When considering the state of Idaho, most people think of potatoes, farm country and a long drive to and from just about anywhere. That's short-sided thinking. Granted, it's all true, but it's also one of the most beautiful states in the union and has a population that's as car crazy as they come. Hot rodders in Idaho usually have a taste in cars that is a combination between that of the custom ideals in the Midwest and the performance crazy folks in the West. Its local shows will present many cars that both look pretty cool and drive very well.
Enter health club owner Steve Vucovich. This Idaho Falls native is fascinated with the glory days of the Trans Am circuit of the '60s and early '70s. Those cars had a perfect mix of Detroit input, showroom chic, V-8 power, and handling unseen by cars of that size. Back then, road racing was cool and Vucovich is just old enough, at 51, to have made the trek in 1970 to his "local race" at Seattle International Raceway to see the factory Mopars duke it with Penske's Camaros, Parnelli in the Boss 302, etc. Now, he could enter it!
Steve's '70 Plymouth Barracuda is flat-out built right, using enough of his own brain power, local resources, and the national specialists that make a Mopar g-Machine look correct and drive like crazy. Who says the first-gen Camaro guys are the only ones to have fun? This car was an original 440 6-pack car, as sold without the shaker hood, a 3-speed on the tree, no air, and no power brakes. He was able to secure it in December of '79 for $2,500--not bad considering that everything original was there.
It's cool to be able to tell your friends that "it's a big-block car." but not when you're trying to get it to handle. An aluminum sprint car block would be your best bet at this point, but at this level, there's no need for exotic parts. Steve located a 1971 360 block and had it bored and stroked up to 408ci at a local shop, Competition Engine and Machine. Using a Mopar Parts crankshaft, Eagle's 4340 steel H-beam rods, a set of custom Ross 43cc dish pistons, he now had the inches without the mass, and less compression, too. That was planned, as was a set of Edelbrock Performer cylinder heads combine with old-school resources like a Dick Landy-prepped manifold and Isky valvetrain to work with a Holley 174 supercharger. Making seven pounds of boost, this 566 hp combination sends instant torque to the rear tires when you step on the throttle on that country road. Though the weight penalty of the blower is certainly felt in the nose, the power fixes the problem! An AAR-style fiberglass hood helps too.
Chrysler's four-speed manual boxes were never designed to deal with this type of power, regardless of that pistol grip shifter. A car like this would require a swap, and these days, the Tremec TKO II is among the best 5-speed switches you can make. It gets you fair gear splits and an overdrive that allows you to get crazy on the tire sizes. A McLeod dual disk clutch and pressure plate mates with a Lakewood bellhousing to make for a reasonable swap after typical teething issues.
Getting a Cuda to handle involves a few standard issue mods in the Mopar world. Magnum Force is a favorite aftermarket source for this crowd, as they sell an upper control arm kit for these cars that gets suspension geometry much closer to ideal (when an enthusiasts swaps out for the ride height achieved when you crank down on a set of 1.08-inch Firm Feel torsion bars). The anti-roll bars make a big difference, too, as a 3,800 pound car like this is going to have a ton of roll in the corners (well, two tons, and even more when you multiply it by .8 for the g-Force). Firm Feel's 1 1/4-inch front bar and 1 1/8-inch rear bars provide the steering balance to keep this powerful ride on the road. Steve rescued the B-body rear end from a Charger, added Moser axles, a 3.23 gear set (let's hit the Montanabahn) and narrowed it by one inch, allowing for just the right wheel offset. A fiberglass monoleaf, and Koni shocks all around provide the Trans-Am feel (albeit with reasonable ride quality) that he dreamed of as a kid. Heading down to West Motors in Preston, Idaho, for fabricated subframe connectors and an 8-point cage that's gusseted strategically wasn't a dumb move, either.
We have seen more than a few Cudas attempt this build style, but rarely do they nail the stance. Here, the photos speak for themselves. Going with 17-inch wheels provides a blend of big hoops and reasonable sidewall (for ride and appearance), and here American Racing examples in 9.5x17 and 11x17 work with 285/40-17 and 335/35-17 tires. If you're thinking, "That's pretty darn wide," then you'd be right. The flared fenders and quarters make room for it--credit West Motors again with the body and paint. Firm Feel's fast ratio steering box and Master Power brakes work to keep things under control. Around here, we especially like this interior that maintains the handling flare. Steve incorporated a Vintage Air system, Recaro seats, Sparco belts, and had local upholstery man Mike Lyons bring it all together with a custom bench to match the look.
Some cars look the part and others act it. This car does both. Hello, East Coast! Are you there, West Coast? There's a guy in Idaho that nailed the Trans Am Mopar package in a reasonable effort. Where are your entries? Let's race these things somewhere like Mid-Ohio!