This ‘70 ‘Cuda Triple Crown Winner Beat All Street Rods!
The act of swapping a high-horsepower Hemi engine into a radically modified Barracuda has been a tradition since 1965 when Hurst’s Hemi Under Glass debuted on drag strips nationwide with a fire-breathing 426 beneath its rear glass. Since that time even the factory got into the Hemi ’Cuda act. Most recently, the Hemi-in-a-Barracuda theme upped the ante once again, this time dominating a universe normally populated with ’32 Fords and ’49 Mercs. The street rod world was taken aback as our featured car swept the prestigious Triple Crown of custom car building in 2016 with another Hemi in a Barracuda. Mopar guys are used to winning against long odds, but this venue is indeed new territory.
There’s an old adage seasoned customizers often cite when the query is how to begin a build, and that is to start with the very best example of the desired car one can find. That’s really good advice, but here’s an exception to the rule: this stunning 1970 ’Cuda that took Best Street Machine at the inaugural Triple Crown of Rodding held within the 34th Annual Hot Rod Roundup, hosted by Shades of the Past Car Club in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The saga of Zach Ingram’s Z Rodz and Customs (Knox, IN) resurrecting Casey Hornik’s 1970 ’Cuda into a show winner began when the prime-year Plymouth was found stuffed in a semi trailer in a salvage yard on the outskirts of South Bend, Indiana. It was an extremely rusted hulk, so rusty that plucking it out of the trailer on the prongs of a forklift and plopping it onto a car trailer didn’t seem overly disrespectful. Underneath its hole-riddled cancerous shell, the skeleton of the 1970 ’Cuda was intact. DNA-wise the car had excellent bones; it rolled off Plymouth’s Hamtramck, Michigan, assembly line as a 340 ’Cuda. It’s guessed somewhere in the ’80s that the 340 ’Cuda was cloned to AAR specs using genuine AAR parts.
Typically when a hard-core Mopar fanatic spots a 340 ’Cuda as heavily modified styling-wise as this ’Cuda, an outburst of preservationist tongues start wagging, but the truth of it is few would have gone to the trouble and expense it took to bring this ’Cuda back from a totally rusted hulk. This car would have never been whole again if hadn’t been entrusted to the right hands. That means a capable shop with a good client and a good wallet to match. The process of putting a car body back together panel-by-panel has to be done exactly right or the fenders, doors, and quarter-panels aren’t going to square up, and that’s after the trunk floor and roof have been put back precisely where they need to go. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the extreme process involved to convert this ’Cuda from unibody construction into a body-on-frame configuration.
We’ll start from the ground up. The frame is Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) new Max G chassis built on mandrel-formed 2×4-inch rails that feature the company’s latest design, a dropped steering arm that operates Corvette C6 spindles and allows the Detroit Speed rack-and-pinion steering to be mounted lower. This translates into more engine clearance with a lower center of gravity. The independent suspension doesn’t stop at the front wheels. The AME multi-link independent rear suspension features a Strange Dana 60 packed with 3.55 gears and a limited slip. JRi Pro Touring coilovers and Wilwood 14-inch disc brakes equip all four corners. The Wilwood brake master cylinder and hydraulic lines are plumbed in stainless steel with Aeromotive fittings and flex hoses. Contributing to the stance, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires are on 19×10 Nutek Series 755 wheels in front, and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on 20×12 Nutek Series 755 wheels in the rear.
Converting the ’Cuda to body-on-frame meant cutting out the entire stock floorpan with its boxed support structures beneath and inner fenderwells tied integrally to the radiator core support. In its place, Z Rodz fabricated a one-off floor from 16-gauge steel, and punched-in ribs with a Pullmax to strengthen it. With the beefy new floorpan in position and welded to the original ’Cuda skeleton, the next step was hanging Auto Metal Direct quarter-panels, roof, trunk floor, front fenders, and trunklid into place.
Adhering to the concept illustration penned by Problem Child Kustoms’ Brian Stupski, Zach created Barracuda gills on the front fenders, formed a detail line in the roof, and notched the quarters for recessed door-release buttons. It’s a tossup which is more unique between the custom tail panel with flipped and switched sides, 1971 Dodge Charger RT SE Digi-Tails taillights, or the custom-fabricated hood with 1970 Charger insets. Z Rodz modified the stock 1970 ’Cuda front bumper. Caliber Mold & Machine of Akron, Ohio cast the one-off grille mounted between Oracle Halo headlights. The flush-mount acrylic windshield and rear window were made by AM Hot Rod Glass of Fontana, California.
The 340 ’Cuda came from the factory in Alpine White, but Zach repainted it Viper White in PPG products, starting with Deltron DP90LF epoxy primer followed with PPG V-Prime acrylic surfacer, sealed with PPG V-Seal, basecoated in Viper White, and cleared with VC5700 Ditzler Custom Clear. The finishing touch was a complete color sand and rub.
Stupski designed the interior and then John Mayer at Ogden Top & Trim of Berwyn, Illinois put it to gray European leather stitched with heavy gauge orange accent thread. In front between a custom-fabricated console by Z Rodz sits a pair of GT3 Carbon sport seats with Impact Racing seatbelts. The rear seat Mayer scratch-built by sculpting a block of high-density foam. Sound deadening is handled with Hush Mat laid front to rear underneath gray and black German square-weave carpeting. The sound system was installed by Deluxe Auto and features a Pioneer 2-DIN Flagship head unit with JL Audio speakers and components. Creature comforts include Vintage Air air conditioning and a leather-wrapped Billet Specialties steering wheel on an ididit tilt steering column, all highlighted by instrumentation from Classic Instruments of Boyne City, Michigan.
