Car of the Week: 1970 AAR Cuda

The 1970 Plymouth AAR ’Cuda was one hot car in its day. Even though it was powered by a small-block V-8, the AAR is a coveted muscle car with a value on par with many of its big-block brothers — even some Hemi cars!
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Car of the Week 2020
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Story and photos from John Gunnell

The 1970 Plymouth AAR ’Cuda was one hot car in its day. Even though it was powered by a small-block V-8, the AAR is a coveted muscle car with a value on par with many of its big-block brothers — even some Hemi cars! Old Cars Report Price Guide currently prices a No. 1 condition AAR ’Cuda in show condition at $85,000, which is down from six figures just two years ago. Back in 2017, top examples of the AAR ’Cuda were fetching $100,000 and more. The slide in price isn’t due to lack of interest in the AAR ’Cuda, but rather the general softening of muscle car prices under a market correction from peak muscle car prices.

Plymouth built the AAR ’Cuda exclusively with the small-block 340-cid V-8 engine. Building hot small-block muscle cars became a trend among automakers in the late 1960s and early 1970s to combat higher insurance rates on big-block muscle cars. The trick then became for Detroit automakers to maximize power from their small V-8s.

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The reason for use of the small-block 340 in the AAR ’Cuda was two-fold. In addition to being trendy, Plymouth installed the hot small-block into its ’Cuda in order to homologate the car into the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-Am Series of racing.

The AAR ’Cuda available at Plymouth dealers was named after Dan Gurney’s All American Racers, who raced ’Cudas in the Trans-Am Series. Gurney was signed by Chrysler’s Plymouth division for 1970 after having driven previously for Mercury. He entered a ’Cuda in the Trans-Am series with Swede Savage as the driver.

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Although the AAR ’Cuda option package was built to homologate the components built into Gurney’s race car for the Trans-Am Series, the production car evolved with a split personality. “The new AAR ’Cuda is every inch a hot rod,” said the July 1970 issue of Car and Driver. The magazine’s reviewer found the car poorly weight-balanced for a road course, but it had plenty of guts for straight-line acceleration.

Having a player in the Trans-Am sedan racing series was a must for Detroit’s purveyors of pony cars in 1970. There were factory-backed Trans-Am Series efforts from American Motors, Ford, Pontiac and Chevrolet. For Trans-Am racing, Dodge also outfitted its E-body pony car, the Challenger, with similar equipment to the AAR ’Cuda and appropriately named it “T/A.” While most of the Trans-Am programs were supported by the manufacturers, Chevrolet and Pontiac technically had back-door programs.

Factory-backed Plymouth and Dodge participation was new in ’70. It came together at a time when there was a new Plymouth Barracuda body design (the Dodge Challenger was altogether new), and because competition rules changed so that the 5.0-liter engines used in the racing cars didn’t have to be exactly the same size as the production engines from which they were derived.

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Chrysler’s potent 340-cid small-block V-8 could “legally” be de-stroked to 303.8 cubic inches to come in under the Trans-Am sanctioning body’s displacement limit. Manufacturers could legalize their Trans-Am equipment by building 1,900 or more special models. Plymouth’s result was the 1970 AAR ’Cuda, which had a production run of 2,724 units.

The production AAR ’Cuda’s 340-cid small-block V-8 had high-performance heads and thicker webbing in the block to allow the racing team to use four-bolt mains. Even though only a single four-barrel carburetor was allowed in racing, that didn’t prevent triple two-barrel Holleys from being used in the production model, which developed 290 hp. A fiberglass cold-air-induction hood let the carburetors breathe fresh air. A seal between the hood and the air cleaner pushed fresh air down the carb throats. NASCAR-style hood pins locked the fiberglass hood in position.

Other components of the one-year-only AAR package for Plymouth’s E-body model were a rear spoiler, front and rear sway bars, chrome trumpet exhaust tips that exited in front of each rear tire, rally wheels with E40x15 tires up front and large G60 tires in the back and Elasometric bumpers. Transmission choices included the A-833 four-speed manual gearbox with a Hurst gear shifter or the Chrysler 727 TorqueFlite automatic. AAR decals and striping and a flat black hood identified the package. The stripe on the sides had a unique strobe effect that incorporated the AAR ’Cuda identification. Also incorporated were front and rear spoilers.

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The fiberglass hood on the AAR ‘Cuda was of a sleek design that blended in with the rest of the car. The hood was painted flat black Organasol as were the tops of the fenders and doors. These AAR ’Cuda hoods were notoriously ill-fitting. On their press car, said to be the first of the AAR ’Cuda run, Car and Driver testers joked that the oil dipstick could be removed between the gap in the hood and the fender.

The spoilers on the AAR were also unique. Up front were “eyebrow” spoilers located on the front fender, ahead of the tire. A ducktail rear deck lid spoiler was finished in black to contrast the body color

AAR ’Cudas were only produced during the months of March and April 1970. Production of the AAR ’Cuda began on March 10 and continued until April 17. However, a pilot car was produced Feb. 3, 1970. According to a couple of AAR ’Cuda Registries, there were no AARs produced on March 10, from March 25-27 or on March 30. At least one car was built April 20, 1970, so the production plan may not have strictly followed. Of the 2,724 AAR ’Cudas produced in the six-week time span, 1,120 had manual four-speed transmissions and the rest (1,614) had the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.

Despite Dan Gurney’s racing efforts, the Barracuda did not win a Trans-Am race in 1970. Factory support for racing was quickly eroding and in 1971, there was no racing team or AAR ’Cuda.

’Cuda Vehicle Identification Numbers (serial numbers) are on a plate attached to the left door hinge pillar. A typical VIN starts with BS23J0B, followed by six numbers. The first symbol identifies the car line: B=Barracuda. The second symbol identifies the series: S=Special. The third and fourth symbols identify the body style: 23=two-door hardtop coupe. The fifth symbol identifies the engine: J=340-cid 290-hp “Six-Pack” high-performance V-8. The sixth symbol indicates model year: 0=1970. The seventh symbol indicates the assembly plant: B=Hamtramck, Mich. The last six symbols are numbers denoting the sequential production number.

The featured car belongs to The Automobile Gallery (www.theautomobilegallery.com) of Green Bay, Wis. Adcock Brothers of Manheim, Penn., completed a frame-up restoration of the car in 2008 and it was purchased in a recent Mecum auction. It is one of 1,614 hardtop coupes made with automatic transmission and one of only 255 cars painted Moulin Rouge (Dodge called this color Panther Pink). A car like this had a list price of $3,966 in 1970. That equated to $1.17 per pound.

Although the AAR ’Cuda wasn’t a first-place winner in Trans-Am racing, it was a great-looking and unique package on Plymouth’s hot pony car. For those reasons and more, it’s easy to understand why AAR ’Cudas remain desirable cars from the muscle car era.

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