A VERY SPECIAL HYBRID
PUTTING A GEN III HEMI IN A VINTAGE MOPAR IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY COMMONPLACE. BUT THIS 1970 BARRACUDA SPORT NOT ONLY HAS THE ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION FROM A 2012 DODGE CHALLENGER DONOR CAR, BUT ALSO ITS SUSPENSION AND COMPLETE INTERIOR.
This 1970 Barracuda Sport not only has the engine and transmission from a 2012 Dodge Challenger donor car, but also its suspension and complete interior.
Walking among a couple hundred cars at a major Mopar car show, it’s easy to overlook significant, creative builds. Tucked away at the far corner of the recent Mopars In May car show held at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, California, was this car.
At first glance, it would appear to be a well-presented 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, albeit sitting on 18-inch wheels, not an unusual modification. But the hood was up, and we noticed that lurking under the hood was the distinctive engine cover of a Gen III Chrysler Hemi. OK, even that’s not all that unusual these days as we’re seeing modern Hemi engines under the hood of all sorts of vintage Mopars, from ’50s-era Forward Look cars, all the way to ’70s A-bodies and even decades-old Dodge trucks. But as we peered under the hood, looking at how tidy things were in the engine compartment, we saw a note under the windshield of the car, which was displayed unattended, with all the windows up. It read: “1970 Barracuda Resto-mod, Donor car: 2012 Challenger R/T. Equipment used from the R/T: Complete interior including the headliner. Motor, Trans & IRS rearend. Wiring, Anti Lock Brake System. Everything works, paddle shift, heated seats, blue tooth, ETC. The airbags were basically the only equipment not used from the Challenger.”
Looking through the deeply tinted windows, yes, there was an instrument panel from a 2012 Dodge Challenger installed between the A-pillars of a 48-year-old E-body. We knew there was a story here and left our card, hoping that the owner would contact us, as we felt certain you,
readers, would love to know how it was designed and built.
That night we received a call from the car’s owner and builder, Lonnie Clabaugh. We spoke for more than 30 minutes, and Lonnie said he would send a photo of the finished interior and build shots of the front and rear suspension. Those arrived quickly and we called Lonnie back and arranged to photograph the car a week later over the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
Lonnie is now retired after working his way up through the ranks of a local water authority over a career that spanned three decades. In our initial phone conversation he mentioned that he started building the Barracuda to “keep myself out of trouble in retirement.” His wife Robin, who Lonnie says is the real Mopar enthusiast in the family is also retired, having owned and operated a local flower shop. Among them they have 11 collector cars of all makes, including the first new car they owned together, a 1978 Formula Firebird with the 403 Oldsmobile motor, and it now only has 82,000 miles on it.
“We get very attached to our cars and trucks. My first car was a 1961 VW single cab pickup I purchased for $200. I had mostly trucks until we bought the Firebird. Robin, on the other hand, was the muscle car fanatic. Her first car was a fourdoor police special 1969 Plymouth Belvedere. She then found a 1969 Road Runner Hemi — minus the motor and trans — and we swapped the running gear from the Belvedere to the Road Runner. She had it painted and loved that car. One day some years later, in my infinite wisdom, I traded it for a dirt bike, and she
really never forgave me until she bought her 1969 numbers-matching GTX the same color her Road Runner was. I’m a classic car enthusiast, but Robin is the fanatic. Out of our 11 cars, she purchased nine of them including the 1950 Ford hauler we have. She loves classic cars. It took her over a year to find the exact 1969 Mustang she wanted, Silver Jade, 390 motor, toploader four-speed Mach I. We did a full frame-off restoration back to factory stock. Even though she had the Mustang, her vision was a 1970 Barracuda. Her real love was Mopar. Every time we saw a Barracuda she would say ‘some day we are going to own one of those.’ That’s how we came about our 1970.”
So we know Lonnie and Robin are dyedin-the-wool car enthusiasts with a special attraction to Mopars. Lonnie said they did little research before building the Cuda. At the time, they were short of cash, so the starting point was a very rusty 1970 hardtop. The front was twisted up, and it had been sitting since 1987 in Oakland, California. The car was purchased off of ebay. It was a bottom-of-the-line 318 car in Vitamin C Orange. Their original plans for the car was to restore it with a 440 engine swap.
We asked Lonnie about the change in direction, from a classic big-block to the installation of the modern Mopar Gen III Hemi. “I have always admired restomod cars,” says Lonnie. “You can pretty much do anything with them if you have an imagination. I would Google restomod cars and go to images for inspiration. I told Robin my vision with the Cuda, and she was all in. She went to work right away and found a
crashed 2012 Challenger R/T in Los Angeles with just 30,000 miles on it and no drivetrain damage. We bought it for $8,000 and sold the stuff we didn’t use for $3,000.”
“The original plan was to install just the engine and transmission. Once we got the R/T home I started checking things out and determined I could use the front strut and rear IRS components with a little ingenuity. As I was doing the swap, I kept looking at the interior of the R/T, the car had been well taken care of, and it would be a shame to not do something with it, so I again told Robin of my new plan to use it. I think she was a little apprehensive this time, but agreed. It took some doing, but I had a vision of what I wanted it to look like, and I kept working toward that goal.”
First, Lonnie straightened out the Cuda in his well-equipped home garage, the start of a process that would last over two years. Next, the rust issues were addressed on the Cuda. “I actually found the specifications of the car on the internet that gave me the numbers I needed to get the car square and true again,” says Lonnie. “Then, I left the rear end in the car and installed the front strut system off the R/T, so I could use the rear for a reference point. I then installed the motor and trans with the IRS system being the last of the drivetrain components.”
In talking with Lonnie, he said that adapting the suspension was straightforward. “The front end was fairly easy, the subframe of the Cuda was almost exactly the same width as the R/T, so once I got the K-member lined up for the proper wheelbase I duplicated the mount from the R/T. I marked the spindle center on the K-member before removing it from the R/T to help with that process. Setting the struts was a challenge because of the caster camber settings of the spindles, I made a jig to hold the spindle at the right angle then built the strut mounts. The stock trans mount from the Cuda was a simple modification to fit the R/T automatic. The Cuda wheelbase is 8 inches shorter than the R/T, so I had to have the driveshaft shortened. I stayed with the stock 2012 driveshaft with the carrier bearing. The IRS assembly was just a matter of getting the driveshaft flange at the right angle and square to the car, I had to make custom mounts to attach it to the rear subframe. I also installed frame extensions and torque boxes to minimize body flex. I tried to build the car and use as many OEM parts as possible so if I had issues on the road I could go to any auto parts house and purchase what I needed for a 2012 Challenger or a 1970 Barracuda.”
We talked with Lonnie about the selection of the aftermarket 18-inch wheels. “I just didn’t like the look of the R/T wheel and wanted something that would make an impact. And I needed at least an 18-inch wheel for the clearance of the brake components.” We think the 18-inch Asanti wheels, front and rear, strike the right balance. Going the route of 20-inch wheels would have been a huge mistake.
With the major mechanical issues addressed, Lonnie tackled the interior. “I tried to make the existing firewall work,” continues Lonnie. “But there were too many complications, so I just cut the firewall out and designed my own. I had