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.

Mopar Muscle - - Contents - BY RICHARD TRUESDELL

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

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