GREETINGS FROM THE GRAVE
GRAVEYARD CARZ PREPARES TO RESTORE THIS SUPER RARE E-BODY FROM THE ASHES!
Greetings, ghoulz! When we finally finished the Phantom ’Cuda, I had a moment where I thought Graveyard Carz had peaked. We resurrected the raced, wrecked, and rusted — returning to the world one of its 108 1971 440+6-BBL, 3.54 Dana, shaker hood, Tor Red, four-speed ’Cudas. Particularly, one that had been completely written off by this aforementioned world. It felt great! But I admit there was this sinking feeling, spurred by the question: What if that was the biggest challenge we’ll ever face? One good ’Cuda deserves another.
In the unaired pilot for Graveyard Carz, we had an animated cemetery for fallen cars — literally buried and marked with headstones. If that existed in real life, the car I’m about to introduce would definitely be in it. I could imagine — considering the rarity, value, and near mythical status of this car — an appropriate epitaph would read: “1971 Hemi ’Cuda, 1 of 48. Born May 19, 1971 - Died May 20, 1999. ‘Only The Good Die Young.’” Who knows, with today’s technology maybe a streaming MP3 version of the same song by Billy Joel could play through a hidden speaker when you
walked by. While I greatly respect and admire “The Piano Man,” or B.J. as I like to call him (not to his face and not ’cause I’m afraid of him), I’d prefer an epitaph from Oscar Goldman: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic car. Better ... stronger ... faster.”
For more details on the tragedy that befell this car, you can watch season 8 episode 13 of Graveyard Carz on Velocity or Motor Trend On Demand and hear the story from the man who lived it, Wendall Malmberg. In very short summary: Wendall and a friend were in his shop with the ’Cuda and several other cars when a spark ignited some gas fumes from a leaking car. The resulting explosion engulfed the building in flames. Wendall and his friend were lucky to make it out alive.
Graveyard Carz gets another shot at the title. Wendall, in a stroke of genius and mercy, didn’t let the insurance company total his Hemi ’Cuda. He wanted to bring it back to life one day and he chose Graveyard Carz to make that dream a reality. The fire was in 1999, so he’s been waiting 19 years for this. I can tell you that it’ll be a long restoration process, but Wendall knows it’ll be worth the wait. Having combed over the Elephant ’Cuda in excruciating detail, I can give you my thoughts on the approach we intend to take. But as with all journeys, the navigation can change when you encounter unexpected surprises along the way. So the plan I’m going to lay out here might be dramatically overhauled when this car comes back from the dipper. Specifically, we’ll have a better idea of the condition of inner structures, rockers, and framerails.
“Is it numbers, buddy?” said in a highpitched, annoyingly familiar voice. When authenticating a car I check the fender tag, dash VIN, upper cowl numbers, core support, engine, and transmission number to see if they match, i.e. all started life together on the same car. Miraculously, all of these numbers not only survived the fire, but are also matching — that’s rarely heard of on a Hemi car, especially a ’71 Hemi ’Cuda. This is amazing when you consider that a dash VIN plate is a very thin metal and at the epicenter of the blazing heat. Fortunately, most intuitively, Wendall had the notion when he first bought the car that the broadcast sheet should be prized and protected — clearly a man after my own heart. So he had it under lock and key in his safe at home. Take note, my ghoulz at home. Take note! When you look under the hood you can see that
the bolt-on items were destroyed. Fortunately, these melted parts made of plastic, rubber, aluminum, etc. aren’t tied to a specific vehicle, meaning no VINS to worry about. Parts will just need to be date-coded correct when replacing. Nonetheless, the engine and transmission weren’t damaged — another miracle, if you ask me. Knowing that the basic engine, heads, and transmission are able to be rebuilt and restored is some of the best news a car owner can get. It means that this Hemi ’Cuda is 100 percent numbers matching! All of you know how rare that is, but that rarity is compounded greatly when we consider the trauma this car has been through. I know
I said it twice already but I want to drive this point home — miracle!
Well, it ain’t all sunshine and roses. The Hemi ’Cuda’s body has seen better days to be sure. When sheetmetal is heated, it warps. That fact of physics is no different here. The fenders, hood, roof skin, doorskins, and quarter-panels will certainly need to be replaced. Nonetheless, it’s shocking to me, considering the other damage, that the inner structure is in phenomenal shape. In addition, the front inner fenders, cowl, firewall, front rails, rockers, main floor, rear step wells, under seat pan, inner and outer wheelhouses, trunk floor, trunk floor extensions, rear framerails, and rear body panel all appear to be usable. In fact, I don’t see any damage. Again, I’m reserving final judgment until we get the car back from the dip tank, but it’s very promising.
