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