There were nearly a million Plymouth-labeled cars sold in 1971. Of them, only 16,492 were from the Barracuda line, representing a little more than 1 percent of total Plymouth production.
Of those comparatively few 1971 Barracudas, the production pie is sliced even thinner. There were only 311 1971 Barracuda/’Cuda convertibles built – 292 ’Cudas and 19 Barracudas – and there were only 113 440 Six-Barrel cars built that year. When the convertible body style and the 440 Six-Barrel (also known as the 440+6) engine option are cross-referenced, along with the four-speed transmission, you come up with five.
That’s right, only five ’Cuda convertibles were built in 1971 with the 440 Six-Barrel and a four-speed manual transmission. Given the broad palette of available colors that year, it’s a pretty good bet that you’re looking at a one-of-one muscle car. It’s Ed Belfour’s Bright Blue Metallic example, and it represents the rarest of the rare in Mopar muscle.
There are a number of features that make this rare ragtop even more interesting. It was originally ordered without any flashy features: no Shaker hood scoop, no rear wing, no billboard or hockey stick stripes and no Rallye wheels. It also came with leather seats, but no center console.
Belfour doesn’t know the history of the car’s original ownership, but the relatively odd mix of equipment suggests it was purposely ordered that way by a customer who knew exactly what he wanted – and didn’t want. He acquired it around 1990 from a Michigan seller and parked it for approximately 15 years before treating it to a first-class, factory-matching restoration.
From an historical perspective, perhaps the car’s most interesting feature was what it didn’t have when Belfour bought it: 1971 front fenders. Although the car had been neglected over the years, there were no obvious signs the front end had suffered a collision requiring new sheet metal.
Belfour and his staff at Carman Custom (www.carmancustom.com) – the Saginaw, Michigan area restoration shop he owns – suspected the car might have originally been built with leftover 1970 fenders. That thought was reinforced when noted ’Cuda expert Bill Rolik (he runs the 1971 ’Cuda registry) examined the car and remarked that its undercoating was consistent with the thickness and feel of the factory material, and there was no clear break in the coating to suggest a new layer had been sprayed during, say, a collision repair.
So was this super-rare convertible built with the wrong-year fenders? Without clear proof – such as factory paperwork or a photo of the original owner taking delivery of the car at the dealership – it’s impossible to say. The ’Cuda was built in December 1970, which isn’t very early in the production year, so it’s unlikely the assembly occurred during a blurry transition time between the 1970 and 1971 model years. Simply put, it’s a mystery.
Belfour was aiming for gold certification at the Mopar Nationals with the car’s restoration, so he consulted with experts and judges prior to getting too deep in the project. They all advised that, without the iron-clad proof, he’d better restore the car with the model-year-correct fenders, and that’s just what he did. Fortunately, Belfour was able to pull a pair of NOS fenders and NOS fender gills from his extensive collection of vintage Mopar parts. In fact, the car was restored with as many NOS parts as possible.
“Ed has been a long-time Mopar fan and he’s been buying cars and parts for years and years, so his collection really made the job easier,” said Jeff Friesen, Carman Custom’s manager. “But with a restoration project of this caliber, there’s always something that requires some detective work to find.”
Locating the correct center carburetor for the non-progressive Six-Barrel system was a challenge (the vacuum-operated outer carbs are relatively plentiful and easy to find), as was finding a correct radiator. But it was tracking down the correct, date-coded NOS mufflers that proved the hardest, according to Friesen.
“Not only were they difficult to locate, but the seller usually wanted $5,000 or more for each one,” he says. “That’s $5,000-plus for a muffler.”
But eventually, the parts all came together. The car even wears a set of NOS tires! They wrap a set of Magnum 500 wheels that are accented with about the only thing the judges at the Mopar Nationals found not-quite-right with the car – the trim rings. The polished rings on Belfour’s car are too bright. They should have a brushed aluminum appearance.
It took the shop about two years to perform the research, parts tracking and restoration work on the ’Cuda. The process including pouring over countless reference books, interviewing experts, inspecting un-restored cars and scouring North America for NOS parts. The documentation process also included saving every nut and bolt that was removed and/or replaced on the car.
“One of the things we learned during the restoration was that judges look for the correct-head bolts, most of which have a “G” symbol on the head that indicates the original supplier,” said Friesen. “We checked every bolt to ensure they were accurate before refinishing them – and if we seemed to be missing a correct bolt, we tore through our collection of our spare parts and parts cars to find the right one.”
