CUDA 1970 PLYMOUTH BARRACUDA AAR
THEY CALL IT MOULIN ROUGE
The anglers among us know full well how much of a pain in the backside hooking a barracuda on your line can be. The slithery spiky things fight like bloody misery coming up and are awful to unhook and get back in the water. But there’s another type of barracuda that isn’t as much of a niggle to deal with, and, to emphasize the contrast, those in the know will not even refer to it by the full name of its aquatic namesake; instead, this piece of true-blue American muscle is known only as the ’Cuda.
The first two generations of the Barracuda (ahem, sorry, ’Cuda) were based on the Plymouth Valiant. The shape will be familiar to a lot of Kiwis, given its close links to the first Aussie-built Valiant, the AP5 (albeit in coupé configuration). The original ’Cuda was also recognizable for its unique wraparound rear window.
While the first iterations of the ’Cuda took cues from cars within the Plymouth family, the third generation saw the Dodge Challenger being used as a platform, making the ’Cuda a large, imposing muscle car.
The muscle’s size was staggered, and came courtesy of five engine options. There were two six-cylinder engines on offer, including a new 198ci (3.2-litre) version of the slant-six, and the 225ci (3.6-litre), as well as three different V8s: the 318ci (5.2-litre) and the 383ci (6.2-litre) with two-barrel carburettor and single exhaust. The ’Cuda was also optioned with the 383ci V8 with a four-barrel carburettor and dual exhaust system producing 330hp (250kw), which was the standard engine configuration (the same as Dodge’s 383 Magnum). Those wanting additional tyreshredding muscle under the hood could opt for the 440ci (7.2-litre) four-barrel Super Commando engine, the 440ci six-barrel Super Commando Six Pak, or the much sought after 426ci (6.9-litre) Hemi. The 440 and Hemi-equipped cars received upgraded suspension components and structural reinforcements to ensure all that power could get the wheels into action.
The Sports Car Club of America introduced the Trans-american road-racing series, or simply ‘Trans-am’, in 1966, which was designed for production sedans. Of course, Kiwis and Aussies are familiar with the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’, saying from V8 Supercars, but this really stemmed from the Trans-am series. For a race car to be eligible for Trans-am, there, of course, needed to be ‘ homologation specials’ — a limited number of road-going versions of the race car — that would be available for sale to the public.
For Ford, the result was the Mustang Boss 302, and, for Chevrolet, the Z/28 Camaro. Pontiac had the Firebird Trans-am, while AMC also had a shot at the title with the Javelin. Chrysler thought it a good idea to enter both the Dodge and Plymouth brand into the series with the Challenger and the ’Cuda, respectively.
The ‘AAR’ ’Cuda took its name from Dan Gurney’s All-american Racers, the team that campaigned Barracudas in the Trans-am series. Like its sibling, the Dodge Challenger, the AAR ’Cuda was built for the track, with a full-race 440hp (328kw) 305ci (5.0-litre) four-barrel V8 ( built by Keith Black to stay with the 305ci displacement rule of the series). The vehicle was also lowered and modified to make it into a bona fide track car.
Similarly, the Challengers and AAR ’Cudas built to qualify for racing used a 290hp (216kw) V8 with three two-barrel Holley carburettors mounted on an Edelbrock aluminium manifold, and buyers had the choice of a four-speed manual or three-speed Torqueflite automatic gearbox, with a SureGrip axle and either standard 3.55:1 or optional 3.91:1 gear ratios.
The AAR’S interior was base-spec ’Cuda, but its exterior was quite the opposite. From a matt-black fibreglass bonnet to the striking body-side strobe stripes, tri-coloured AAR shield, and the standard black ducktail spoiler, this fish was quite the catch. Special shock absorbers and re-cambered rear springs raised the tail 82.5mm over regular ’Cuda height, allowing clearance for the side exhaust system that exhaled just in front of the rear wheel well.
Other AAR ’Cuda options included unique decals, bonnet modifications, and a collection of colours inspired by the smoky haze that covered the late 1960s and early ’70s — such as Lime Light; Bahama Yellow; Tor Red; Lemon Twist; Curious Yellow; Vitamin C; In-violet; Sassy Grass; and, as our feature car, Moulin Rouge. It was clear the ‘Cuda was not designed to be a wallflower.
