New Zealand Classic Car - - FRONT PAGE - Words: Lach­lan Jones Pho­tos: Adam Croy

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.

Fa­mil­iar shape

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

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