Fortunately, Belfour had a great reference in his garage. It was another 1971 440+6 ’Cuda that was in comparatively great, un-restored condition. It had only 25,000 original miles, and Belfour purchased it from the original owner, so there was a known history to go with it. It offered lots of great detailing information, particularly when it came to determining the correct-style overspray, body sealer application, etc. Interestingly, when the fender tags of it and the convertible are decoded, they show that the cars were built only one day apart! The coupe was built on December 17, 1970 (a Thursday) and the convertible was built the next day, December 18, 1970 (Friday).
In addition to NOS front fenders and gills, Belfour’s parts cache also included an NOS one-piece trunk floor, the correct Magnum 500 wheels, exhaust manifolds and exhaust tips.
As for the physical restoration work, it included stripping the ’Cuda to its bare shell and media-blasting the sheet metal. The car had long ago been re-sprayed a non-original color, so the Carman Custom crew had to expect the worst when the project began.
“Those bodies hid a lot of rust areas, so it was crucial to get in there with the media blaster to see what areas needed attention,” says Friesen. “Luckily, this car wasn’t the worst we’ve seen, but the trunk floor needed a replacement, along with some other sheet metal parts.”
When the metal work was completed, the body shell was pushed into Carman Custom’s spray booth for a fresh coat of its factory Bright Blue Metallic paint. From there, the painstaking reassembly process began.
440 Six-Barrel details
It’s the engine/transmission combination that makes Belfour’s convertible so rare. And while the 390-horsepower 440 Six-Barrel (Six Pack, of course, was the Dodge term for the 3 x 2 induction system) has never come close to stealing the thunder of the almighty 426 Street Hemi, many experienced enthusiasts point to it as the more streetable power plant.
Both the Hemi and the Six-Barrel engines required regular tuning to maintain optimal performance, mostly with the ignition and carburetors. The Hemi engine delivered its best performance at higher rpm, as it was originally designed as a racing engine. The 440 was a torque-builder – the Six-Barrel version rated at a battleship-tugging 490 lb-ft at only 3,200 rpm – but the three two-barrel carburetors worked best when delivering mid-range power because of the non-progressive nature of the induction system.
Only the center carburetor was controlled by a conventional, gas pedal-controlled throttle. The front and rear carbs were vacuum operated and kicked in only when the center carb reached approximately 60 percent of wide-open throttle. This gave the engine a jolt of extra power that was not always the smoothest – somewhat like an on/off switch. But when properly tuned, the 440 Six-Barrel was relatively smooth and most assuredly powerful.
The fully restored original 440 engine in Belfour’s ’Cuda vibrates with power at idle, causing the front-end sheet metal to shake as the engine quickly rocks back and forth on its mounts. It simply looks and sounds like pure American muscle as it awaits the driver to shove the pistol-grip shifter into first gear and dump the clutch.
On the less-than-optimal, skinny bias-ply rubber of its day, a 440 Six-Barrel-powered E-body could rip the quarter-mile in the mid-to-high 13-second range, with a trap speed of around 103 or 104 mph.
Channeling the 440 Six-Barrel’s power to get it down the strip was either the heavy-duty Torqueflite 727 automatic transmission or, as with Belfour’s car, the heavy-duty four-speed manual trans. (The iconic pistol grip shifter was supplied by Hurst.) The transmission funneled torque out to a virtually indestructible Dana 60 9.75-inch rear axle fitted with 3.54:1 gears.
Going for the gold
With a gold certificate in the O.E. class at the Mopar Nationals as Belfour’s aim with the ’Cuda’s restoration, the crew at Carman Customs loaded the car into an enclosed car hauler, hitched it to their faithful, diesel-powered Ram and headed for Columbus, Ohio.
It was a hard, soaking rain that greeted their arrival, and the lousy weather was a harbinger of the trials that would follow before the judging began. When the car was unloaded and hood opened to begin the detailing process, Friesen was dismayed to find the printing on the “440 Six-Barrel” air cleaner lid decal was mostly rubbed off – its residue stuck to the reproduction hood insulation pad.
The pad, sourced from REM, was apparently much thicker than the original pad and rubbed on the air cleaner lid, effectively turning into a scrubbing pad as the car oscillated and bounced on its suspension. Friesen was understandably aghast and quickly replaced the decal. He discovered that other enthusiasts encountered similar problems with their replacement pads from REM.
“It’s unacceptable, whether you’re restoring to the level of this car or simply to a ‘driver’ condition,” he says. “A more accurate part is needed.”
