The First Hemicuda


This documented 1970 prototype ’Cuda shows its pre-production quirks.

Fender tag indicates sport (hockey) stripe delete. The car was built without road lamps and chrome hood pins. Being hand-assembled, there was never any blackout paint on the radiator yoke. Shaker is gloss black.

If you took all the hair you had cut in 37 years of barbering, and stuffed it into the trunk of a Hemicuda, how many Hemicudas would you need to hold all that hair?

While you’re figuring that one out, well let all the other readers continue on about the first street Hemicuda produced by Plymouth. This Hemi actually was the third 1970 Plymouth E-body made. Number 001 was a 318 Barracuda, 002 was a 383 2-Bbl. Gran Coupe and 003 was the Hemi. The first two ‘Cudas were produced in California, 003 was bolted together at an offsite prototyping facility near the Hamtramck, MI assembly plant. Contrary to other published reports, Nos. 001 and 002 were not crushed by Chrysler, but are alive and well today, and in the possession of collector, Howard Haboush, in New Jersey. Haboush bought both cars (neither of which had a motor or transmission) about 10 years ago, out of Texas. The cars were otherwise solid, and Haboush had them restored. All three ‘Cudas were hand-assembled cars and earmarked for internal evaluations by Chrysler. These prototypes were used to assess stuff like assembly procedures, option compatibility and quality control.

HemiCuda No. 003 (or No. 3 as we’ll call it), was born August 1-2, 1969, as a BP23 Gran Coupe. Then, after a teardown and reassembly, it was put back together as a BS23 HemiCuda, and tagged as such.

Dave Wehrly was a district sales manager (Chrysler-Plymouth Div.) for the Ft. Wayne, Indiana area. He worked out of the Detroit zone office which was in Centerline, MI. The Centerline facility was also the parts depot and other offices for Chrysler as well as the publications department to prepare service and flat-rate manuals.

Wehrly says that No. 3 was trucked to Hamtramck from the prototyping faciltiy where it had been asembled, to prepare the flat-rate (repair) manual for the HemiCuda. The car was parked in an area that was open to the sales people, so they could easily view the new model cars. Wehrly doesn’t recall how long No 3 was at Centerline, but it was the company policy at the time to sell every vehicle built. In today’s world, No. 3 definitely would have been crushed, because the car was not up to production standards, and could have opened the possibility of liability lawsuits. ‘Cudas Nos. 001 and 002 obviously were sold, too.

Wehrly, still a district manager today, indicates that No. 3 would have been placed in a company sales pool at some time to be sold. He says that he may have sold it to Pointsette Chrysler Plymouth in Ft. Wayne. At the time, it was just another car to sell to a dealer. Before being thrown in the pool, the car was at the disposal of several Chrysler execs who took it out for a blast or two.

Odo show original low mileage

Since No. 3 wasn’t up to production snuff, the brain trusts at Chrysler figured they would dump it in some hick farm area, the thinking being those customers wouldn’t be as sharp as the big city boys.

Waterloo, Indiana, some 25 miles outside of Ft. Wayne, at the time had a large International Harvester plant. Mark Evans worked at the plant, and he was in the market for a new set of wheels. On November 8, 1969, he tooled over to Pointsette C-P and looked around. An Alpine white Hemicuda with a gloss-black shaker caught his eye. The generous discount because of the car’s “corporate” or “program” status warranted an even closer look.  Evans plunked down some cash and financed the balance through the I-H credit union. He hammered on the ‘Cuda for a year and a half before losing his job and defaulting on the loan. He still owed $1200, and the bank repo’d the car.

Interior came through with leather front seats. Fender tag indicates AM/8-track with rear speaker.

Stan Adams, a Pro-Stock racer in Ft. Wayne at the time, heard about No. 3 being up for sale, and figured it would be a good backup car in the event he crashed his regular ride. He went to the bank and was told they were just interested in satisfying the loan. He drove No. 3 home for $1200. Adams gutted the ‘Cuda but never cut it. He never pulled the original engine, and never even drove the car. It just sat, in the event of the crash that never came.

Overhead console and shoulder belts stowed on the headliner are vestiges of the ’Cuda’s previous incarnation as a Gran Coupe.

A few years passed, and Adams sold the car to Zoltan and Larry Zolo — a father and son restaurant business in Ft. Wayne. They were also the first to offer pizza in the area. And while we’re running down the Ft. Wayne Yellow Pages, we might as well mention Gary Dodane. You’ll find him under “B” for barbers, chopping locks at the same location for 37 years. The reason we mention Dodane, is that Zolo was dating his neighbor’s sister.

When Dodane bought the car it had some scratches, so he had it repainted. The engine was pulled and the engine compartment painted. No attempt has been made to detail and return the engine itself to correct original condition.

Zolo and Dodane both liked “old cars,” and one day Zolo came by in the ‘Cuda and invited Dodane for a ride. Powershifting through the gears, he pressed Dodane into the seatback. After the ride, Dodane looked the car over and was fascinated by it. Was it for sale? No.

Fender tag shows Job Number 5 at the top, which is the Pilot Job sequence number. Other tag codes indicate, aside from previously mentioned items,  premium trim, power front discs, and front and rear bumper guards. Build date is Friday, August 01, 1969.

Every Monday, for a month, Dodane would call Zolo and ask if the car was for sale “this week.” The answer was always the same. Then, on June 23, 1983, Dodane found himself about three blocks from Zolo’s house. He saw a phone booth and said  to himself this is the last time I’m gonna call. This is it. If he doesn’t sell today I’m just gonna let him alone.

VIN tag shows that this is the third Hemicuda built. It is actually the Hamtramck
plant Assembly Sequence Number. The first two Hemicudas were never sold and were destroyed by Chrysler.

 Zolo’s phone rang. The voice on the other end asked “I just  want to check–is the car for sale… today?”  The kid answered that he needed money right away and the car was for sale. ‘Course, neither Zolo nor Dodane knew that the ‘Cuda was anything special. Dodane just liked it and it was a 17,000-miler. The two agreed on a price after some nickel and dime dickering, and Dodane drove the Plymouth home.

Dodane bought the car without a spare. Racer Adams
had stashed the original spare when he had stripped the car. He subsequently located it and turned it over to Dodane.

When he parked the car in his garage, Dodane checked the VIN and noticed for the first time, all the zeros at the end of the number. He wondered how many of these did they make? A friend of his told him to contact gumbers nuru Galen Govier. Govier told Dodane to make a pencil rubbing of the data plate and mail it to him. A few weeks went by and nothing happened. Then, a phone call from Govier. The first thing out of his mouth was, “Is this car for sale?”

              “No. I bought the car to drive.”

            “I don’t think you want to drive that car. Not many people even know that ‘Cuda got out of Chrysler.”

Govier has certified it as the first E-body Hemicuda built (the first that “escaped”, anyway.)

Taking Govier’s advice, Dodane has rolled up a scant 20 miles in 22 years. The car’s odo today stands at 17,729.5 miles. Unlike some other rare ‘Cudas that are stashed away in private collections, Dodane’s ride is on public display at the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States (NATMUS). The museum is located at 1000 Gordon M. Buehrig Pl., Auburn Indiana. Admission is four bucks. Haircut not included.

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