By their very nature, project cars are labors of love. After all, why else would we spend hours on our backs in the garage, getting gear lube or some other smelly fluid in our hair, cussing off old parts, and still smile when we are finished. Some girlfriends don't seem to get that much attention. And unlike like those distaff members of the opposite sex who finally go their own ways, project cars usually stick around.
That is the case when we start talking about this '69 Barracuda pumped up with Hemi power. The vicious fish has been part of Rod Arndt's life for more than 35 years, and, like a good relationship, it has seasoned to a sort of mellow coexistence, if that's possible with any machine pumping out ponies like this.
"Oh, I raced it," says Rod, who spent 30 years on the road as an owner/operator/truck driver before joining the quilt shop/sewing machine business his wife, Marla, started. "The car is a real Formula S notchback, which is sort of different. After the Hemi went in it, I ran it for about three years in [NHRA] Modified Production. Since then, I had many chances to let it go, but I just could not bring myself to sell it."
The car had a 383 when it left the factory, but Rod upped the power with a '66 Hemi mill out of a friend's Coronet when his buddy decided that his upcoming trip to college would mean he needed something a little more pedestrian. Rod had a rebuilt 440 and made the trade straight up. The Coronet is long gone, but the engine has been part of the Barracuda ever since.
When Rod began to rework the car after a very long, back-of-the-garage hiatus in the mid '90s, engine science was changing and strokers became the norm. While he intended to assemble the engine himself, he sent all the hard parts out to Lansing, Michigan, where the guys at Muscle Motors did all the machine work and balancing prep. This included a new Eagle stroker arm to pump the displacement up to a 21st-century 478 inches, a port-and-match job to the original heads, an Indy single-four intake, and a little parts advice.
The car has had a four-speed in the tunnel ever since it was new, and Rod knew the radical combo and stick-shift violence were going to require a bit more tire than the OEM skinnies. He was going to need more wheelwell room.
"I stretched the rear wheelwells 5 inches. I also did the big exhaust outlets and installed the rollcage, tubs, and frame connectors. I have to thank Don Willett at Art Morrison for tech info and selling me the right parts the first time.
"After I designed and got the exhaust system together, I had Jet-Hot coat everything. This was my first serious attempt at a total rebuild. Everything still works on the car-the lights, the heater and defroster, the wipers."
As the project continued, the heavy Mopar K-frame was sent packing, exchanged for a Magnum Force tubular unit and rack-and-pinion steering making the ride a little more fun.
While Rod had done virtually everything at home to this point, the bodywork and spray-gun handling went to Tony's Hot Rod Shop, located in Rod and Marla's hometown of Antigo, Wisconsin. Working with the sheetmetal and the A1 fiberglass replacements, Rod gives Tony's credit for the seamless DuPont black/V7900s ChromaBase clear paint (it's four years old) and excellent panel alignment.
The final touch, if seeing a '69 Barracuda notchback pack fat rubber and Hemi power were not enough, was the customized upholstery. Since the Arndts' business is in the machines that program and create this sort of thing, it was only fitting that some custom fish find their way into the car and on the signage Rod displays with it at shows. In addition to cranking off times just into the 9-second margin, the car won awards at two Year One events, took home the Participant Pick award at the '04 Car Craft Summer Cruise in Minneapolis, and won a coveted Best Engineered crown at the MegaParts show in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. When we met up with Rod this summer, he was holding his own among a bevy of real Hurst-built race cars at the Engelhart Performance Customer Appreciation Day in Elkton, Minnesota.
He and his son Nate are still working on projects; Nate is doing a '67 Valiant with a stroker in it as we speak. Rod admits he didn't count the money or the hours the 10-year project entailed, but as far as projects go, his first full-bore attempt stitched up a champ.