Gary Dodane, 70, owner of Karl’s Barber Shop in Fort Wayne, Ind., on his 1970 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda, as told to A.J. Baime.
In 1983, I bought a Hemi Cuda for $500. At the time, I did not know much about these cars. They had huge “elephant engines,” but they got terrible gas mileage. Gas prices were surging at the time, so people were dumping these cars. When I bought mine for $500, I thought I was overpaying.
Photos: The First Cuda to Hit the StreetWhen he bought this 1970 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda for $500, Gary Dodane believed he had overpaid—he thinks differently now
Gary Dodane in his 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda. Mr. Dodane bought this car in 1983 for $500. It’s worth a lot more than that now.Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
The Hemi Cuda’s ferocious-looking front end. Mr. Dodane keeps the vehicle at the National Auto & Truck Museum in Auburn, Ind.Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
The Hemi Cuda’s 426-cubic inch V-8 engine, rated at 425 horsepower. Enthusiasts have nicknamed this motor the ‘elephant engine.’Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
The Barracuda was fully redesigned for model year 1970, with the Hemi engine a highly valued option.Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
The vehicle’s well-cared-for interior.Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
Another shot of the interior. Notice the big handle for the four-speed manual transmission.Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
‘Very few of these vehicles were built,’ Mr. Dodane says, ‘which means most people have never even seen one, except in pictures.’Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
This shot shows the car’s powerful-looking hips, a popular styling cue among muscle cars of this era.Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
The Goodyear rubber has not seen a lot of action, as Mr. Dodane has only driven his Hemi Cuda about 30 miles since he bought the car in 1983.Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
The 426 in the license plate refers to the car’s 426-cubic inch V-8. ‘Someday soon I am going to sell my car,’ Mr. Dodane says, ‘but until then it’s my prize possession.’Ruth Yaroslaski for The Wall Street Journal
I noticed the serial number had a lot of zeros in it, so I contacted a man named Galen Govier of the Chrysler Registry, a well-known expert, to find out more about it. He asked me to tell him nothing about the car, only some numbers on an identification plate.
Two weeks later, he called and said, “Are you sitting down?” I said no. He said, “Maybe you should.” Using the numbers on the identification plate, he was able to tell me all sorts of accurate details—the car’s color, the fact that it was a four-speed and not an automatic, that it had an eight-track tape deck, etc. He knew that the speedometer of this car tops out at 120 mph and that it had no tachometer.
Most importantly, he told me that my vehicle was the first Plymouth Hemi Cuda street car ever made. The car was only built in 1970 and 1971. I have a document signed by Mr. Govier that says, “This is the very first 1970 Hemi Cuda hardtop built.”
[Mr. Govier confirmed this story. A Chrysler representative who examined this document and the car’s title said in an email that “it certainly looks like” Mr. Dodane’s story is true. “I believe it [but] cannot prove it,” he said.]
The Plymouth Hemi Barracuda has evolved into an iconic muscle car, highly desired by collectors. The Hemi refers to the 426-cubic inch V-8, a 425-horsepower motor with hemispherical combustion chambers. Very few of these vehicles were built, which means most people have never even seen one, except in pictures.
Since I found out about this car’s history over three decades ago, I have driven it about 30 miles, and I keep it at the National Auto & Truck Museum in Auburn, Ind. Someday soon I am going to sell my car, but until then it’s my prize possession.
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—Contact A.J. Baime at Facebook.com/ajbaime.