The Enigmatic 970 Plymouth AAR Cuda: An Orange Trickster with an Unexpected Modern Secret Beneath the Bonnet

During the era of golden muscle cars, the third-generation Plymouth Barracuda, introduced in 1970, stands out as one of the most coveted Mopars. Among its various versions, the HEMI variant reigns supreme due to its rarity, with only 666 units sold in 1970 and a mere 114 in 1971. The convertibles are even scarcer, with only 14 delivered in 1970 and seven in 1971, their value reaching millions of dollars when in pristine condition.

However, the HEMI ‘Cuda is not the sole elusive iteration of the E-body Mopar. The 440-cubic-inch (7.2-liter) models are also hard to come by, and the entry-level six-cylinder cars are exceedingly rare. Although often overlooked for their lower performance output, Plymouth only managed to sell 557 units equipped with the 198-cubic-inch (3.2-liter) “slant-six” engine in 1970 and 1971. But let us shift our focus away from the six-cylinder mills and big-block V8s, for this narrative revolves around the AAR ‘Cuda.

A unique gem from a single year, the AAR model was initially conceived as a race car, bearing the initials of Dan Gurney’s All American Racers team. Its heart was a potent 305-cubic-inch (5.0-liter) V8, boasting a formidable 440 horsepower, competing in the 1970 SCCA Trans-Am championship. While its racing performance was not exceptional, finishing last in the standings, it gave birth to an intriguing production model.

Abiding by SCCA regulations, Plymouth crafted a street-legal version of the AAR. Though lacking the aggressiveness of its race-spec counterpart, it caught the eye with distinctive side graphics, a rear spoiler, and a black hood. Its power output was not as formidable as the racing variant, yet it housed a unique 340-cubic-inch (5.6-liter) “Six-Barrel” V8 engine, producing 290 horsepower. Its design followed the same pattern as the Challenger T/A, Dodge’s homologation special.

In 1970, Plymouth sold a total of 2,724 AARs, comprising 1,604 automatics and 1,120 manuals, but regrettably, the nameplate did not extend into 1971. Fast forward to 2023, and the ‘Cuda AAR stands as a rare, sought-after, and expensive treasure, with many enthusiasts opting to transform their Barracudas into AAR replicas.

Most conversions primarily focus on visual enhancements, but occasionally, one encounters unique specimens featuring custom-made 340 “Six-Barrel” mills. The orange clone on display here takes it a step further by embracing modern technology. Specifically, it houses a 5.7-liter HEMI engine sourced from a 2016 Dodge Charger Pursuit. To the uninitiated, these police-spec cars share firepower with the R/T, boasting 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet (536 Nm) of torque.

Certainly, the engine swap is an unusual choice, but the modern HEMI outperforms the AAR’s 340 V8, undoubtedly constituting an upgrade in terms of performance. Now, let us delve into the authenticity of this AAR conversion. Does this clone stay true to the original? At first glance, it undoubtedly appears so, with the graphics faithfully mimicking the AAR style, including the AAR-style hood.

On the flip side, the project remains a work in progress. While the engine and transmission reside under the hood, the wiring is yet to find its place. Furthermore, the interior necessitates reassembly, and the owner highlights the need for installing or adjusting the steering, brakes, and HVAC system.

Regarding the bodywork, there exists both good news and bad news. Positively, the ‘Cuda retains all its original sheet metal, except for the trunk floor. However, the paintwork exhibits numerous chips. Yet, for those pursuing an unrestored survivor look, this might be perceived as a negligible concern.

Either way, it’s an exciting project that’s getting some attention on eBay, with bidding at $27,700 with about a couple of days to go. Not exactly cheap, but still a long way off original AAR prices. The latter commands more than $75,000 in Fair condition and costs more than $200,000 in Concours shape.

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