There's no question that a youngster's first car can leave an impression that lasts a lifetime. Sometimes the car can be a stepping stone toward their own livelihood as they grow into adulthood. This was the case with Tom Merkt, and the reason we are fortunate enough to be able to view his stunning '67 road-race-prepped Barracuda. Tom's first car was a '67 Barracuda that was given to him by a family friend in 1974 at the impressionable age of 14. Tom says, "The car was rusted badly and in need of everything. I started working on the car immediately, hoping to have it ready to drive by my 16th birthday. It took a lot of work, but it was what started my interest in autobody repair." While Tom restored and sold a number of cars over the years, he eventually sold his prized Barracuda for the money needed to open his own body shop.
Many years would pass, but Tom never forgot his first car. Then, one day a friend dropped by his shop and asked Tom if he thought a Goodguys event would be a good place for his brother to sell his '67 Fastback Barracuda. Needless to say, Tom wanted to look at the car, and subsequently saved the guy a trip by purchasing it. Tom explains, "I checked the car over and found it to be in pretty good shape. It had been in storage for years and had a lot of potential. I was still disappointed about having to sell my first Barracuda, but I was now at a point in my life where I could finally build a Barracuda exactly the way I wanted. Seeing the car brought back such sentimental memories that I paid a little more than I wanted to for the car, but I couldn't pass it up."
One reason Tom had to pay so much for the partially restored Barracuda is that an original Formula S 383 car is relatively hard to come by. Tom says, "I've been given grief about not doing an original restoration, but the way I look at it, you do what you want with your car and I'll do what I want with mine." That philosophy is hard to argue with after seeing the finished product.
The bodywork and paint on the car is exquisite. Tom currently owns and operates Tom's Auto Body in Delafield, Wisconsin, and gives credit to his employees, as well as his friend Kurt Meredith for the help needed to complete the dream car of his youth. There are a few subtle changes to the exterior that only astute Chrysler fans might notice. The hood scoops have been massaged to be less pronounced and are farther apart than stock. The original hood scoop inserts have been replaced with custom mesh vents, and the original super-stock-looking pit stop gas cap has been replaced with the filler door off an Audi TT. Both the hood scoops and the filler cap were things that Chrysler put on the car to make it unique, Tom and crew just made them even more so.
Moving on to the interior, the same subtle theme continues. The original front sport seat that was Chrysler marketing for a bench seat with a center armrest had a little extra padding added to the side bolsters before being covered in leather by Casper Auto Trim in Waterford, Wisconsin. The instrument panel gauge holes were widened to fit the new Auto Meter gauges; a 5-inch quad gauge and speedometer are in the outside holes and a mini-tachometer sits in the center opening to mirror the stock arrangement. Even the three-spoke Budnik steering wheel has inclinations of the factory's sport-type three-spoke model, and that's exactly what Tom intended. The custom-fabricated oval rollbar is noticeable, but it blends in nicely with the stock interior. The same can be said about the stereo system, which is comprised of a high-end Panasonic head unit that sends tunes via a five-channel Memphis amplifier to MTX speakers and subwoofers in a custom-made hatch box.
While the stock-appearing theme is evident with the body and interior, the similarities to stock end in regard to the wheels and tires, suspension, and engine. Pop the hood and you'll see a 440ci engine built by NVR Racing of Butler, Wisconsin, that produced 630 horses on the dyno at 6,300 rpm. That's a lot of horsepower from a 10.5:1 compression engine with a moderate hydraulic roller cam fed by a single 750-cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor sitting on an Edelbrock Torquer II 440 intake. It is no secret that the power comes from the heads, and while the port work performed by NVR sweetened the pot, the out-of-the-box port design on the Edelbrock Performer RPM 440 heads used is outstanding. Tom says, "The power curve on this engine is unreal. It comes off idle hard and smooth and just keeps pulling."
One would think traction would be limited in a car weighing just over 3,000 pounds with 3.70 gears and a manual four-speed Hemi transmission. Tom says, "The car hooks like crazy. It will barely spin the tires when you leave off the clutch just right. The sticky Yokohama tires and the suspension modifications seem to work just as well in a straight line as they do in the curves." Tom has restored and modernized a number of vintage race cars and applied that experience to his Barracuda. That translates into fully stitch-welding the body and chassis and adding frame connectors and braces to strengthen it.
Turns are made easier and more fluid with an '05 Ford Mustang rack-and-pinion steering rack, which acts on 245/45ZR17 Yokohama tires mounted on 17x7-inch Volk Racing GTC rims. Larger 275/40ZR17 Yokes on 17x8-inch Volk rims get the job done inside modified rear fenderwells. Stopping power comes by way of 12-inch drilled and slotted Wilwood brakes using a separate master cylinder for the front and rear. For the suspension, Tom uses a billet adjustable QA1 coilover suspension in front, and relocated leaves (2 inches lower) and billet adjustable QA1 shocks for the rear. No wonder this Barracuda packs such a mean bite.
Tom said, "It took almost 14 months to build this car. I thought at first we would have plenty of time to finish it and put a few miles on it before the Goodguys Great Lake Nationals on August 12th. We made it even though the first test drive out of the shop wasn't until the day before. One thing almost got us. We knew the oil pan hung too low, but found out how bad when we bent the pan bottoming out on the freeway. It didn't cause a leak and luckily we were still able to make the Goodguys event. Once we returned from the Nationals, we immediately started working on designing another pan to gain more ground clearance."
At this time, Tom hasn't taken the car to the track, but plans to do plenty of road racing and drag racing as soon as he gets a few more miles on the engine. With the power-to-weight ratio of the car, this Barracuda should be capable of extremely low 11-second or high-10-second quarter-mile times. That's not bad for a pump-gas road racer that allows Tom, his wife, and two kids to cruise anywhere they want.