Plymouth AAR Barracuda (1970) Review

Presented by

1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review
1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review
1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review
1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review

Six Shooter! If you want lairy and loud, this rare Chrysler muscle coupe fits the bill.

Plymouth AAR Barracuda (1970) Review
1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda Review

 

1970 Plymouth AAR Barracuda

You may think the current crop of FPV and HSV big bangers have road presence with their muscular bodywork, bold stripes and bonnet bulges. But today's muscle cars are positively subdued compared with circa-1970 performance motoring, and even then the Aussie offerings had nothing on those crazy Yanks.

Nope, take a look back and you'll find a wild assortment of coupes with the sort of overt references to going fast that today's manufacturers can't quite replicate and Chryslers were the lairiest of a lairy lot.

Take John Vologiannis' 1970 Plymouth AAR 'Cuda, a limited-edition built by Chrysler as part of its commitment to the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans Am race series where a minimum of 2500 units had to hit the streets. A total of 2724 AAR 'Cudas were built in a brief five-week period through March and April 1970, the 'AAR' referring to the All American Racers factory Plymouth race team.

The basic '70 Plymouth Barracuda was available in a range of driveline combinations including slant-six power and 318ci V8. The abbreviated 'Cuda name indicated the sporting variant of the E-bodied classic, running performance V8 options that included the 340, 383 and 440ci engines, plus the lauded 426 Hemi.
For the rare AAR model, it was the 340 6-pack V8 or nothing, rated officially to 290hp, although most believe 325hp was the norm, and with a claimed 0-60mph (96km/h) time of 5.8 seconds.

FADED GLORY

John found his car about four years ago in Connecticut. While complete and original, it was in need of a full restoration as the years had taken their toll, with faded-paint, worn trim and tired running gear.

What followed was an amazing transformation from neglected coupe to a neat historical reference, reminding the muscle car world exactly what we've been missing ever since.

"I found it on eBay," recalls John, who'd been looking around for a while at cars ranging from average to dismantled.

"I rang the guy in the US at something like 2.30am and gave him a $1000 deposit straight away to de-list it, which he did. He was going to restore it but had other cars and decided to get rid of it, as they're comparatively expensive to restore over there."

Once landed in Oz, John completely disassembled the car to begin the bodywork restoration. There was rust in the driver's side floor, the boot floor, and pinholes emerging around the front and rear screens and the doors were rough, appearing to have copped a few hits over the years. All up, with help from Rudy and Adam at Resto-Rod-Race in Adelaide, the body was repaired with new door skins made by hand.

The AAR 'Cuda platform actually reveals its performance ambitions by containing extra-strengthening with additional torque boxes welded at the front of the rear leaf spring hangers, behind the front wheels, and beneath the driver's seat to prevent it pulling out from the floor with a hefty American at the tiller. Different from the standard Barracuda, only the 340 AAR, 440 6-pack and 426 Hemi received the strengthening.

Beneath the factory fibreglass bonnet sits an original spec 340ci TA (TransAm) motor with 6-pack carburettors. The TA 340 came with wider journals ready for four-bolt mains, and the original cast-iron heads contained special offset rocker arms allowing for greater porting potential; in other words Plymouth assumed the majority would be used for something other than shopping duties.

John's effectively retained the original spec engine, but has kept the TA heads in the shed for the time being, electing to add aluminium Edelbrock RPM heads to allow safe-running at 10.5:1 compression on 98 pump fuel for weekly use.

Factory Trans Am 1¾-inch headers shift gases through to the twin mufflers and genuine sidepipes exiting just in front of the rear wheels. Apparently, new AAR 'Cuda owners had their side exhausts bolted on at the dealer as they arrived packed in the trunk to avoid damage in transit.

On the intake side, the famous 6-pack set-up standard on the AAR 340 refers to one centre Holley 375cfm carb mated to twin 500cfm outboards that kick in via a vacuum actuated linkage, perched on top of a factory Edelbrock dual-plane intake manifold.

The whole show sits under a suitably wild orange air cleaner, ambitiously separated from the hot engine bay by a fat rubber seal, with fresh air arriving through the scoop. All up, John's car now makes about 370hp at the flywheel.

The transmission is a three-speed 727 auto with the Hurst ratchet shifter mated to an 8¾inch LSD rear end with John modifying the trans slightly for a 3000 stall, up from the normal 2250 rpm.

Suspension on the 'Cuda is typical Chrysler of the day, running semi-elliptical rear leaves and strengthened torsion bars up front, with stiffer sway bars over the pedestrian models.

The brakes are power-boosted discs up front clamped by single piston callipers whilst down back large 11inch drums suffice to pull up the 1600kg monster.
The Rallye steel rims are 15x7 all round, although thanks to the larger diameter rear rubber in combination with the lines of the rear wheel arches, you'd swear the front rims look smaller than the rears.

