In March of 2006, Robert was brainstorming with a friend over what to do. As he and confidant John Hopper munched on Costco pizza, it became clear that having a reliable turnkey car that was also very unique was paramount. The answer: swap in a Gen III Hemi and a late-model overdrive transmission. It would be powerful, efficient, dead nuts reliable, and at the time, highly unusual as a swap into an early car. "I wanted a bunch more horsepower originally, but John said, 'dude, 345 hp is plenty. Anymore and you're just gonna kill yourself.'"
Check out the light and dark gray two-tone leather interior, which was wrapped by Robert’s
If we stopped to think about the obstacles presented on the way to life's most triumphant moments, we might not even try. Sometimes it's just best to dive right in without dwelling on the difficult, and that's exactly what Robert did, along with help from John Hopper, and friends Chris Steenstra and Doug Snyder. The first move was securing a 5.7L Hemi, five-speed 545RFE automatic trans, powertrain control module, transmission control module, and engine wiring harness from a salvaged 2003 Dodge Ram pickup. The eBay find set Robert back $3,600, but that was only the start. He also wanted to rewire the Barracuda to gain all the Dodge truck's functionality, including the gauges, lights, and HVAC. Another $500 through PayPal, and he had lined up a 2003 Dodge Ram truck gauge cluster, taillight harness, dash harness, and front lighting harness.
Having the power and economy of a 2003 Dodge Ram Hemi pickup in a package with half the weight was going to be a blast, but only if it had commensurate handling. Digging through the pages of Mopar Muscle magazine in 2007, Robert hit pay dirt in an ad for Reilly Motorsports (RMS). RMS had a front suspension/steering system called AlterKtion that fixed all the long-cursed geometry, clearance, and space concerns of most Mopars, while offering motor mount options for Gen III Hemi engines in a package that was both lighter and stronger than stock. As a bonus, it came with a firmer, more responsive rack-and-pinion steering conversion kit as part of the deal. The AlterKtion kit was going to solve a dozen problems in one swoop—Robert couldn't write the check fast enough.
Robert says: "In doing the research, I found that the AlterKtion K-member provides the support for the unsprung weight, it's not pounding into the car's unibody. I liked that design because it's stiffer and stronger. I also liked how the design opened up the engine bay and had Gen III Hemi motor mount options. More room for oil pan, headers, and starter access. Another thing about this kit is that the car no longer bottoms out on the bumps. You're no longer hitting the lower bumpstops like it used to."
Currently, the Barracuda is running the stock 8¾-inch rear with 4.30 gears (they work just fine with the five-speed's ultralow .67 final drive ratio). These are linked to the stock leaf springs and KYB shocks, but Robert would love to someday convert to the RMS four-link Street Lynx system, which will reduce axlewrap and roll steer while improving stability.
During the Barracuda's rehab, or perhaps because of it, Robert and John Hopper went into business together, opening their Mopar-themed shop, Blue Sky Dynamics, in September 2006. The Barracuda became its poster child, and by September 2007, all the mechanicals were done except the paint and interior. Unfortunately, the business met an untimely end thanks to the recession, and closed its doors in February 2008, with the car unfinished. After all these decades and all the hard work, Robert was undaunted. He got a job working at Affordable Classics in Torrance, California, which specializes in restoring classics and muscle cars. Then in June 2010, Affordable Classics resumed the work on the car, helping to complete the interior, and the body and paint—including a coat of 2008 Daytona Go Mango.
During the transformation, Robert and his trio of friends worked tirelessly to create a standout piece of automotive art that is not only powerful, but functional and reliable. This was due in large part to the carryover en masse of components from the 2003 Dodge Ram, but also the forward-thinking update of the A-Body's suspension geometry and steering by the RMS AlterKtion system. It's fair to say that the reincarnation of Robert's childhood transportation into something that is beautiful, fun, and useful is a testament to the bond of family and friends, and the tenacity of an idea. Robert's Barracuda was finished in March of 2012, and one of the car's first destinations was mom's house. In failing health and surrounded by family, mom got the chance to see her Barracuda one more time before she died nine months later. Robert Bernstein's 1969 Barracuda is indeed more than an obsession, it's a part of him.