Not often is a story predestined for failure, but the subject at hand here didn't offer much of a choice. Of the estimated one million words in the English language, no organization, juxtaposition, or embellishment of prose can adequately describe the essence of Bob Johnson's '71 'Cuda. Of the 8 million pixels in a Canon EOS camera body, no composition, manipulation of lighting, or level of operator skill can arrange them to sufficiently convey this car's visual impact. Hell if we aren't going to go down swinging, though, because this is unquestionably the greatest street machine ever built.
While that may be a rather bold statement, it's one that pushes the envelope of subjectivity to the threshold of objectivity. Some of the world's elite car builders-we'll spare them the embarrassment of calling them out by name-have conceded to how the craftsmanship and ingenuity infused into this car is so far beyond anything that they've ever built. Wow. While feeling insecure certainly isn't a typical reaction to have to a car, to stand in the presence the G-Force 'Cuda is to experience true humility. From this day forward, musclecars around the world will squat on their front springs, face the 'Cuda, and pray five times a day. This is the new platinum standard, an unparalleled feat of engineering alchemy for future generations to strive to emulate.
When the vast majority of enthusiasts and industry experts unanimously agree that the G-Force 'Cuda is the best musclecar ever built, it must pack some serious talent. Indeed, the car's technical highlights transcend all the implicit barriers foisted upon streetcars. An all-aluminum 572ci Hemi spits out 870 hp on pump gas. A custom tube-frame chassis anchors the all-aluminum C5 Corvette suspension into place. Out back is a six-speed C5 transaxle. Up front are 15-inch Red Devil titanium brakes with six-piston calipers. The front fenders, hood, and front and rear spoilers are custom molded out of carbon fiber. Curb weight is an anorexic 2,800 pounds-less than a new Chevy Cobalt.
Typically, specs play a big part in how impressive a car is perceived to be, but in this case they're merely a list of nice parts. Let us explain. Yes, the specs are very impressive, but they tell nothing about their spatial orientation within the confines of the chassis, how they symbiotically interact to achieve a state of harmony and mechanical nirvana. The 535-pound elephant motor, for instance, is set way back in the chassis behind the front-axle centerline, yielding a front mid-engine layout. The rear-mounted gearbox is positioned so far forward that the front of the trans case is within an arm's-length of the driver seat. The benefit isn't only stellar weight distribution, but a polar moment of inertia a Ferrari engineer would sell his soul for.
Straight out of the street rod playbook, the belly of the beast is a showcase of clean aesthetics, but here functionality outshines visual pop. Not an exhaust pipe, bellhousing, driveshaft, or a single errant wire dangles beneath the frame rails to obstruct the wind. Everything is precisely packaged and tucked neatly into the chassis with just fractions of an inch of clearance to spare for any given component. The accomplishment is even more profound given how close to the ground the 'Cuda sits. Inspired by the Dodge Charger Daytona, functional fender scoops allow for additional suspension travel to accommodate the tall 19-inch wheels, and its louvers relieve air pressure from the wheelwells at 200-mph-plus speeds. Likewise, a rear valance diffuser manages airflow exiting from beneath the car and features a removable ground effects tunnel that covers up the parachute mount.
While such engineering details are what keep onlookers captivated after the initial shock of seeing the G-Force 'Cuda subsides, it's the car's scintillating looks that suck people in. Its shape is familiar enough to jostle the memory banks as a 'Cuda, but different enough to cause some confusion. "We wanted to play up the '70s theme to retain the soul of car, but build it like a modern OE concept car," explains renowned designer Chris Ito. "To accomplish that, we kept the elements of the car that make a 'Cuda a 'Cuda and contemporized and refined the weaker areas of the original design." Fortunately, that game plan coincided with Bob's vision pretty closely. "The whole dare-to-be-different thing doesn't always work out, so I wanted to build a '71 'Cuda-the best-looking musclecar of all time," says Bob. "It had to be a '71, though, so things like the twin headlights, shark-tooth grille, and billboard Hemi graphics had to stay."