RAW MACHINE

The overall mechanical package of the AAR is formidable even today, good for mid-14 second passes when released. Being an E-body car which means a compact in Chrysler terms, it's comparatively nimble (about the same size as an Aussie Charger).

According to John, it's a decent drive and with its direct ratio non-power steering and stiffer suspension it'll actually go around corners, unlike some of its larger famous Dodge and Plymouth cousins of the era.

"I love the response on take off, the motor really spins-up well and has plenty of torque," he says. "When you really hit the gas, the outboards (carbs) cut in so you go from 375cfm to 1375cfm and it pushes you back in your seat."

In the metal the AAR looks about as tough as factory muscle cars get. In scorching Rally Red, its original colour, she ain't subtle. During the restoration John decided to remove the tired and trashed vinyl roof that had been optioned, partly because it disguises the lines of the B-pillars to the flanks - such an effective part of the design. That said, the original chrome roof trim has been kept for future use, just in case.

The famous strobe stripes on each side make the car; each block reducing in width by four percent down to the AAR logo at the rear.

Other AAR details include the small black bootlid spoiler, the bonnet pins and the unique windscreen washer nozzles for the fibreglass bonnet.
 
Options were extensive, and on John's car they include auto trans, colour-coded mirrors, six-way adjustable drivers seat, colour-coded rear bumper, eight-track radio, front defogger and rear demister, key-in chime, and the tacho was deleted by the original owner. The front spotlights were standard on 'Cudas, as were the neat park lights recessed above the grille.

Interior wise, it's currently as per original with a re-trim and resto of all parts and surfaces, including replicating the crackled paint finish on the dash cowling between the gauges for speed, gas, water temperature and alternator. The 'crackle' is achieved via the right chemical mix, but the process involves applying it at the correct temperature for drying, usually done in an oven. In John's case, it was a combination of sunlight and hair-dryer that achieved the period-spec results.

Further details emerge under the bonnet and in the boot, where the original-type paint overruns have been replicated. The factory guys would be happy with overspray between the body paint colour and primer for example.

John has also methodically applied the correct part identification numbers and stencils throughout, along with the QA inspection marks on everything from the chassis and differential housing to the back of bolts.

Up front the ID tag contains unique clover-leaf rivets rather than your garden variety round heads, so it was a case of delicately removing the originals to allow for the painting, then refitting once complete.

GLOWING PRAISE

The overall result is stunning; a driveable restoration that's authentic and genuine, although John hasn't gone as far as some concourse restorers who replicate ill-fitting bonnet gaps, or correct misaligned door panel and body spaces.

"I wanted to end up with a restored car as close to original as I could get," he says. "They first caught my eye when I saw one in a magazine with the strobe stripes. I had no idea what it was, but with the stripes, black bonnet and big scoop, I was hooked. I wanted a car that actually handled, not just strong in a straight line, and for its time, the AAR 'Cuda was rather good compared with the big block.

"When I first started restoring the car I had to talk to a lot of guys with part-number books or original spare parts catalogues, whereas now you can get restorer's guides with the correct numbers for everything."

Out on the street the reaction's consistent and glowing, with John frequently trapped next to the car as people get the lowdown on just what it is. Given its looks, the bellowing factory sidepipes hardly need to attract additional attention, but of course they do. The number of stares we received during our Saturday afternoon spent with John outside the original Chrysler assembly plant in Mile End provided evidence of its instant appeal.

John's genuine AAR is the only known car in Australia according to the US register, although there are rumours of others here.
 
One thing's for sure. With only 2724 made in the first place, it's a rare beast and its popularity is increasing in the 'States where a restored example could fetch up to US$150,000.

SAVAGE 'CUDA

The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans Am series saw a factory Plymouth team compete in 1970 under the All American Racers banner.

Rules at the time meant cars had to be absolutely stock in appearance, with everything on the car available at the dealership. However, engine capacity was restricted to 305ci, so Plymouth destroked the 340ci to 303.8ci, and changed the 6-pack set-up to the mandatory 4-barrel single carb, producing around 460hp.

Drivers Swede Savage and Dan Gurney campaigned the dark blue 'Cudas for the season, and although strong qualifying times ensued, over the 12-round series results were average with no wins, the best result a second place at Road America for Savage.


SPECIFICATIONS

1970 Plymouth AAR Barracuda

 

Production: 2724

Body: two-door coupe

Engine: 340ci V8 with 6-pack Holley carbs

Power: 290-325hp

Transmission: three-speed auto

Suspension: Torsion-bar front, semi-elliptic rear springs

Brakes: Power-boosted front discs, rear drums

Wheels/tyres: 15x7 steel rims/ 255/60R15 BF Goodrich T/A rear, 225/60 R15 front

 

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition