a four-speed, it doesn’t get much rarer. When you have any­thing that ex­ists in sin­gle dig­its, the law of sup­ply and de­mand comes into play, and the price to play is usu­ally sub­stan­tial. We had to do a dou­ble take when Bruce Bun­ner told us that a ’71 Hemi ’Cuda con­vert­ible was the car of his dreams, and at one point came very close to ac­tu­ally own­ing one of the two four-speed cars built in 1971.

As a young lad, Bruce was into the whole car scene at an early age and he freely boasts, “I have al­ways been a Mopar fan.” His first car was a ’68 Su­per Bee. It

was 383 pow­ered with a four-speed and was painted Bright Blue with a white vinyl top and white in­te­rior. That was pur­chased with money he was earn­ing while work­ing at El­dora Drag Race­way in Fair­mont, West Vir­ginia. It was at that venue that he first set eyes on the ’71 Hemi ’Cuda con­vert­ible of his de­sires. “One of the owner’s of the fa­cil­ity had it and ran it at the track,” he re­calls. For those who are won­der­ing, that par­tic­u­lar car was the one that was let­tered up as the “Moun­tain Mopar” and raced dur­ing the mid ’70s, later sell­ing in the mil­lions. With the pass­ing of time he moved on with his life but never for­got about that drop-top.

With the idea of some­day own­ing the con­vert­ible reg­u­larly on his mind, in the late ’90s he de­cided to see if he could track down the owner and check if the car was for sale. Af­ter many calls and nu­mer­ous in­quiries, Bruce found him. “He was glad to hear from me again,” he re­calls. “Be­lieve it or not, he still owned the ’71 ’Cuda. It was up on blocks where it had been left years be­fore at the back of his garage.” With all that ef­fort put into

track­ing it down, the goal was to buy it. The owner was very re­luc­tant to dis­cuss sell­ing it, but even­tu­ally came up with a price for it. As Bruce re­calls, “His ask­ing price wasn’t bad com­pared to to­day’s prices, but it was more than I had. I begged my wife to let me get a loan to buy it, but she just couldn’t see go­ing into debt over a car.” Since he wasn’t able buy it, he fig­ured that he would at least cash in with a finder’s fee. He had spot­ted a mag­a­zine ad of­fer­ing money for in­for­ma­tion on rare Mopars up for sale, so as a re­sult of his lead, the ’Cuda deal was bro­kered, and it went to a new home in Texas, and Bruce ended up with some ex­tra spend­ing money in his pocket.

That chap­ter was be­hind him, but it didn’t get him any closer to his dream car. Set­ting the con­vert­ible idea aside, or per­haps buy­ing an orig­i­nal Hemi hard­top, he fig­ured that the only way to go for­ward was to build one to his tastes that he could af­ford. He was a long-stand­ing mem­ber of the Mus­cle Car Mafia car club in his na­tive West Vir­ginia so he en­listed the aid of its mem­bers in the search for a de­cent start­ing point. On a trip to Las Ve­gas, one of the mem­bers spot­ted a ’71 ’Cuda that he thought was a solid can­di­date for what he was look­ing for. It was, how­ever, not with­out its is­sues — it was sit­ting in a police im­pound lot, and it’s owner was in prison. As it sat, it had a race-prepped 440 six-bar­rel with an equally worked 727 Torqueflite and was set up as a track car. While it ini­tially had the ap­pear­ance of be­ing a struc­turally solid car, the in­te­rior was heav­ily dam­aged from bak­ing in the Ne­vada desert sun.

Mirac­u­lously he was able to get the deal done in a month and even­tu­ally had the car shipped back to Pennsylvania. What Bruce had ac­quired was ac­tu­ally a ’71 Bar­racuda orig­i­nally pow­ered by a 318 and backed by a 904 three-speed au­to­matic. It rolled out of the Ham­tramck as­sem­bly plant painted in Tu­nisian Tan Irides­cent with a white vinyl top and Ch­est­nut in­te­rior, which was still in place but badly weath­ered. It had also suf­fered a num­ber of color changes at some point in its life with red be­neath a me­tal­lic pur­ple. None of it mat­tered be­cause the ’Cuda was go­ing down to bare metal. Mounted on his home­made ro­tis­serie, he set out to strip the body down, pho­to­graph, doc­u­ment, and bag ev­ery part. Once he had the body bare, it was sent off to the dip­per and all the Bondo and paint lay­ers were re­moved. What he ended up with was a re­mark­ably solid rust-free car, which was per­fect. Since he wasn’t try­ing to ac­tu­ally build a nut and bolt clone, the goal

was to re­assem­ble some­thing that hit the marks on both the stock and cus­tom level. Out­wardly he wanted it to look stock — me­chan­i­cally it was go­ing to be warmed up and def­i­nitely Hemi-pow­ered.

With the bare shell as the start­ing point, he had a lo­cal shop com­mence the body­work. The fend­ers were con­verted over to ac­cept the dis­tinct ’Cuda lou­vers and a shaker hood was pur­chased. Me­chan­i­cally, he still had the 440 six-bar­rel sit­ting around, so that was re­built, pol­ished up, and sold off for a hefty profit. He took that money and had Gos­selin Auto Rac­ing in North­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, build up a 472 Hemi for him. Pulling from the Mopar Per­for­mance cat­a­log, they started with a bare block and stuffed it with 10.25:1 forged pis­tons, a forged crank­shaft, forged con­nect­ing rods, and a COMP Cams hy­draulic camshaft, which was all fully bal­anced and blueprinted. On the top end they used a set of Mopar Per­for­mance Hemi heads, and a dual plane/dual quad alu­minum man­i­fold that they crowned with a pair of Edel­brock Per­former carbs. The Torqueflite that backed the 440 was given a full re­build and re­pur­posed to sit be­hind the Hemi. The ex­haust was also ad­dressed with the in­stal­la­tion of a set of TTI head­ers mated to 3-inch pipes run­ning back to a set of Mag­naflow muf­flers.

As the body neared the paint stage, he had to choose what shade would be laid down, so he opted for a com­bi­na­tion that he was fa­mil­iar with, which was the blue and white combo that orig­i­nally adorned his ’68 Su­per Bee. With that de­ci­sion in place, the body shop laid down the B5 True Blue Me­tal­lic and then capped it off with a white vinyl top. At that point, the freshly painted body was taken back to his garage where it would spend the next few years be­ing put back to­gether. As the re­build gained mo­men­tum, parts were ei­ther re­paired, or re­placed, and even­tu­ally put back on the car. When it came time to redo the in­te­rior, the same mind­set ap­plied on the ex­te­rior also pre­vailed with the in­te­rior, which meant it would be done in white. Since the orig­i­nal in­te­rior was too far-gone, he opened up the Le­gendary Auto In­te­ri­ors cat­a­log for all the re­place­ment pieces, which in­cluded door and rear pan­els, along with a head­liner, dash­pad, car­pet, and re­pro­duc­tion leather seat up­hol­stery. As the pieces slowly came to­gether, he re­in­stalled the driv­e­train back in the car. Bruce wanted to beef up the back­end so he de­cided the 8¾ rear that came with the car would need to find a new home. The money from that sale was used to fi­nance the pur­chase of a Dana he bought off of ebay as its re­place­ment.

His buddy Tom Fe­o­rene gave him a hand and they both did a full re­build on it with a fresh set of 3.55:1 gears and new Mopar Per­for­mance axles.

One of the things that this Bar­racuda was orig­i­nally equipped with was air con­di­tion­ing, and Bruce was keen to see some form of it re­in­stalled again. Since his car was now shaker equipped, and you couldn’t get fac­tory A/C when that pack­age was or­dered, he de­cided to install a low-pro­file Vin­tage Air Gen IV kit de­signed for E-bod­ies to keep him cool. The other as­pect that he felt was cru­cial to the look of the car was the choice of wheels, which for him was a sim­ple one to make. He didn’t stray far with a com­plete set of Fac­tory Ral­lye wheel re­pops from Coker Tire wrapped in Bf­goodrich Ra­dial T/A rub­ber. The fronts mea­sure 15x7 and wear 225/60R15 tires, while the rears mea­sure 15x9 and are shod with 275/60R15 skins.

The en­tire build on this car, from pur­chase to com­ple­tion, spanned roughly six years of long week­ends that Bruce spent in the garage put­ting it back to­gether. He never did get that Hemi con­vert­ible, but he did end up with the car that he wanted, and as the song goes, you can’t al­ways get what you want, but if you try some­times, you just might find, you get what you need.

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