I had been talking to Phil Bell at Classic Cars about doing something for the magazine, and making suggestions regarding feature cars. A mate of ours over there is big into MoPar (short for Motor Parts, and all to do with big old Chrysler-built muscle cars) so I had flown some pics past Phil’s window. He was looking for a needle in a haystack: a rare groove muscle machine. Eventually my buddy Alex found it: a low mile, 2-owner Hemi ‘Cuda.
The Hemi is a legendary engine, and that motor in a Barracuda was seriously hard core. Phil loved the pitch, so we set up a shoot and met the owner one Sunday morning in the hills above San Ramon. I heard the V8s rumble while they were still a couple of hundred feet below. Suddenly the Hemi was here and it had brought a friend: another Hemi, but a Road Runner. They were absolutely jaw-dropping; Alex had struck gold!
I love Road Runners. They are plain and simple bits of kit that make a huge noise and an even bigger statement. “You don’t like big cars? Too bad!” says a Road Runner. One flick of the gas pedal is a big injection of space between it and whoever is behind. The ‘Cuda however is a whole ‘nuther thing. It is mean and takes no prisoners. It is grand theft auto, gun-in-the-glovebox stuff. The Hemi ‘Cuda is is the archetypal automotive villain.
Our Hemi owner was the nicest guy in history. I was so pleased about the story that went with this car. He had put heart and soul into achieving a factory restoration rather than a candy-assed, chrome-splurged show job. This car retained all of its manufacturing ‘defects’ for authenticity. All the nitty-gritty details had been meticulously photographed before disassembly and put back exactly as they had come off: paint splashes on the distributor base, unpainted screws under the hood, tiny differences in the door gaps side to side. Guys like this operate in a different stratosphere to the rest of us.
After the shoot, we all went out for lunch at some Mexican place that wasn’t up to much. Even though I am fairly new to Mexican I know bad stuff, and this was very boring food. Beware of Danville Mexicans that flatter to deceive! We went our separate ways afterwards, but vowed to hook up again next time we are over. It was an honour to spend time with the owner and his cars, especially in slightly cooler weather, but still with oodles of Cali sunshine to make the Plum Crazy colour really fly.
Can you believe that this is a regular working guy and yet he has 4 fully-restored Mopars in his garage and one more on the way? The Hemi is probably a half-million dollar car and none of the rest are that much cheaper. I know it’s not about the money – we didn’t even mention it on the shoot – but still, it goes to show what one guy can do when he really puts his mind to it. As we say in California: awesome!