OH SO CLEAN
Chris Trisnan's '70 Plymouth 'Cuda
What? A stock car in Car Craft? Yeah, we normally peek out from under the hood when something rowdy burbles by and then walk right past a string of stock musclecars at a car show without a second look. Lately we can't help noticing how many musclecars are out there that are restored to stock or really close. We know you're thinking snoozeville, but maybe these guys are onto something. We're not becoming all numbers-matching on you--we're just going to introduce you to a resto guy to find out who would own a car that looks good instead of goes fast.
This 'Cuda's owner is an artist. His name is Chris Trisnan, and he doesn't work with paint and an easel; he uses steel and electricity. When he was a child growing up in England, he began experimenting with light and shade and drawing cars. At the time, American television was pervasive and the car culture was as big as ever. Chris watched Starsky and Hutch tearing around the city doing rockfords and donuts in the flying tomato, and it sucked him in.
"I was educated in North England, and I was doing really well in the art world when I met a guy who built custom cars," says Chris. "I began to paint murals on bonnets and won a couple of awards at local shows; that got me to London."
Once Chris was in the big city, he made some money selling Datsuns and doing paintwork on the side. Through his painting, he met some drag racers who were flying to Orange County, California, for a meet. He hitched a ride and came face-to-face with '70s Americana. "I saw the cars I love whizzing by--Mopars, Corvettes, and all the things that are completely out of reach in England," he recalled. In 1982 he moved to the United States.
"America isn't like England," says Chris. "America rewards risk-takers, and I am a risk-taker." Chris put his skills to work as an apprentice at a sign company and soon was good enough to start his own company, Graffiti, which builds environmental graphics and architectural signs. When his business took off, he started looking for a 'Cuda.
"I had a Harley in the back of my mind, but the E-Body was seductive," says Chris. "The stars lined up and a matching- numbers car with a big-block and the right colors appeared." The car was a '70 Plymouth 'Cuda for sale in Canada. It was tough to get because the owner didn't want to sell the car to a flipper or a dealer. The car needed a good home. "It was like a job interview, and I could hear his wife saying that he should keep the car," he recalled. "I had to talk him into it."
Unlike many of us who are technical and mechanical, Chris is visual. His appreciation of the hobby comes from the colors and forms of the early musclecars during the years of wild hues and graphics. "I was looking for a color with a lot of impact, and Rallye Red with a cream interior did the job. I am a visually driven creature, so the wilder cars are more interesting than something with just a big engine, but both are best."
After securing the 'Cuda, Chris had it shipped down to the O.C. on a huge transporter. Even the driver was diggin' it. On the way, he called Chris to tell him how nice the car was. "It was like a dream come true when the car was lowered off the transporter," Chris says. He was so excited to drive the car that immediately after taking the keys and the build sheet from the driver, he took it for a spin. When he got back, the build sheet was gone. Bummed, he settled for a copy provided by the original owner. Maybe he's a little like us after all.
After Trisnan had the 'Cuda for a while, he started to notice what it means to be driving this kind of car. "I think Mopar guys just get it," says Chris. "The English cars have prestige like the Bentley, etc., but never the colors and style of the American cars. The Hemi was at the top of the heap. Guys who recognize these cars understand the design and the feel of the '70s. I liked the '60s and '70s era; the style was an in-your-face blend of loud color and high performance. We observed it from England, and the English always looked at the American car market as something to be admired. We had nothing like the American cars back then. Now I just look at the car and think, Man, they had it together back then." Now-adays when Chris drives the convertible 383-powered 'Cuda, he gets a new kind of respect. "I can accidentally cut people off and they will still give me the thumbs-up."
Just because he bought an original car with only 85,000 miles on it doesn't mean it didn't need work. Lucky for him, he met Grant May at the Spring Fling Mopar show in SoCal while he was asking a guy whether or not a Rim-Blo steering wheel would fit the car. The vendor said it would, but Grant overheard the conversation and cut in to say it wasn't right for the car. Because Grant was from New Zealand he spoke with an English lilt. The accent and a visit to his shop to eyeball his work ethic cemented the friendship. "His spanners were all lined up, and the shop was spotless," says Chris. Grant talked Chris out of changes to the car that would have ruined the value. Working from a shop on a three-acre spread in California, Grant began to tweak the car, starting with a tune-up. Then the interior was stripped down and rebuilt using mostly original parts, which were refurbished. It's not easy to find convertible 'Cuda parts, so what wasn't available, Grant restored to look like new. "It is an expensive hobby, but if you want it right you need to pay the money," Chris laments.
