Car of the Week: 1970 Hemi 'Cuda

Plymouth's resounding message to insurance companies in 1970 was: “Damn the  torpedos— full speed ahead!” And so the Hemi 'Cuda was born, one of the quintessential American muscle cars and perhaps the most coveted Plymouth ever built.
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Plymouth had …. uh … let’s say “nerve.” The company’s resounding message in the case of the Hemi ’Cuda was: “Damn the insurance company torpedos— full speed ahead!” The car tested out like a rocketship, as you’ll see in the performance figures at the end of this essay. As Chrysler maven Cliff Gromer’s Mopar Muscle magazine put it, “The new E-bodies offered a home for ol’ King Kong hisself—the 426 Hemi.”

When the redesigned 1970 Plymouth Barracuda came to the muscle-car market, there would be no excuses for not putting a big engine in the gaping crater under its wide hood. Design engineers had stretched the car sideways by more than 5 inches and increased both the front and rear tracks by 3 inches. As a result, any Chrysler Corporation engine would fit in the engine bay, right up to the street version of the “Monster Masher” racing power plant—the 426-cid Hemi.

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The Hemi was an $871.45 option for the muscular ’Cuda sport coupe (which was base priced at $3,164) and the convertible (which carried a $3,433 window sticker total). The ’Cuda came standard with another big-block mill—the 383-cid/355-hp V-8. No wonder Chrysler listed the ’Cuda as a member of its “Rapid Transit System.”

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Totally redesigned, the 1970 Barracuda offered buyers a wide menu off models and engines. Three styles were available with a long list of engines. The specialty performance class 'Cuda' offered an innovative 'shaker' hood option. A classy Gran Coupe was the top-of-the-line. Even the 426-cid 'Street Hemi' was now offered in special Barracudas, built in limited numbers. Standard equipment in Barracudas included high-back bucket seats with all-vinyl trim; integral head rests; molded door and quarter trim panels; flood-111 instrument panel; three-spoke woodgrain steering wheel; floor shift; carpeting; standard 225-cid six and E78-15 fiberglass-belted tires. The Gran Coupe had all Barracuda items plus body sill, wheel lip, and beltline moldings; Gran Coupe emblems; leather bucket seats and consolette in Knit Jersey (hardtop only); molded headliner; and in convertible, leather bucket seats; DeLuxe vinyl or cloth and vinyl trims were available at lowered cost. The 'Cuda' carried all Gran Coupe equipment plus the four-barrel '383' V-8; heavy-duty suspension and drum brakes; 'Cuda' ornamentation; and F70-14 raised white letter tires.

Street Hemis got new hydraulic valve lifters for 1970, but a new cam profile gave the Mopar engineers no reason to alter the 425 advertised hp rating. The Hemi’s two Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors breathed through the Air Grabber “shaker” hood scoop.

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In order to get the horses to the pavement, Hemi-powered ’Cudas and other big-engined Barracudas relied on heavy-duty drive-line parts. There was a choice of the New Process A-833 four-speed manual gearbox or the 727 TorqueFlite automatic. A Dana 9 3/4-inch differential was kept in place by a leaf-spring rear suspension with six leaves on the right and five leaves plus two half-leaves on the left. Fifteen-inch-diameter, 7-inch-wide wheels held F60 x 15 tires.

In short, power was the Hemi ’Cuda's long suit. Not long was the list of buyers. Insurance companies did not look kindly on Hemi ’Cudas and did not care if they could do 0-to-60 mph in 5.8 seconds and run down the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 103.2 mph.


Hemi Cudas, particularly the convertibles, definitely fall into the "Holy Grail" category when it comes to American muscle cars. Only 652 1970 Hemi Cuda hardtops were built, and just 14 convertibles were sold in the U.S. market (three were also built for sale in Canada, and one other convertible was sent overseas).

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Collector Pricing

The 1970 Hemi 'Cuda coupes have been grabbed at auction in recent years for as little as $150,000. Others have gone for much more — although the 1971 Hemi Cudas are even rarer and more expensive. The sky is the limit for '70 Cuda convertibles prices. An East Coast collector has the first '70 ragtop off the assembly line and some estimates have put its market value in the $5 million range.

While the Hemi craze has undergone a bit of a market correction as of late, the 1970 Hemi 'Cuda still attracts top dollar when offered. Rare enough in authentic form, this car has spawned many imitators in replica form, and even these garner illogical money. In current market, a pair of No. 2 condition '70 Hemi 'Cuda coupes sold for $270,000 and $227,000 at the recent Mecum Indianapolis sale while a No. 1 example sold for $400,000 at the January Russo and Steele Scottsdale auction.

The Mopar Hemi cars were about as good as it got during the Golden Age of muscle cars, and the 1970 Hemi Cuda was certainly one of fiercest. Today, it is one of the rarest and most coveted.

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