With the primary objectives of creating a sleeker profile, tidying up the overhang, and cleaning up the rear end, Alan Johnson and the crew at Johnson's Hot Rod Shop in Gadsden, Alabama, went to work reshaping the car's profile. The front and rear windshields were laid back 2 inches, which required moving the entire roof section rearward and completely reworking the sail panels. The wheelbase was stretched 3 inches, a task simplified somewhat by the car's tube-chassis construction. The quarters were tweaked to rake upward sharply into the rear bumper for a much more dramatic rear profile. The idea here was to make this area particularly imposing and memorable for future challengers after getting spanked by the 'Cuda. The front wheelwells were moved forward 3.5 inches to accommodate the shift in wheelbase, in addition to being relocated upward to pull the car even closer to the ground. Overall, the net effect is a series of subtle yet significant changes that results in a car that just looks really pissed off.
Since the car was built with the performance goal of topping 200 mph, the interior draws inspiration from aircraft and contemporary exotic cars. Lending that decidedly jet cockpit look is use of carbon fiber and brushed aluminum in areas like the gauges, shifter, center console, transmission tunnel, and pedals. There are even inlays of carbon fiber on the roll cage. Machined aluminum bezels on the gauge faces, air vents, steering wheel and shifter base add more industrial flair, and the theme is also found on the headlights, valve covers, and gas filler cap. "The idea was to tie everything together with similar elements throughout the car to make one solid design statement," explains Ito. "The carbon fiber and aluminum really showcase the natural beauty of raw materials." Then there are those details that are so simple in concept, yet so brilliant in execution, it's a mystery why they haven't been done before. A louvered interior shroud behind the front seats neatly hides the roll cage to attenuate the racecar vibe and accentuate the streetcar feel. The exposed shift rail, like in a Can-Am racer, is just pure genius. Fortunately, functionality isn't lost in the wake of all this artistry. There's a Safecraft fire system for the track, and a Vintage Air A/C system and Lizard Skin insulation keep the cabin comfy.
Now back to those specs, which in a car of this caliber aren't the primary focus of attention, but extremely impressive nonetheless. The 572ci Hemi is the same unit featured in our July 2005 issue, but now fitted with a Hogan's sheetmetal intake manifold and a FAST EFI system. It features an Indy Legend aluminum block, a Callies crank, Eagle rods, and Wiseco 11.5:1 pistons topped with a set of Indy heads. Air enters through a pair of Accufab 90mm throttle-bodies, and a 268/264-at-0.050 cam actuates the valves. Keeping it lubed is a four-stage dry sump oiling system by Missile Enterprises capped by a Charlie's aluminum oil pan. The sinuous exhaust, with 2.25-inch header primaries and 3.5-inch collector pipes, were custom bent by Alan Johnson. Power is sent to a trick twin-disc 10.5-inch Centerforce LMC aluminum clutch, and a Lakewood Top Fuel-style direct-drive bellhousing allows eliminating the torque tube. The bulletproof T56 transaxle was built by Rockland Standard Gear utilizing 9310 nickel-alloy gears, and the Drive Shaft Shop provided the halfshafts. Tightening up the suspension are Hyperco coilovers with Bilstein shocks, and Addco torsion-bar-style sway bars. Putting it all to the ground are Michelin tires measuring 295/30-19 up front and 335/30-20 out back, mounted on one-off 19x10 front, 20x12 rear, Colorado Customs two-piece wheels.
Much of the car's success, and the overwhelming response it has generated, isn't due to dumb luck. The design goal from the very beginning was building the greatest street machine of all time. "I didn't want a 10-round decision; I wanted a knock out," says Bob. "I told Alan I wanted the best of the best, something way ahead of anything that had ever been done." Bob's been around high-end hot rods long enough to know few people in the world have the necessary fabrication skills and ingenuity to pull off such a project, but felt Alan was the man because of the work he'd performed on his '69 Camaro, which was featured in our January 2004 issue. Once the team brought designer Chris Ito on board, the ideas started bouncing back and fourth. "It was really the synergy of everyone working together that made the car what it is today," says Ito. "No one realized how good this car was going to turn out, not even Bob," says Alan.
Packing so much greatness into one machine means people will demand to see it run. It just goes with the territory. "Now we have to go out and prove that it will run as good as it looks," says Bob. "It's outrageous that people will look at it and say you can't drive it, but we aren't a bunch of indoor show car guys and we don't build cars to hang up on a wall. Our cars are built to go out and run." Tentative plans call for some shakedown runs at the Year One Experience in April and then gunning for 200 mph at Maxton. The world will be watching.