For a car sharing the body of a mass-produced Plymouth, the 1970s Hemi ‘Cuda is one heck of a gem for all the muscle car enthusiasts out there: this car is easily worth more than $150,000, and can also very easily outdo the prices of most Ferraris manufactured during the same years. If you want to talk about “legendary” in muscle car terms, we are talking about this very car.
The 1970s Hemi ‘Cuda, a model of the Plymouth Barracuda, was one of Chrysler Corporation’s two-door cars that was manufactured under Plymouth and released from 1964 to 1974. The 1970-1974-produced Barracudas, however, were very different from the two previous Plymouth models, and was available as a coupe and as a convertible. During the years 1966-1971, the car took on a new look as it was transformed and fit into a smaller and shorter E-body platform. This gave the Barracuda an edgier, sportier feel. The engine was also rebuilt with a bigger size. It was at this point that the epic popularity of the 1970s Hemi ‘Cuda was born.
The Bad Boy Features
Of course, you only have to look at the car to see its timelessness. The 1970s Hemi ‘Cuda was built with a classic body that came in daring colors such as plum, hockey stick sports stripes, hood pins and pistol grip shifters, providing the ‘Cuda driver with just the proper suave and macho glamour. With its fun Rallye wheels, it has been tested to reach 0-60 in 5.8 seconds and the ¼ mile in 14 seconds at 102 mph. It’s the high performance piece among the Plymouth Barracudas manufactured. It doesn’t need to beg for your attention, but the Hemi ‘Cuda’s tire-shredding growling glory that no muscle car enthusiast can resist. It also comes with an optional Track Pak with a differential ratio of 3.54:1. The Hemi ‘Cuda has also undergone several upgrades, including enhanced suspension.
The Birth of the Rare Treasure
After the Barracuda underwent a major pimping up, the 1970s Hemi ‘Cuda’s reputation as the most sought after of all muscle cars spread. But this is not just because of its innovative design and performance. When they were new, only 652 Hemi ‘Cudas were produced. Among them only 14 were convertibles. Having an original Hemi ‘Cuda was an instant muscle car world status-upper, but even non-muscle car enthusiasts can’t help do a double take with the recognition of the rarity and beauty of this car. This scarcity in manufactured Hemi ‘Cudas was actually a consequence of the additional $900 demanded by the manufacturing of the car, which was almost one-third of the standard purchase price. But hey, they couldn’t have popularized and marketed the bad boy any better, right?
Until now, no other muscle car matches the street cred of the vintage 1970’s Hemi ‘Cuda. It’s wicked for collections if you have the money to maintain it. And as if to put the Hemi ‘Cuda’s feats on the record, it has already been featured in several Need for Speed editions. There’s even a cameo of a perfectly pimped out one in Fast and Furious 6! That’s just how legendary the ‘Cuda is.
The buzz words in the Chevy ad campaigns for the newly styled 1955 Bel-Air were “The Hot One,” and the car did create some hot controversy among enthusiasts. This full-sized Chevrolet got full marks for handling from Motor Trend, while Popular Mechanics liked the comfort, quick acceleration, and excellent visibility the hot one offered. The car was well-liked by consumers also, but the horn ring obscured part of the speedometer. The first examples of this early 265 (4.3L) V8 small-block engine burned too much oil, and they all ran poorly on regular low-octane gasoline.
The engine was the first V8 in a Chevrolet product since Chevy joined GM in 1917. Although in its second year of production in ’55, the engine design was the first of its kind. Almost all GM engineered large- and small block-engines, spanning the next three or four decades, had roots that extend back to this 265. The entry-level Bel Air looked sharp with clean fresh body styling, although purists had mixed feelings about the Ferrari-inspired front clip, particularly the grille. For the folks who didn’t like to read gauges, the new Bel Air came equipped with “idiot lights” to do away with the mundane task of evaluating them, and car enthusiasts of the time scorned them.
1955 Bel Air Nomad
The more uptown models had carpeting throughout, stainless-steel window moldings, full wheel covers, and decorative chromed spears on each front fender with the hard-top models sporting chrome headliner bands. This was the first year for air conditioning as an option, and the V8 engine had a beefed-up alternator to handle the increased load for models so equipped. A two-barrel carburetor on the 265 engine in a ’55 Bel Air coupled to the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission will do 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.9 seconds.