Belfour and Friesen compromised with the pad in order to complete the judging process, but have since removed the pad and don’t plan to replace it until a suitable replacement is sourced.
As for the judging process itself, Belfour’s car was the first in line at the Mopar Nats for that weekend’s Saturday judging and was quickly raised on the lift so that the judges could pour over every detail. That was at 9 a.m., and the judges didn’t finish until shortly before noon – nearly three hours later!
As we mentioned, the restoration took a hit for the too-bright trim rings on the wheels, as well as a bit of missed black paint behind the rear bumper, but that was about it. The restoration was good enough for the gold certificate, much to the relief and pride of Belfour and his resto staff. It was the shop’s first attempt at a gold rating, too.
Of course, with success comes criticism, and Friesen says the ’Cuda didn’t escape the scorn of spectators who questioned some of the car’s details – particularly the less-than-glass-smooth paint finish.
“We restored the car to original condition, not an over-restoration,” says Friesen. “That means there’s some orange peel in the paint. You have to keep in mind that back then, these were single-shot paint jobs, unlike today’s modern base-coat/clear-coat paint jobs.”
Notably, the judging showed no demerits for the paint finish.
Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Mopar maniac or simply a casual muscle car fan, there’s no mistaking the place the 1971 ’Cuda holds in both esteem and market valuation. With its wide stance and long, low lines, it’s easily among the best looking cars to emerge from Detroit in the muscle car era, regardless of what was under the hood. The 1971 model also marked the last year for Barracuda convertibles.
The intangible allure of the 1971 ’Cuda is not lost on Ed Belfour, who’s owned numerous examples over the years. This super-rare, 440+6 convertible, however, represents the culmination of his dream of owning one that is as near to factory-original as possible. The gold certification from the Mopar Nationals says he achieved that goal, but when viewed in person, you realize it is more than the sum of the untold man-hours that went into its restoration. It is a time machine that instantly transports you back to the pinnacle of the muscle car era, when powerful engines were as plentiful on the dealer order sheet as exterior colors.
Indeed, they don’t build them like they used to – and we’re not just talking about the manufacturing process. They don’t dream them up like they used to, either. The Bright Blue Metallic convertible proves that big power was available in almost any configuration a customer could dream up, even if that dream was shared by only five enthusiasts.
Decoding the ’Cuda’s Fender Tag
The fender tag is one of the essential identifiers of Mopar muscle cars. Its alphanumeric codes detail the vehicle’s original equipment and options. There are several printed and Internet sources that help decode the tags; we used the online decoder at www.stockmopar.com.
Contrary to the way you’d expect to read the tag, the information starts at the lower left corner, not the upper left. So, decoding begins with the “E87” code on the tag in the accompanying photo. It’s the fender tag on Ed Belfour’s 1971 ’Cuda and here’s what it all means:
N41 N42 N85 P37 R11
J25 J45 J54 M25 M31 M88
V3X U A33 A62 C55 G15
GB5 SRX9 000 C18 047213
E87 D21 BS27 V1B 255342
E87 – Engine: 440 six-barrel high-performance engine
D21 – Transmission: heavy-duty four-speed transmission
BS27 – Partial VIN info, indicating: (B) Barracuda; (S) Special; and (27) convertible
V1B – Partial VIN info, indicating: (V) 440 six-barrel engine; (1) 1971 model year and (B) Hamtramck, Michigan assembly plant
255342 – Partial VIN info, indicating build sequence number
GB5 – Paint code: Bright Blue Metallic
SRX9 – Interior trim, including (S) Sport; (R) Leather/vinyl bucket seats; and (X9) black color
000 – Upper door frame: full door panel
C18 – Assembly date: December 18, 1970
047213 – Vehicle order number
V3X – Roof type or color: Black convertible top
U – Built for United States order
A33 – Axle: Dana 60 Track Barrelage with 3.54 gears
A62 – Rallye instrument cluster
C55 – Bucket seats
G15 – Tinted windshield
J25 – Three-speed variable wipers
J45 – Hood pins
J54 – Sport hood
M25 – Wide sill molding
M31 – Belt and hood molding
M88 – Quarter panel tape treatment
N41 – Dual exhaust without tips
N42 – Chrome dual exhaust tips
N85 – Tachometer
P37 – Power-operated convertible top
R11 – Music Master AM radio
26 – 26-inch radiator
EN2 – End of codes/assembly line 2