There’s a group of guys, friends actually, who Zach accredits as major contributors to constructing the ’Cuda. Dave Daunheimer of Competition Fabrications in Maple Park, Illinois, is where Zach transported the car to fabricate a 21-gallon aluminum gas tank, four-point chrome 4130 chromoly rollbar, and custom-bent 4.5-inch oval exhaust system with SpinTech mufflers. Dave also wired the ’Cuda using an American Auto Wire wiring harness.
An over-the-top car deserves an over-the-top engine and transmission, so Zach looked to Moran Motorsports of Taylor, Michigan, to build an all-aluminum 572-inch Hemi reported to produce 850-plus horsepower with 800-plus pounds of torque. Ancillary devices like the power steering pump and high-output alternator keep spinning thanks to a Billet Specialties Tru Trac system. Competition Fabrications built custom headers for the Hemi with the engine installed in the car.
It takes a bulletproof transmission to handle the extreme amount of horsepower and torque produced by the Moran-built 572-inch Hemi, so that’s exactly what Bowler Performance Transmissions did—beef a GM 4L80E automatic to the utmost degree. It takes a special bellhousing to adapt the 572-inch Hemi to a GM 4L80E, and from there back it’s beefed with the goodies to keep it together.
It took a tremendous amount of work and attention to detail to transform the ’Cuda from a rusted-out hulk peeled out of a salvage yard shipping container into winning Best Street Machine at the inaugural Triple Crown of Rodding at the 34th Annual Hot Rod Roundup. We’d have to say the payoff was big!
The Pro Touring build trend has been slow to infect the Mopar world, but when it does—as in this Zach Ingram-built ’70 Plymouth ’Cuda—the results are stunning. No expense was spared to nail the perfect stance and put handling on a supercar footing.
Getting that stance just right while optimizing the handling and ride is an Art Morrison GT Sport chassis. Starting from scratch allows the full frame to be mounted to the body in the ideal orientation for ride height, ground clearance, and chassis performance.
Fans of truly fast street cars know the name of engine builder and racer Mike Moran. His quarter-century reign of terror in Sportsman, Pro Stock, and numerous outlaw ranks runs unabated. Tapping Moran for the build of an indestructible all-aluminum fuel-injected 572ci Hemi that tops 800 hp was a no-brainer.
In contrast to the traditional street machine tradition which tends toward a racecar aesthetic, the Pro Touring style of the ZRodz ’Cuda embraces a European touring car look and feel. Ogden Top & Trim gets kudos for knocking this one out of the ballpark.
Nutek wheels take the unsprung weight and the rotational moment of inertia down a notch with carbon-fiber spun hoops mounted on an alloy hub/spoke assembly. As with many world-class supercars, Michelin Pilot Sports get the nod for their tenacious grip.
1970 Plymouth ’Cuda | Casey Hornik; Lemont, IL
Type: V8 Chrysler second-generation Hemi
Bore x stroke: 4.500 X 4.500 Stroke (572 ci)
Block: Indy Maxx aluminum Gen II Hemi
Rotating assembly: Callies crank & rods, Diamond forged and coated pistons
Cylinder heads: Stage V, aluminum Hemi heads and rockers; 2.25-/1.94-inch
Camshaft: MRE solid roller, .700-inch lift, 262-/272-degrees duration at .050-inch lift,
116 degree LSA
Valvetrain: Stage V rockers, 1.6:1 intake/1.7:1 exhaust ratio, two-piece billet aluminum
valve covers by Moran Motor Sports
Induction: MRE custom designed all billet aluminum intake
Fuel system: sequential multi-port electronic fuel injection, Bigstuff 3 engine
management system tuned by MRE
Oiling: Dailey dry-sump oiling system
Exhaust: custom stainless headers by Competition Fabrications, 4.5-inch oval
exhaust tubing, Spin Tech mufflers
Ignition: Big Stuff 3 LS coil-on-plug
Fuel: 91-octane gasoline
Output: 825 hp at 7,500 rpm
Engine built by: MRE
Transmission: 4L80E built by Bowler Performance Transmissions
Rearend: Strange Engineering Dana 60 with 3.55 gears
Driveshaft: custom chromoly steel
Frame: Art Morrison Enterprises GT Sport Chassis, body and frame built to a front
ride height of 6 inches, rear set at 7 inches from bottom of frame rail
Front suspension: Art Morrison IFS upper/lower control arms, JRi double-adjustable
coilovers, AM swaybar
Rear suspension: Art Morrison multi-link IRS with JRi double-adjustable coilovers and AM
Steering: DSE 20:1 rack & pinion steering, ididit tilt steering column, Billet
Specialties steering wheel
Brakes: Wilwood 14-inch rotors & 6-piston calipers (front), Wilwood 14-inch rotors
& 4-piston calipers (rear)
Electrical: American Auto Wire kit, Phantom Works Tough & Go ignition wiring by
EXTERIOR & INTERIOR
Seats: carbon fiber GT-3 seats
Instruments: custom by Classic Instruments
Interior: dash and console built by Z Rodz
Trim: carbon front splitter, rear diffuser, rocker moldings
WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels: custom Nutek rims, 19×10, front; 20×12, rear. Rims feature carbon fiber
Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport, 295/40R19, front; 335/30R20, rear