The AAR ’Cuda had a production run of just over 2724 cars, produced during a short six-week run in March and April, with 1120 being fitted with the four-speed manual box and the remaining 1604 running the Torqueflite three-speed autos. Of those 1614 cars, just 36 were sprayed in Moulin Rouge (the Dodge Challenger also had the same colour available but called a slightly more growly ‘Panther Pink’).
Cathy and the ‘Cuda
Cathy Willemsen’s obsession with the Moulin Rouge ’Cuda began with a simple Scalextric model. As a friend of hers was going through the process of selling his model collection, Cathy went to pick up a few Mustangs she’d had her eye on. As soon as she spotted the bright pink ’Cuda, she knew she had to own a full-sized version. Her friend simply said, “Good luck with that!” knowing how rare and sought after the Moulin Rouge ‘Cudas are. The model took pride of place on Cathy’s shelf of cars for about eight years.
On the hunt
When Cathy sold her property at the peak of the recent Auckland property boom, she finally saw an opportunity to begin the hunt for one of the 36 original ones made. When she ran into Chuck from Chuck’s Restorations at the Kumeu Classic Car Show and Hot Rod Festival not long after, his reaction was much the same: “Jeez, don’t ask for much, do you?” But Chuck loves a challenge, and the hunt was officially on.
To find a matching-numbers car was no mean feat, and, at one stage, it was even mooted that Cathy might have to settle for a clone (albeit a very nice one), but she wasn’t having it. To make matters even more difficult, she learned that it was thought just seven of the 36 Moulin Rouge automatic cars remained.
Careful what you wish for
Around six months from the beginning of the search, Chuck got in touch with Cathy and told her that he’d found the car. The owner was a private collector who had purchased it for his wife, but she had since lost interest. Once word got out that it might
be available for sale, Chuck dispatched one of his California-based contacts to check the car out and ensure that it was in fact a numbersmatching Moulin Rouge 1970 ’Cuda.
The news was good, so a deal was quickly completed. Cathy didn’t hear much until the car arrived into the country. Chuck got in touch with her to say that the car was here, and invited her out to have a look (although he wisely instructed her not to watch it being removed from the container, which can test the hardiest of nerves).
When Chuck’s Us-based agent had inspected the car, he had, of course, been interested in the bad and ugly, so most of the photos Cathy had seen were focused on minor paint imperfections and other incidental wear and tear. In the flesh, the ’Cuda was in fact a much nicer car than Cathy had expected.
She spent an hour or so in Chuck’s shop taking in her new addition, and even managed to start her up and drive a few metres. Cathy was in love. Fourteen remain The car had a full restoration in 2002. Since that time, each and every part had been thoroughly and painstakingly inspected by several Mopar groups around the US, including Mopar guru Dave Wise. When the car arrived from the States, it was complete with every receipt, pre and post restoration, as well as a whole lot of correspondence from the Mopar groups and professionals about the cars.
Of the 36 Moulin Rouge 1970 AARS ever produced, Cathy has been reliably informed that only 14 remain, seven in manual and seven in automatic, making her car one very exotic fish indeed. There is a belief that Cathy’s car is the only
genuine AAR in New Zealand (there are rumours of other cars around, but not with matching numbers). Cathy’s car has been run on the dyno and, surprisingly, power output remains at the 216kw mark.
Cherry on top
The car arrived in New Zealand in April 2017, and, despite having its boot replaced (leakage there is a common fault on the ’Cuda), it flew through compliance. Since then, Cathy, who was already a member of the American Muscle Car Club thanks to her Mustang, has been on most of the club runs in the ’Cuda, and has even had it out to the Father’s Day Drags at Meremere, although it was just there to spectate this year, with the Mustang doing the heavy lifting on the strip.
To add the cherry on top of what was a great buying experience and, so far, a great ownership experience, too, Cathy took out the People’s Choice award at the 2017 CRC Speedshow. Sometimes, it pays to dream big.
Of the 36 Moulin Rouge 1970 AARS ever produced, Cathy has been reliably informed that only 14 remain