Sometimes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Fire isn’t friendly to interiors. Let’s face facts: If it’s rubber, plastic, pot metal, aluminum, or fabric, it’s toast. Fortunately though, we can save the more structural components of the interior, such as the seat frames and tracks, dash frame, glovebox door, lightbar, metal interior garnish moldings, and in a twist of irony, the ashtray. For a car like this, it makes sense to use as many original parts as possible. The investment of time is well worth it. As for the numerous items that cannot be restored, like the center console and “standard” instrument panel, I’ve some amazing vendors
I rely on for almost all of my restorations. Like my friend Tony “he thinks he knows more about Mopars than me” D’agostino and OER, a division of Classic Industries.
Don’t miss the train. With the miraculous survival of the original engine, transmission, and 4.10 Dana, the drivetrain will be restored to the Hamtramck assembly plant’s specifications, including the suspension, as the leafsprings, transmission crossmember, front suspension, K-member, et al., all appear to be very restorable. The factory 15x7 Rally wheels survived the flames. The center caps and trim rings, however, didn’t make it. You can probably guess how the F60-15 Polyglas tires turned out. Surprisingly though, the original space-saver rim is good, go figure.
The glass is definitely half empty. The original glass, date codes and all, were broken by the firefighters. It’s sad, but they did an amazing job controlling the fire, and if they didn’t do what they did, we may not have as much as we do of this car. Speaking of which, the stainless steel windshield trim and drip troughs look salvageable. However, anything pot metal or plastic, like the L31 fender-mounted turn signal indicators, grille, headlight bezels, taillight housings and bezels, side marker lenses, park lenses, etc. are beyond repair. Just as an interesting aside, the damage to the roof was also fire-suppression related. The firefighters had to stand on the roof to suppress the fire in the building. Again, let me reiterate, although it’s tragic to have more damage done to this beautiful car, if the firefighters didn’t perform as they did we may not have as much as we do. So even though the car guy in me wants to weep for Wendall and curse the small losses, I will not sleep under the blanket of fire safety that the firefighters provide and then question the manner in which they provide it. Jack Nicholson … A Few Good Men. We bandy about the word “survivor” when referring to a car that has never needed the gentle touch of the restoration technician nor the heavy hand of the amateur auto aficionado in his home-based shop, but when we think about what that means, we’re talking about a car that’s cared for and kept from lot to garage. Driven and used, but protected and maintained throughout its life. When we consider Wendall’s ultra-rare Hemi ’Cuda, sitting in his shop with its gorgeous B5 blue paint, black billboard stripes, and stunning shaker hoodscoop cared for, protected, and well maintained. Then, in a moment, this cherished car is lost in an explosive inferno.
But Wendall’s passion and love for this car isn’t gone. It grows. He keeps it, cares for it, and holds on hope for its return. When this car is restored, brought out of the ashes, and given new life, it’ll be a true “survivor” car.
When I look back at some of the cars we’ve restored or even built,
I have to laugh at the similarities. We built/restored a ’71 ’Cuda to be an homage to the ’Cudas in my friend Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm films. It wasn’t an exact replica, but one that paid homage to the cars used in his inimitable film franchise. We called it the “Phantasm ’Cuda.” We built a very special O.E. on the outside, modern Mopar muscle on the inside, ’Cuda to reveal at SEMA 2016. Considering the original name for the Hemi was “Firepower” and this was the first ’71 ’Cuda to sport the new Mopar 392 Crate Hemi (it was even blessed by Mopar President Pietro Gorlier when he visited my shop — just saying), we decided to call this car the “Firepower ’Cuda.” And, of course, we have the ’Cuda that started it all. The ’71 ’Cuda that no one believed we could restore — the hurdle car that kicked off the Graveyard Carz TV series. The “one and only” to me, but 1 of 108 to the rest of the world, we call the “Phantom ’Cuda.” I find it odd that some of the most significant cars we’ve done have been ’71 ’Cudas. Stranger still that we only give these cars special monikers. Even weirder that two out of three of those names happen to begin with a “Ph” — but all with an “ef” sound (phonetically speaking). Well, it’s going to get stranger.
We gave this new hurdle car a name too. Given that it burst into flames and will soon rise out of the ashes reborn, we’ve continued our oddly coincidental naming scheme of ’71 ’Cudas and call this the “Phoenix ’Cuda.” Stay tuned to Graveyard Carz in the coming seasons on Velocity and Motor Trend On Demand. This car is rarer than the “Phantom” with only 1 of 48 ever made. Unlike the other moniker ’Cudas, it’s completely numbers matching. And it’s endured far more trauma than being wrecked in a ditch. After the “Phantom,” I wondered if we’d ever have a car with the trifecta of being ultra-rare, incredibly challenging to restore, and having a compelling story. Well, I guess when the restoration tech is ready, the car appears.