From Beauty Queen To Plain Jane – Mike Wismer’s 1970 440 ‘Cuda

Mopar E-bodies came in many iterations over their five model-year lifespans. From secretary specials to fire-breathing HEMIs, there was a myriad of flavors to choose from. Over the years, folks have created hundreds of tribute cars out of low-option models, even mining less desirable 1972-1974 E-bodies, as a base to build the Mopar pony car of their dreams.

It is the automotive equivalent of an old-age thematic device used in romantic movies for years. You know the drill. Boy meets girl, girl is a plain jane, girl gets a makeover and a pushup bra, and boy takes the former class frump to the big dance and she’s crowned prom queen. So prevalent is this formula in the E-Body world, for every real 383 “Billboard” ‘Cuda, there are probably two tribute cars.

This is almost an exact copy of how Mike’s Barracuda left the factory. The idea behind the Gran Coupe model was it would offer a higher level of luxury for someone wanting a “personal car,” like a Monte Carlo or Grand Prix, only smaller. Mercury was also having good luck with their XR7 trim level on the Cougar so Plymouth responded in kind.

When Mike Wismer built his 1970 Barracuda, he flipped the script of the aforementioned movie formula. He took a relatively high option, “luxury” Gran Coupe Barracuda, and transformed it into a plain jane ‘Cuda with stunning, minimalistic results. Just as a high-maintenance gal’s glossy veneer can wear thin, a wholesome natural beauty with no makeup can sometimes be exponentially sexier.

Our story begins in 2008 when Mr. Wismer, an air compressor mechanic from Minneapolis, Minnesota, got wind of a basket case Barracuda in a neighboring town. He once owned a 1971 Barracuda, and although it was reclaimed by the elements, Mike managed to save the front clip from that old ‘Fish’.  Hopefully, with this new Barracuda, he could marry all of his E-Body assets together into one car.

This wasn’t Mike’s first go-around at the Mopar rodeo. He caught the Pentastar fever when he was twelve years old and since then he’s owned a 1969 Dodge Charger, the aforementioned 1971 ‘Cuda 383 4-speed, and a 1976 Plymouth Fury police car. Mike also tells us “Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry and Bullit got me into Chargers, and Phantasm got me into Barracudas.”

Mike’s 1971 383 Barracuda from back in the day

Mike shared with us the story of finding the car, “I was at a car show in Winona, Minnesota and a friend knew the guy that had the Barracuda. I asked for his phone number and my buddy said, ‘He’s right over there.’ I went over and talked with him. He told me he had lost interest in the project. We bantered back and forth and I ended buying the car that night. I think I’m now the third or fourth owner.”

The car was a rolling shell with a bunch of boxes and loose parts. Mike was thrilled. He brought a trailer to the seller’s house and loaded everything up and took it home. The car started life as a B3 Ice Blue Poly, Gran Coupe with a 318ci, a houndstooth interior, a black vinyl top, and an automatic transmission. When the title was signed over to Mike, it was painted Sublime green. The car was rust-free and had good glass on all four sides.

It was a bit overwhelming at first. Mike explains, “I really didn’t know where to start, so I just took baby steps like sorting out the brakes and suspension.  I also ordered a ton of parts so that gave me the inspiration to keep making progress on the car. Also, believe it or not, I watched many episodes of Graveyard Carz and learned a ton from Mark Worman. I scoured every Mopar source I could find to do research on my mods as well.” Mike was helped by his son-in-law with the engine but he did 99% of the work by himself.

By 2013 the car was back on the road as the Alpine White, 440ci, six-barrel ‘Cuda barnstormer you see here.  Magnificent in its simplistic splendor, the car needs nothing to shine. No scoops, flames, or hoo-haw. The white paint, steelies, and dog dish hubcaps distill the beauty of Plymouth’s styling showstopper to its purest form.

 

This was a labor of love for Mike and all his mods are appropriate and thoughtful. The car is now motivated by a 1968 440ci V8 with three, Holley two-barrels. Mike points out, “Dodge used the trademark ‘Six Pack.’ while all Plymouths were ‘Six Barrels’. There is a 350 CFM in the center, with two 500 CFM outboard units. I lowered the compression ratio from 10.5:1 to 10:1 so it would run better on pump gas.” The big Mopar mill is making 406hp at the crank and 517 lb-ft torque and is backed up by an A833 four-speed transmission running the power back to a Dana 60 rear end.

Although the car was factory equipped with a base suspension, Mike had other plans.  He explains, “There was a performance option called the Track Pack A33 offered in 1970. It came from the factory with a four-speed manual transmission, Hurst linkage (D21,) 3:54 axle ratio. 9 3/4 ring gear, sure grip differential, a seven-blade torque drive fan, dual breaker distributor, a 26 hi-po radiator with a fan shroud, and a power steering cooler. I aggregated a combination of OEM, junkyard, and repro parts to authentically recreate the A33 Track Pack for this car.”  There was an even higher performance option in 1970 as well, the Track Pack A34. Both the A33 and A34 Track Packs were available only on 440ci and 426ci cars with four-speed manuals.

For rolling stock, the car now sports 15×7 body-painted steel wheels and dog dish caps wrapped in Goodyear 225/70 15’s all the way around. For stopping power, the car has discs up front and drums in the rear. It was originally an all drum car.

Inside, the guts are all black now. The car originally came with a black houndstooth interior and a blue dash and carpet. When Mike got the car, the seats were all black and a matching dash skin had been installed. Mike returned the car back to the original black and white houndstooth upholstery with seat covers from Legendary and painted the lower dash black.

Mike tells us the biggest thrill of the build is when he started it for the first time. After five years of hard work, Mike is now just enjoying the car. He told us, “I love showing and driving the ‘Cuda.” Street Muscle spotted the car at the 2021 O’Reilly St Paul Street Machine Nationals and we fell in love with this old E-body.

The transformation is complete. This old Barracuda has shed its high society, personal luxury car trappings, and returned to its plain ol’ high-performance roots. This reverse tribute car from Mike Wismer is smashing success and a one-of-one ‘Cuda.

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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