By Brian Earnest
Bob Nizza can’t help but laugh when he considers the odds of ever actually owning “the car I really wanted.”
“Since I was a kid, I always wanted the rarest muscle car on the planet — the one that was worth the most. And that was the Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda,” chuckled the Valley Stream, Long Island, resident. “But those cars bring six, seven figures. That just wasn’t gonna happen!”
Turns out, after spending the last 36 years with his superbly preserved 1974 ’Cuda, Nizza actually did wind up with his “seven-figure car,” even if all those zeroes only fall in the intrinsic value ledger.
“My friends all laugh at me, but I wouldn’t ever sell this car. I wouldn’t sell this car for a million dollars,” Nizza proclaimed. “It means everything to me. It got me through the tough times and was part of all the good times. No matter what, I could always go for a ride and put it back in my garage.
“And everybody in my neighborhood always knew the car!”
While he was still a teenager, Nizza set his sights on a pavement-eating Plymouth, but his dad wasn’t as keen on the idea. “I figured I could get a ‘Cuda with the 440 Six-Pack. My father wasn’t going for that," Nizza said. "He wanted me to get the 318 two-barrel! I said, 'But that’s an old lady’s car!’"
Nizza eventually settled on a stealthy black ’74 with a white interior and 360-cid, 245-hp V-8 that was the beefiest engine offered in the Barracuda lineup that model year.
“I waited 22 weeks for it, which is a long time to wait for a car,” he said. “They made it in December of 1973 and delivered it in January of 1974 … When my dad came home and saw it, he was all happy and told me how nice it was and that he was so happy I listened to him and got the 318. I said, ‘Pop, I didn’t listen to you. Look on the side, it says ‘360!’”
With a menacing front end, snarling twin scoops on the hood and white accent striping to go along with its optional 245 ponies, the ’74 ‘Cuda was one of the last vestiges of the muscle car era, and the last ‘Cuda built. By 1975, Plymouth was out of the muscle car and pony car business, but not before Nizza got himself a car that he has protected and pampered into a bit of a time capsule.
Nizza, a gregarious, wise-cracking “New Yawka,” certainly wasn’t ready for the muscle car craze to end, and he rolled up about 15,000 happy miles in his new coupe in the first year. “That first year, I took it to the race track," he recalled. "I ran a 14.67 and won my weight class. After that, I never took it anymore. The car got too old for that.”
As was often the case in those days, he also couldn’t resist tweaking his new ride, and wound up adding Crager wheels, chrome valve covers and some custom brush work to the paint. The custom wheels and valve covers are long gone in place of original equipment, but the pinstripe artwork remains to this day. It’s pretty much the only thing on the car that separates it from new.
“I had it pinstriped by a guy named Larry the Local Brush, who was painting Mercedes and Cadillacs in Manhatten back in those days and getting 50 bucks a car,” Nizza said. “I got it done in ’74. I got accents over the ‘Cuda’ in back and on the deck lid and around the antenna and around the door… It’s white with gold leaf. You can see the gold in if the light is just right.”
Nizza’s days of care-free cruising in his new rig came to a screeching halt the following year, however, when he was diagnosed with cancer. “I got sick and the car just laid there for about three years,” he said. “I was having chemotheraphy and going through all that, and I couldn’t drive the car, so it just laid there.”
Nizza eventually won his battle with cancer, but decided he liked his ’Cuda too much to keep it in service as a daily driver. Since that first year, he has only put 14,000 more rounds on the odometer and the car now has just 29,679 miles. “It’s awesome,” he said. “No paint chips, no door nicks, nothing.
“Even when I did get better, I didn’t take it out that much. I wouldn’t use it in the rain, and even if there was just a chance of rain, I wouldn’t take it out. We were kids, and we all drove junkers. I always had a junker to drive.”
Not many ’74 ’Cudas ever turned into “junkers" because not many were made. As the sun set on the days of high-horsepower machines in the early 1970s, the ’Cuda’s popularity gradually declined and in the final year of the model’s run only 4,989 ’Cuda hardtop coupes and 6,745 base Barracuda coupes were built.
The 1974 models were largely unchanged in the looks department from the previous year, even keeping the same striping scheme. Standard equipment for the Barracuda lineup included brake warning lights; left outside rearview mirror; vinyl bucket seats; cigar lighter; fuel, temperature and ammeter gauges; carpets; concealed windshield wipers; three-speed manual transmission with floor shift; 7.35 x 14 blackwall tires; and the 318-cid two-barrel V-8.
The one-step-up 'Cuda also had power front disc brakes; performance hood; heavy-duty suspension; electronic ignition; wheel lip moldings; color-keyed grille; black-out finished rear deck panel; and F70-15 white sidewall tires.
There weren't many goodies to pick from on the options sheet, but Nizza says his car has almost everything available: fender-mounted turns signals, Rally cluster, console and Torqueflight automatic. The Code A36 Performance Axle Package added a Sure-Grip differential, high-performance radiator and heavy-duty 3.55:1 rear axle ratio.
The four-barrel “360” debuted in mid-year for the 1973 models and could be ordered in place of the pedestrian 318. The 360 replaced the 340 and was about as close as a muscle car lover could come to turning back the clock in 1974.
“It’s not a beast, it drives really good,” Nizza said. “It always had a real throaty exhaust. It’s not a fast car, but for its day it always held its own.”
These days, Nizza reserves his beloved ’Cuda only for occasional joy rides, usually to events associated with the Mopar Power Club. “We have Friday night car nights and Saturday night car nights,” he said. “That’s about all I use it for.”
At this point, after 36 years together, Nizza figures he and his car are permanently joined. There is no question the car is a part of his identity and a permanent member of the family. He might allow one of his 18-year-old twin daughters behind the wheel, but "only in a big empty parking lot with one of my hands on the key!"
And if he ever forgets how inseparable he and his car have become, Nizza need only recall the time a lawman pulled him over for questioning when he was out cruising in his stunning black Plymouth.
“I got stopped by a young cop. Just a young guy,” Nizza remembered. “I said, ‘What did I do officer?’ He said, ‘Nothing, I just wanted to ask you about your car. Did you get that car from Bob Nizza?’
“I couldn’t believe it. I said ‘ I am Bob Nizza!’”
“He didn’t know me, but he knew the car!”
For more great muscle car stories, check out John Gunnell's Standard Guide to American Muscle Cars, 1960-2005.
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