In­side Tony An­gelo’s HOT ROD Garage 1972 drift ’Cuda

Wait, what? This is a drift car that looks like a mus­cle car, pow­ered by a late-model en­gine, and dressed like some­thing Dan Gur­ney would have driven in the 1960s. To un­der­stand this build, you need to get in­side the head of HOT ROD Garage’s Tony An­gelo and know his story.

Tony grew up like we all did, want­ing to do donuts in empty park­ing lots in his Dodge De­mon, a car he bought when he was 15. Mus­cle car in­flu­ence was ev­ery­where, and im­port cars and drift­ing were still largely un­known and cen­tered around a small cult in Asia. But the world was about to change.

Two decades ear­lier, a Ja­panese auto parts de­liv­ery driver was over­steer­ing vi­o­lently up a lonely moun­tain road in his Hachi-roku, start­ing a chain re­ac­tion that even­tu­ally birthed the drift car. By the time Tony came of age, the Ja­panese had turned donuts and fish­tails into the cul­tural jug­ger­naut of drift­ing, DVDS brought the ac­tion to Amer­ica, and Tony and the rest of Gen X were hooked.

“I grew up drift­ing around English­town,” says Tony. “I helped de­velop a club se­ries and did a bunch of park­ing lot events.” When the first

Amer­i­can Pro Se­ries in For­mula Drift started in 2004, he be­came a pro­fes­sional with spon­sor­ship from Mazda, Scion, and even the Air Force.

In 2014, with im­ages of vin­tage Trans-am, grainy Pluspy videos, and 10 years of tire-fire sound­tracks in his head, Tony was stuck be­tween his love for Amer­i­can mus­cle cars and early fac­tory Trans-am rac­ing, and stick­ered and winged drifters he’d been so closely in­volved with. Ly­ing awake at night, he scanned Craigslist for cars he wanted to build, sell, or build and sell. That’s where he saw this ’72 ’Cuda for the first time.

“I talked to the owner for a year. It was just a shell with a 340 en­gine and a 727, but all the rust had been re­paired.” Even­tu­ally, the seller took the ad down but Tony knew it didn’t sell. By then, Tony was the host of HOT ROD Garage, dead­lines were drawn and the show must go on, so Tony paid the full ask­ing price and brought the car to Los Angeles.

Tony isn’t an en­gi­neer, but rac­ing on a shoe­string bud­get

for so many years had given him some im­pres­sive en­gi­neer­ing knowl­edge about car con­trol and sus­pen­sion. He used that to cre­ate this mix of street and track. “Two ’Cu­das aren’t in any­one’s bud­get,” he says. “I wanted a real 1970s Trans-am, so that’s where the stripes and color came from … like a Dan Gur­ney AAR ’Cuda. I love rac­ing, but I didn’t want the car to look like a Ja­panese drifter.”

The ’Cuda is tech­ni­cally street le­gal, yet it hasn’t been on the street. There are enough parts to make it drift like a boss even though it was built in seven weeks for the SEMA show. The plan now is to add some ad­di­tional parts and put it on the street.


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