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1971 Hemi Cuda - Shades Of Gray

With Help From Arrington Racing, This Is One Hemi 'Cuda That Is More Than Meets The Eye.

Photography by Geoff Stunkard

Outrageousness. If you build your cars for fun, that's the one thing that always garners attention. Crazy paint, blower motors, or 11-second station wagons gather the gawkers and stick 'em like flypaper. Plymouth's '71 'Cuda was a prime example of crazy right off the assembly line, so it takes some doing to take it over the top.

Then again, outrageousness only goes so far. What's under the surface makes or breaks you in the sphere of public opinion. Conversely, subtlety is a great way to stand out from the crowd (hot librarians in glasses, anybody?). The idea that something looks sedate but proves potent is heady stuff. Everybody walks by once and says, "Oh, that's nice." The shock only registers when they go deeper to realize just how unique, complex, or efficient the package is. This 'Cuda, floating in a small but very visible sea of million-dollar drop-tops, high-quality clones, and hot factory paint codes, chose to make its big statement with a little less lipstick.

Panther Pink, Sassy Grass Green, and Moulin Rouge were all on the Plymouth paint list in 1971, but as owner Justin Helms began to decide how the end package should look, he chose a sedate DuPont Silver with Graphite accents and one narrow Hemi Orange pinstripe. Not eye-popping, to be sure, but well executed and definitely not run-of-the-mill on this body style.

Justin will be the first to admit he has a back door regarding horsepower. He and his brother work full time for Joey Arrington Racing Engines (officially known as Arrington Manufacturing, Inc., or AMI) in Martinsville, Virginia, doing research and development on Dodge's NASCAR Craftsman Truck motors. Familiarity with late-model engine power left both the car's factory 340 and the old-school 7.0L elephant at the door. This Hemi is a modern 6.1 version, stroked out to make a legendary 426 inches (7.0 liters, as denoted on the scoop).

And though those cool custom billet CNC valve covers are simple dress-ups that bolt right on top of the factory ignition-support versions, what's inside is high tech. After boring and prepping the block for the bigger K1 long arm and rods, 10.25:1 compression pistons by Mahle were added, and a custom roller cam ended up in the middle. Most of the 6.1s OEM valvetrain was still retained.

The CNC machinery at AMI also carved the factory aluminum heads and a custom intake supports a pair of FAST electronic throttle-bodies. Set at the same height as the original Hemi, a standard factory Shaker scoop unit was adapted to this layout with a custom baseplate, with Pro Fab headers and a full 3-inch exhaust at the other end of the combustion cycle. In the end, 585 hp and 560 torque numbers were on the dyno sheet. Behind this went a Keisler five-speed and a 4.10:1-ringed Dana from DTS.

The old suspension received attention as well. AlterKation creates tubular replacements for the factory's heavy K-frame support under the engine; since fresh motor mounts and locations would have had to be custom-built anyhow, this was a no-brainer (plus it improves handling). Out back, the leaf packs went away for an Air Ride layout and traction links. Brakes use big 12.25-inch Wilwood vented rotors, functioning and visible behind large custom-made 18-inch black billet rims.

Meanwhile, the standard factory interior received upgrades like a custom dash with TPI gauges that Joe helped build and a Legendary custom leather interior. We aren't going to sit here and say that anybody can do this in his backyard in an afternoon, or convince you that you can build a car like this on a beer budget. Still, with the right possibilities available, the choice to build a car in the gray areas rather than the more common visual extremes can hold their own.

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