Could Be the Most Original 1971 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda on the Planet
Lars Skroder was talking with his brother Tor when he said those words back in February 2013. The brothers began collecting quality muscle cars some years ago, focused mostly on Chrysler performance models. Their process is deliberate and selective. When a low-interest investment Tor had made was coming due, with little hope of improvement, he told Lars they should buy another car instead of letting the money just “sit in a bank.” Lars suggested a few other financial possibilities, but Tor insisted on adding one more treasure to the garage. Younger brother Lars then threw down the gauntlet and listed the impossible. Figuring it would take months, if not years, to find something that matched those requirements, just three weeks later Lars located the exact car he had imagined.
He says, “After we had talked, I was going through the web and found a story on YouTube about this amazing original 1971 ‘Cuda without really expecting to. I thought, No way would it be for sale, but I chased down Scott Smith, who had done the video, and he told me that he and Mr. Peterson had talked recently and were actually considering a sale. So I called Tor and we got serious.”
Greg Peterson of Illinois was the car’s one and only owner. Back in late 1970, Greg was a big farm kid whose good high school grades had made his father and grandfather proud. When he was accepted into the mechanical engineering program at the University of Illinois, the older men thought he deserved a new car and gave him a choice, a Corvette or a ‘Cuda. The 16-year-old Greg, whose regular ride was a turbocharged 1965 Corvair, compared the sales brochures and picked the Plymouth.
He sat down and listed what wanted: hardtop, no vinyl roof, and painted EV2 TorRed (or Hemi Orange) to match the engine under the hood. He did not want the big body-side Hemi billboard advertising either, as he remembered how difficult waxing the woodgrain body decal on the family’s station wagon had been. His dad did insist on power windows, and the car also got leather interior, AM/FM with rear speaker, body-color mirrors, a four-speed with the Hurst Pistol Grip, and 15-inch Rallye wheels. Finishing up with the A33 Performance Axle Package meant a 3.54 Sure-Grip gear went into the Dana 60. After adding it all up, his dad and grandpa haggled with the dealership on the price, finally getting what they wanted because the small dealership’s salesman said he had always wanted to sell a Hemi!
Greg admits that he wasn’t one of the “cool kids,” and the car was frankly a “wild ride.” He pushed the speedometer up to 150 mph a time or two on the highway late at night, but he was not a street racer. He never got a ticket, nor had an accident, and had not messed around under the hood except to check the oil. Frankly, when he left for college, he found that the unwieldy car was not the easiest thing to park in the tight confines of campus. After a half-year of that, and now with a little more than 11,000 miles on the odometer, he did what every logical engineer would have done. He parked the ‘Cuda and got his Corvair back out. To make sure the Hemi engine would stay fresh, he pulled the plugs and poured fresh motor oil down each cylinder until it reached the plug tube level. The family farm had buildings for storage, so in 1974 the car was put inside a barn, prepped for long-term stability, and would not run again for more than 30 years.
Time passed. Greg was successful in his work; you might even be using something he was involved with every time you pick up your cellphone. A chance talk with his hometown barber brought up memories of the old car, and Greg decided maybe it would be good to get it running again. You know, take off all the old belts and hoses, put on some fresh tires, disassemble and rebuild the carbs, and drive it a little. So he got on the internet and began asking questions.
When we talk about original cars, it is easy to nitpick. Like those chrome wheelwell trim pieces. Who added them? They were not available on the Hemi ‘Cuda due to factory wheel lip trimming for tire clearance. (This was why there was a fender tag that states “Hemi Fender” on these cars.) The day Greg’s car showed up at the dealer in January 1971, there was wheel trim installed on one side from the factory and not on the other. He noticed this when he went to wash it for the first time a week later. Greg went back to Carlson Motor Sales and asked about it; the embarrassed dealer added the two missing wheel trim pieces at no charge. Greg had gotten the longer Rallye wheel valve extensions from the dealership that day as well, but only three were in the sealed Chrysler envelope, and to this day one wheel does not have one.
All that would have probably gotten “fixed” if Scott Smith from Harm’s Auto in Washington State had not become involved. A carb and tune-up specialist by trade, Scott was contacted by Greg in 2006. The more Scott heard about this car, the more he knew it should not be touched. Besides, Greg had already been watching car auctions on TV, so he knew it was worth some money. A lot of money. After seeing a handful of photos, Scott agreed to fly out to just see the beast.
“The first time I viewed the car, I simply could not believe how original it was,” Scott says now. “While most ‘survivors’ are ‘largely original,’ this car was simply beyond comprehension. The list of parts that have ever been removed or replaced can be counted on one hand. Here it is: the battery, the negative battery cable, the thermostat housing gasket, the oil filter, and a 6-inch fuel hose to the fuel pump. Absolutely nothing else on the entire car had ever been removed or replaced! Simply incredible.”
Greg even had the parts the dealership had changed during tune-ups, including the fuel pump and the cracked fuel hose. The original factory spark plugs were still in the engine! Yet he still wanted to hear the big engine run again. On Scott’s second trip out, they performed the proper reanimation duties, including a complete oil change and an oil pump prime with a drill motor to ensure the bearings had what they needed. A small fuel jug was used as a temporary fuel source since the gas that remained in the tank was “a little old.” Ironically, the carburetors Greg was concerned about didn’t need a thing, idling very nicely after fire-up. They drove it to the family farmhouse just down the road from the barn, Scott took pictures and video, and then the car went back into storage and internet infamy. Our sister magazine Mopar Muscle featured it, as did Tom Cotter in his book The Corvette in the Barn.
The Skroder brothers did not have a Hemi E-Body yet, so Lars pushed for the ‘Cuda. They and Greg agreed on a price, and the Cornfield ‘Cuda, as it’s known on You Tube, left its original home for the first time ever. The brothers have stored it ever since, leaving it in the same condition they found it, recognizing that once it is brought back to running condition it will never again be a time capsule of this magnitude. The brothers met us this spring and we push-positioned the car into place to get our pictures.
One of the most impressive things is the excellent and unfaded paint. It shows some factory runs. The decklid metal is a little wavy on the edge, which Greg recalls was the result of him playing the big guy and pushing down a little hard to close it one day in his high school parking lot. No rust, though. The interior is also all original, as is the trunk. The jack and spare have never been moved. From inside the trunk the rear speakers look as they did the day they were installed.
When the car was displayed at MCACN in late 2016, Greg came by to see it and revealed even more little things and told more stories about it. Originality expert Frank Badalson examined it and concluded it was probably the most original 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda he had ever seen. He would know, as he bought his first ’71 in 1975 and has looked over a large number of others since then. Each discrepancy pointed out by the best in the hobby as they pored over it resulted in Greg remembering why: why no billboards or vinyl top, why the EV2 paint, why the Pistol Grip, and so on. It let anybody listening get a real appreciation for how an original buyer of a car did what was done, and why some of the little things that were not “right” actually are. As Greg Peterson stated that afternoon, “There is 1970 air in those tires.”
Look at the details in these images. Want to see a Hemi car that is nearly exactly as it looked on day one? This is it.
At a Glance
1971 Hemi ‘Cuda
Owned by: Tor and Lars Skroder
Restored by: Unrestored original
Engine: 426ci/425hp Hemi V-8
Transmission: Hemi 4-speed manual
Rearend: Dana 60 with 3.54 gears and A33 Track Pak
Interior: Black leather bucket seat
Wheels: 15×7 Rallye
Tires: G70-15 Goodyear Polyglas GT