GREET­INGS FROM THE GRAVE

GRAVE­YARD CARZ PRE­PARES TO RE­STORE THIS SU­PER RARE E-BODY FROM THE ASHES!

Mopar Muscle - - Contents - BY MARK WORMAN

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.

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