If you ever get the chance to talk with Robert Bernstein about his 1969 Plymouth Barracuda, you'll quickly find out that he isn't your ordinary car nut. We all love our muscle cars, and they claim a very special place in our garages and our hearts, but in Robert's case, it's really hard to figure out where Robert ends and the Barracuda begins. It's not so much a case of obsession, it's more like the car is an extra limb—an arm or a leg. You see, Robert could no more easily disown his Barracuda than he could cut off a finger.
SUV makers tout space and convenience as if they invented the idea. Not by a long shot. Th
We've known car fanatics who eschew family, jobs, relationships, and all manner of interaction with the greater world in order to fulfill a single hot rodding dream—let us assure you that Robert is not that guy. Married for over a quarter century to his understanding wife, Debby, and father of two lovely adult daughters (Stacy and Denise), Robert is, for lack of a better term, a normal human being. With no outward symptoms of chronic Chryslerphilia, there's no immediate need for an emergency Moparectomy—yet.
Our story begins in November of 1968 when Robert was just 4 years old. His parents bought the brand-new Barracuda so that Robert's mother would have something to use as a family truckster. Remember those days? Families bought cars, farmers bought trucks, the Russians were coming, and nobody knew what the hell soccer was. God forbid any of us should brave the 405 freeway without an AWD SUV with dual DVDs.
This 1969 Barracuda walks just the right line between preserving pure muscle car heritage,
For 10 years, mom shuttled Robert and his younger brother back and forth to school, made trips to the grocery store, and ran the family operation from the cockpit of the 318-powered A-Body. The Barracuda was inextricably woven into the fabric of Robert's life from his earliest hazy memories. The smell of hot vinyl baking in the sun, the thrum of gear whine on the open road, the aroma of hot oil when the hood is raised. It was with much heaviness in his heart that he watched it drive away for the last time when his parents sold it 10 years later in 1978.
But 14-year-old Robert would not let go that easily. Just two years later, he signed up for high school auto shop class and got car fever. In those years before the Internet, good intel on cars was hard to come by, but Robert found out through a neighbor who was in touch with the current owner that the 1969 was for sale. After $800 exchanged hands, it belonged to Robert. We'll pause while you consider the scenario: It's 1980, you're a 16-year-old boy in sunny Southern California with a newly minted driver's license, and you just bought your first car—a 318ci V-8–powered 1969 Barracuda. It is indeed the heady stuff of dreams.
Through the remainder of high school and the obligatory stint at college, Robert used the 1969 as part-time transportation, gradually weaning it from commuter duties. In 1984, he began modding it for bigger bumps in performance with a larger 340 small-block, headers, a mild cam, dual-plane intake, and a double-pumper carburetor. In 1993, when Big Willie Robinson and the Brotherhood of Street Racers convinced the Los Angeles Harbor Commission to reopen the dragstrip at Terminal Island, Robert started bringing the Barracuda out to the drags. But by 1994, Terminal Island's days were over, and the aging Plymouth had a badly slipping TorqueFlite automatic trans. We'll pause while you consider this scenario: You're eight years into your marriage, you've got twin 18-month-old daughters, a broken toy hot rod, and a stack of bills to pay. Many men would raise the white flag, slap a "for sale" sign on the car, and walk away.
There is, however, more than one path to righteousness—and Robert sensed that the Barracuda was more than just a toy to be tossed on life's heap. In 1994, Robert asked mom if she would store the Barracuda in the garage for an indeterminate amount of time, and like moms do, she kindly acquiesced. After all, it started out as her car. In the intervening years, Robert's family owned insurance business grew, his daughters grew up, and even though his priorities were on raising a family, that ember of automotive affection was still glowing in his mother's protective garage.
Early on, Robert decided to reuse the 2003 Dodge Ram truck’s gauge cluster, lighting, harn
Then one fateful day in February 2004, he was talking to a friend who told him about the South Bay Mopars car club. "I was a Mopar guy, and he was a Mopar guy too," Robert says. "I took it out of storage a month later before the next club meeting, and we flushed all the old gas out of the tank, put new gas in, and it ran. After 10 years in storage, the trans held up just fine. It only slipped at high rpm and high speed." Robert was back in the game. "I was able to get to meetings and hang out with the guys with it, but after two years of nursing the old 340 and TorqueFlite trans, it was time for a change. The paint was oxidized, the carpet and seat covers were torn, the dashpad was cracked, there were minor dents throughout, it had rust issues around the rear window, the weatherstripping was cracked, and the engine bay was dirty. It was just an embarrassment when compared to the restored Mopars in the club," Robert says.