After Chris had been exposed to the E-Body, he started looking around at others. "I would pay extra for a car that was numbers-matching and restore it rather than change the car to something that wasn't on the showroom floor," he says. In another fit of luck, Chris found a car with wilder graphics and the big engine he always wanted. It was a '70 Challenger R/T with a 440 Six-Pak engine. "I've always liked the way cars came off the production line. I like the big horsepower too, but it has to be an original car. The big draw for the Challenger is the paint combination, and the big engine is the bonus." To restore this car, Chris is going to go crazy: "The new car is Sublime Green, and I am willing to drive out of the state to secure a gallon of the correct paint."
As Chris transforms into a Mopar guy, he's picked up car-guy bad habits and also collected a '70 Charger. It is also a 440-powered car, painted Plum Crazy purple with a white interior. He says it's all there and is an original unmolested car--how could he refuse? He confides that he has the three cars he believes are the crme de la crme of the Mopar world, and he is done buying muscle because there's nothing else that appeals to him--except a Hemi, of course.
Who: Chris Trisnan
Where: He's from England, where everything is jolly good.
What: It's a '70 'Cuda convertible, one of about 550 built.
Work: Grant May owns May Automotive Performance in Lake Mathews, California, where he has maintained the 'Cuda since he met Chris at the Spring Fling. Grant is from New Zealand, so he has a handle on the Mopar scene from all over the world. He's been in the States working on Mopars for 10 years.
Engine: This performance-oriented 'Cuda came equipped with the 335hp 4V 383. Unlike earlier Barracudas, the later big-block E-Body was available with power steering and power brakes. You could also order the 375hp 440, the 390hp six-barrel 440, or the 425hp 426 Hemi.
Transmission: The E-body was designed to go straight, and that meant drag racing. And nowhere was that more evident than the Slap Stick shifter connected to the TorqueFlite 727 transmission. It allowed the one-two shift to be made with a quick push on the shifter. Because Chris has a tendency to take long trips on the freeway, Grant installed a Gear Vendors overdrive unit. The only major modification needed to get the unit in the car was shortening the driveshaft. Grant used the stock crossmember and hid a switch under the dash so Chris could flip from manual to automatic mode.
Wheels/Tires: The Magnum road wheels were standard on the 'Cuda, or you could order the optional 15x7 Rallye road wheels like the ones on Chris' car with raised-letter F60-15 Goodyear Polyglas tires. The BFG tires currently on the car are P245/60R15s. Lately the popularity of the musclecar movement has caused these, the BFG P235/60R15, and the P255/60R15 to become scarce. So you'd better order now.
Body: Checking the 'Cuda box at the dealership won you the performance hood with nonfunctional hoodscoops (unless you got the Hemi; then it was a shaker), hoodpins, a blackout rear valance panel with the 'Cuda script, and a hockey stripe that read the engine displacement (unless you ordered the Hemi, in which case it was spelled out). This 'Cuda was ordered with FE5 Rallye Red, a color that went away the following year.
Interior: The dash was a mess, so Grant May took it out of the car, added new looms, and fixed the heater and A/C hardware. The gauges were farmed out to Performance Car Graphics in Florida to get the cluster painted and to make sure they were clean and operational. Grant used Legendary Auto Interiors for the seats because the company offers the stock patterns and colors, which are made in the USA. It's hard to get rear interior panels in white for a convertible, so Grant opted to refinish them by sanding them down, texturing them, and painting them with SEM vinyl finish. Since it's a driver, not a weekend car, he put it together for the road.
Trivia: Some of the coolest color names came from the Chrysler musclecar era. In 1970 you could order paint with names like In Violet, Vitamin C, Tor-Red, and Lemon Twist. Sassy Grass Green and Curious Yellow became available in 1971. CHEERIO