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.
What: '69 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S
Owner: Rod Arndt
Hometown: Antigo, Wisconsin, almost in the center of the Badger State
Engine: Rod's Barracuda left the factory with a 383 and has since been fortified with a 478-inch Hemi. The Hemi block was machined and balanced by Muscle Motors, which used an Eagle stroker, the stock rods, and Venolia 10.5 pistons for the bottom end. Charlie's did the oil pan for this project. Rod assembled the engine and keeps the rpm at a reasonable 6,100 while pegging the dyno near 700 ponies using an MSD ignition.
Heads: Why mess with a good thing? These are the cast OEM units, which Muscle Motors treated to a port job and then stuffed with fresh stock-size valves and the OEM rockers-and-shaft layout.
Camshaft: The bumpstick came from Comp cams as a mechanical roller with 285/295 degrees duration at 0.050 and 0.822/0.793 lift.Muscle Motors custom pushrods and a Cloyes timing outfit keep the bottom and top ends together at speed.
Induction: Thanks to Indy Cylinder Heads, it has never been easier to put a single-four on a Hemi mill; this Indy intake was also prepped by Muscle Motors and port-matched to the heads. On top went a fat 1090 King Demon carb fed by Barry Grant lines and a pump outfit from a 16-gallon trunk-mounted fuel cell.
Exhaust: One of the most unique features of Rod's car is the side-mount exhaust. Barely muffled, the engine lopes the note through a set of homemade custom-tube headers and mufflers, all of which were Jet-Hot-coated before Rod did the final weld job to get the pipes on the car.
Transmission: Geared up to stock specs, it's a he-man factory A833 four-speed crash box with a Lakewood bellhousing and Hayes clutch outfit connecting to the engine. A pretty cool Hurst Super Shifter is used for grabbing gears.
Rearend: Big meat requires big mods. This Dana 60 housing was narrowed and stuffed full of Moser axles, a 4.88 Richmond ring, and a Sure Grip, of course.
Suspension: Rod treated the frontend to a Magnum Force conversion, including a tubular K-frame and rack-and-pinion. Out back is an Art Morrison four-link, and QA1 shocks round it out. Again, Rod put in the hours himself in his home garage to do all of this, plus wheeltubs and subframe connectors and the Art Morrison four-link keep the rear on the straight and narrow.
Brakes: Wilwood discs up front and drums in the rear, plus a Deist parachute for good measure.
Wheels/Tires: The odd combo includes Boyd's wheels with BFGoodrich 205/ 50R17s in the front and monstrous 15x15 Convo Pros with 21.5x33 Mickey Thompson Sportsmans out back.
Body: The Barracuda was treated to some A1 fiberglass parts. The rear wheelwells were stretched for tire room, and Tony's Hot Rod Shop carefully fit everything before it sprayed the car with DuPont Chromabase black basecoat/clearcoat. It crosses the scales at 3,280 pounds.
S-logo: This Barracuda was an original Formula S 383 notchback--pretty scarce stuff even back in the day. Rod admits that if these things follow the E-bodies into the musclecar stratosphere, it would be hard to bring the car back to stock!
Interior: It's still in basic black, with RCI seats, Deist harnesses, and Auto Meter gauges, and all the accessories in case Wisconsin weather is problematic are there, including the defroster.
Transmission: The New Process Chrysler A833 box works with a Hayes clutch-and-flywheel outfit in a Lakewood housing.
Performance: It ran 9.98 during a test session at Rock Falls, Wisconsin.
Special thanks: Tim Keen, John Meede, Tony and the guys at the Hot Rod Shop, and Ron Schroepfer, plus sons Christian and Nate, and Marla.