Bot­tom 10s in a big-block Ply­mouth ’Cuda? Liv­ing the dream!


AL JAMES is no stranger to driv­ing very cool and very fast Ply­mouths. He cam­paigned the leg­endary ‘Ramcharger’, a gen­uine light­weight ’63 Belvedere su­per stocker that his fa­ther had also raced back in the early-70s. So you could say Al was hooked on Mopars from a very early age.

“When I was six years old my dad had a brand­new Vi­ta­min C E38 six-pack R/T Charger big tank,” Al says. “I think Mum forced the sale of the R/T af­ter she was rushed to hos­pi­tal in it at 140mph while try­ing not to give birth to my younger sis­ter!” The Charger was sold to Ian Dif­fen and it went on to be­come a wild mi­dengined Sports Sedan.

It’s fair to say the James fam­ily have a fair bit of West Aussie rac­ing his­tory run­ning through their veins, and Al is pass­ing it on to the next gen­er­a­tion. “I’ve had a few Chryslers in my time and have now passed on the love of them to my sons Aaron and Corey. Aaron has the light blue VG Valiant sedan that we as a fa­ther-and-son team have fit­ted with a big-block. He’s hav­ing a ball with it and has even dropped it into the ni­nesec­ond zone, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated on a ra­dial. We are plan­ning on do­ing Drag Chal­lenge soon with that car, so you’ll see it out there.”

It’s prob­a­bly about time we get to the matter at hand, the gor­geous ’71 Ply­mouth Bar­racuda on the page in front of you. With the oil cri­sis loom­ing and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies get­ting ner­vous, 1971 was the last year that big-blocks were of­fered in the E-body cars, but don’t worry, Al’s Bar­racuda makes up for it with 547 cubes of bored and stroked Chrysler big-block good­ness.

It’s a 440 block that been half-filled with grout, there’s a 4.5-inch Scat crank, steel caps and ARP bolts, 7.1-inch Ea­gle rods and a set of 11:1 CP pis­tons. The cam is from Reed and is a solid flat-tap­pet deal with around 750thou of lift, and it gets fully utilised thanks to the maxed-out port­ing job on the Indy heads by Simon Lazarevski from Hippo Race En­gi­neer­ing; the heads have been flowed at 368cfm. The other side of the equa­tion is equally as im­pres­sive, with a cus­tom set of ex­trac­tors with two-inch pri­maries snaking their way around the ob­sta­cles into a set of four-inch col­lec­tors. “They were done by Ex­treme Cus­tom En­gi­neer­ing and are a work of art,” Al says.

For the pho­to­shoot, Al fit­ted the Indy tun­nel­ram topped with twin 950 carbs from Texas Race En­gines, but he’s also got an Indy sin­gle­plane and an AED 1050 Dom­i­na­tor carb that fits un­der a stock shaker scoop.

If one big-block is good, then surely two is bet­ter. Al has an­other big-block for the car, a 528-cu­ber that orig­i­nally pow­ered the su­per stocker, so I guess it’s got 1075 cubes all up. “Hav­ing a com­plete, ready-to-go short mo­tor


sit­ting there is a good feel­ing and I have had to swap them out a few times,” Al says. “It’s noth­ing new, just old proven-recipe stuff that’s around the 750hp mark. Peo­ple were do­ing this stuff 20 years ago.”

That kind of power gets the Bar­racuda down the track with a best so far of [email protected], but that elu­sive nine-sec­ond pass prob­a­bly won’t ever hap­pen, though not be­cause the car couldn’t do it: “One goal that got away was to get the nine-sec­ond, full-street, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated pass to its name,” Al says. “I have man­aged a [email protected], but have now been stopped by AN­DRA at Alice Springs In­land Drag­way at Red Cen­tre­nats and then three weeks later drove up to the Mo­tor­plex for a Wednesday night hit but was stopped again. Rules is rules, I guess, but I don’t re­ally want a ’cage in it. Might be a good ex­cuse to buy an­other car!”

While Al has spent a lot of time de­vel­op­ing the car and mak­ing it go quicker – it was run­ning 10.80s when he first got it – he can’t take credit for the build; that has to go to Ge­off Ryan from Bris­bane. He built the car al­most 18 years ago, but de­cided to sell it be­cause he didn’t re­ally like the at­ten­tion it at­tracted – not


from the author­i­ties, mostly the peo­ple al­ways want­ing to stop and have a chat! The fact it still looks so good is tes­ta­ment to the qual­ity of that ini­tial build.

Al couldn’t be sure of the qual­ity though, as he bought it sight-un­seen, although he did make plenty of phone calls: “I was on a mine-site camp about nine years ago read­ing a Just Cars mag­a­zine and came across a ’71 Bar­racuda for sale in Queens­land. I was dream­ing and gave the idea of buy­ing it a miss, but a few months rolled by and there it was again still on the market. The car was al­ready a bit of an an­i­mal and Ge­off had some com­fort in sell­ing it to me as I was not a to­tal be­gin­ner and al­ready had a few years of drag rac­ing and Mopar big-block knowl­edge un­der my belt. The body of the car is a rip­per and just a good solid thing. I fit­ted Dy­na­mat to it when do­ing the new car­pet, and the floors are as-new. The paint was done by Brent Petrie in Queens­land and is show­ing a few bat­tle scars, but it’s still awe­some and way too good to re­paint.”

If you’re won­der­ing about the colour, it’s not one of the fac­tory op­tions; it’s a cus­tom-mix orange con­jured up by Ge­off, and the recipe was never writ­ten down. Al says that Ge­off ad­mits there may have been some beers in­volved when the car was painted, but thanks to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy you can match most colours th­ese days. For the Mopar geeks out there, the car was orig­i­nally Torred – or Hemi Orange if you’re a Dodge fan – and if you look closely in the en­gine bay you can see the orig­i­nal tags were never painted over.

“Hav­ing a shared in­ter­est and love for cars with my sons is so good,” Al says. “From do­ing huge trips across the coun­try for Red Cen­tre­nats to just cruis­ing to the lo­cal pub for a counter meal, I love hav­ing them around. We are not me­chan­ics; my sons and I are boil­er­mak­ers/fab­ri­ca­tors, but af­ter play­ing with 440s for so long, we seem to be do­ing okay.” s

I think you’re do­ing more than okay, mate!

The 440 has been stroked with a 4.5in crank – up from 3.75 – and with a bit of an over­bore now mea­sures up at 547ci, and is also half-filled with grout. Al swaps be­tween an Indy sin­gle-plane with 1050 Dom­i­na­tor and the tun­nel-ram with twin 950s. “Our big-block Chryslers are built by us at home,” he says. “I only get help from Ricky Wood in­stalling and de­gree­ing camshafts; I haven’t quite got my head around that yet!”

Al has four dif­fer­ent bon­nets and five dif­fer­ent sets of wheels for the car, so he can mix it up a bit. “No good hav­ing a girl­friend that only has one dress and one pair of shoes!” he laughs

IN­TE­RIOR Apart from a few Auto Me­ter gauges, it’s pretty stock in the cabin, although a pis­tol­grip han­dle has been fit­ted to the fac­tory ‘Slap Stik’ shifter

Sim­ply one of the best­look­ing mus­cle cars ever made. Al is only run­ning a 255 un­der the rear for the street, switch­ing to 275 M/T Ra­dial Pros at the track

LET­TER­BOX SCOOP Al fab­ri­cated the boxy scoop out of clear Per­spex, but then a carby back­fire made a mess of that idea, so it copped a coat of black paint

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