Written by independent automotive journalist Steve Magnante
Imagine it: You’re behind the wheel with your left foot holding the clutch pedal against the carpet. In your right hand, the pistol-grip shift handle snicks into first gear as your right foot steadies the tach at 3,000 rpm. The Shaker air scoop quivers … whatever happens next is entirely up to you.
Now imagine that wheel belongs to a beautifully restored Metallic True Blue 1971 HEMI ’Cuda (Lot #1411) that is one of only 59 4-speeds built in the HEMI ’Cuda’s final year, and – even more impressive – it’s the last known HEMI ’Cuda known to have rolled off Chrysler’s Hamtramck, Michigan, assembly line. Until another 1971 HEMI ’Cuda appears with a higher VIN, this True Blue unit headed for the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction on Saturday, January 20, seems to represent the end of the Plymouth E-body “elephant” dynasty.
It’s no secret 426 HEMI-powered Mopars are one of the muscle-car era’s most hardcore street machines. Revisionist history aside, owners of GTOs, Cobra Jets, Gran Sports, SS 396 Chevelles and 442s knew they were outgunned when these cars were factory-new and in optimum tune. In fact, it could be said it’s because of the Street HEMI that aftermarket merchants made fortunes bolstering Brand-X muscle cars into a more competitive state of tune.
No matter what brand you like best, you have to applaud what Chrysler Corporation pulled off with the Street HEMI program. It took a lot of guts to flood Main Street, USA, with over 9,000 slightly detuned NASCAR race engines. But that’s exactly what the 1966-71 Street HEMI was, and nearly 50 years later we’re still raving about them – and collectors are paying record sums for the privilege of ownership.
While the resulting 425 horsepower, 490 ft/lbs pachyderm was mostly offered in midsize (B-body) Road Runners, GTXs, Chargers and Super Bees, the “King Kong HEMI” makes its best moves aboard the smaller 1970-71 (E-body) ’Cuda, which was over a foot shorter and up to 200 pounds lighter. If you want the ultimate tiger-by-the-tail Mopar driving experience, the HEMI ’Cuda is your car.
Fully inspected and verified by a prominent Mopar historian, this beautifully restored ’71 still has most of its factory sheet metal, and a cherry on top is the presence of the original Broadcast Sheet. This delicate paper item is all too often missing or destroyed from years of sitting in the damp confines between carpet and floor.
Going further, this example was originally built with a little something called the Super Track Pack. Along with adding power front disc brakes, it replaced the Dana’s standard-issue gear set with something more aggressive. Suffice it to say that sticky drag slicks and a prepared racing surface are required to fully harness the power of this beast.
Compared to typical HEMI ’Cudas on the show circuit, this one might seem a bit Spartan. Remember, though, that a lot of the “bells and whistles” commonly seen on restored examples were all extra-cost factory options. Judging from the 4-speed and 4.10 Dana seen on our feature ’Cuda, we’d bet the original buyer wanted a low-profile sleeper, all the better to lure unsuspecting Mustangs, Camaros and Goats. The lack of these visual goodies might also have been calculated to put traffic police – and auto insurance providers – off the scent of the mighty HEMI lurking under hood. For these reasons, less can be more.
The odometer says this ’Cuda has covered just over 23,000 miles. If even a fraction were of the quarter-mile-at-a-time variety, the preservation of the original drivetrain speaks well of the skills – and sense – of the fortunate drivers who’ve peered past the Shaker scoop over the years. Any one of them could have missed an aggressive power shift, triggering valve float, piston-to-valve-contact, a detached valve head, a hole in the cylinder wall and a replacement engine block. But no – the presence of the matching-numbers engine, transmission and rear axle tells us they had the skills.
All you have to do now to turn imagination into reality is raise your hand and bid on this beauty of a 4-speed – you can pretend you’re Ronnie Sox, Dick Landy, or both. When you’re putting this special ’Cuda through its paces, though, just remember it still carries its matching-numbers engine and transmission. Play it safe and smart (or maybe use a Mopar Performance HEMI crate engine for when you want to have fun).
The HEMI experience just doesn’t get much better than this.
For up-to-date information on this vehicle, click HERE.