This entry-level V8 featured overhead valves, a short stroke, and high compression, delivering 162 bhp (121 kW), but if you optioned the Power Pack, a four-barrel would increase the output to 180 bhp (130 kW), or the ultimate power in ’55 was the Super Power Pack (introduced mid-year) with a higher compression 265 and the four-barrel produced 195 bhp (145 kW). The transmissions available are the optional two-speed Powerglide or the three-speed Synchro-mesh manual with an overdrive gear added for increased highway fuel economy.
The most expensive unit in ’66 was the Nomad wagon with a sticker price of $2,608, but there were only 7,886 units. The entry-level six-cylinder Bel Air had a base price of $2,025. Optional equipment on the table in ’57 included a rain-sensing automatic top, a padded dashboard and seat belts. Popular Mechanics did a survey on the '56 Bel Air and found only 7.4 percent of new owners chose to order seat belts that year.
1957 Bel Air
The big news for the 1957 Bel Air was the 265 was worked to 283 cubic inches (4.6L). Most ’57 Bel Airs had a carburetor for the Super Turbo Fire 283 V8, but a very rare option was the closed-loop, mechanically fuel-injected version (Fuelie) that produced 283hp (211 kW). The transmissions for ’57 included the three-speed manual, the two-speed Powerglide, and the new three-speed Turboglide with a continuously variable gear ratio with an almost undetectable shift. The entire three years of the G2 Bel Air, known by enthusiasts today as the TriFives, are very collectible, while the ’57 (image below) is possibly the most widely recognized Chevy ever made.
For the Thunderbird in 1957 the grill is larger, the spare tire is back in the trunk mounted vertically now, the tail fins are more pronounced, and the portholes are now a standard feature as they do offer better visibility for the driver. The hard tops roof is made of fiberglass, there are also many new paint choices offered this year. A new option are the four way adjustable “Dial-o-Matic” power seats designed to automatically move back when you turn off the ignition to make it easier to exit the vehicle. The options include telescoping steering wheel, push button interior door handles, and a tachometer are all choices to be made. The standard power is the original 292 which will take the car up to 120 mph (193.12 km/h). Offered optionally in ‘57 is a new 312 cu in (5.1 L) Y-block engine which develops 215 hp (160 kW) when bolted to the three speed standard transmission with manual overdrive. However the engine will put out an additional 10 hp to give 225 hp (168 kW) if you mate it with the Ford-O-Matic two speed automatic version. Additional power options for the 312 cu in (5.1 L) include two four barrel Holly carburetors offering a power boost to 300 hp (223.8 kW) but with the McCulloch or Paxton supercharger the engine will develop up to 340 hp (254 kW). All this is on the table if you want it on your new Thunderbird in ‘57.
Ford Thunderbird first generation sold a total of 53,166 units in the three years it was produced. The ’57 is produced for an extra three months because the ’58 versions are late due to engineering details that need attention.
Thunderbird second generation is after a bigger market share and Ford executives, in particular, Robert McNamara, decide the 1958 version will seat four as this will give the car more appeal to a larger segment of the buying public. The unibody construction is chosen to offer the largest seating capacity in the smallest compartment on the shortest possible frame. This new “T”bird is completely designed by the styling department before any engineers are even consulted. The car is a full nine inches (230mm) lower than any other vehicles of the time and the body carries a major part of the stress that is normally taken by the frame (monocoque construction) the balance of the engineering methods used are more conventional. The tunnel for the drive chain assembly intrudes into the passenger compartment which is partially disguised by the addition of a large full console which extends to between the twin bucket seats holding ashtrays, electrical switches with other minor controls.
The ’58 power is the FE series 352 cu in (5.8 L) engine rated at 250 hp (190 kW) at 4,400 rpm and develops 352 lb-ft (477 N-m) of torque at 2800 rpm. The transmissions available are basically the three speed manual with overdrive or the Cruis-O-Matic as an option. Independent front suspension with coil springs and the rear is a live axle suspended by coils with drum brakes all around. Many fans are unhappy the two seat version but sales figures confirm they are on the right track, as well, this is the car of the year in ’58 according to Motor Trend. Due to late production there are very few convertible models leave the assembly line this year.