Contractor Bill Watkins is a sentimental man who loves his wife and his kids. His commitment to his family is so deep that he kept this project car—a fiery and fierce 1969 Plymouth Barracuda fastback—on hold for 20 years.
“With the kids in school, and then traveling all summer for baseball and other activities, I just didn’t have the time!” he said. “I had to leave the car in the garage, partially restored. About once a summer, I’d remove all the garage stuff I had stacked on it, evict the cats that were living in it, and roll it out. I’d look at it for a while, sigh, and then roll it back in.”
Bill had a life-long obsession with Mopars, especially fastback ’Cudas. He grew up reading all about the exploits of local legend “Akron Arlen” Vanke, the team of Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin, the wheel-standing Hurst “Hemi Under Glass,” and the LimeFire Barracuda funny car.
“I always thought the 1967-69 Barracuda was the best-looking muscle car of that era, and I wanted to build a fitting tribute,” he said.
Bill bought this Barracuda in 1971, right around the time he started dating a Camaro-driving young lady named Barb. In spite of the rivalry, they married, and, when the time came for them to raise funds to buy a new car together, Barb allowed Bill to sell her Camaro and keep his ’Cuda. That is true love.
Bill tinkered with the car over the years, hand-fabricating an amazing aluminum cross-ram intake using a circular saw, a plumber’s drill, and a router.
“I got the idea from John Barker, who had built a 383 for me back in the ’70s. His original plans were too sophisticated for me to do, so I simplified them and hacked it together. After a month I taped it all together and took it to a welder, and he finished it,” he said.
Ever-humble, Bill figures, “I didn’t know it would never work, which is probably why it worked!”
In 1982, Bill started to restore his treasured ’Cuda. After three years of rust repairs and other body and suspension work, Bill found himself stumped by the paint. He also started running short on time, so he rolled his patched and primered dream project into the back of the garage. Over the years, he’d enjoy other Mopars, but that ’Cuda had a permanent parking spot in his heart, too.
Finally, in 2005, with the nest empty and the summers full of free time, Bill and Barb hit the Chrysler show circuit.
“Back in the day, it was tough to find performance parts for old Mopars,” Bill says. “But at these shows, I was amazed at how much stuff was out there!” It was a front end kit—an AlterKtion kit from Reilly MotorSports—that inspired Bill to get back to work on the Barracuda.
This time, Bill went in a new direction, pursuing the essence of a Super Stock while maintaining a mostly-stock appearance.
“I figured with all the effort involved, I wanted to end up with something other than a frost green grocery-getter with a 318!” he said.
To that end, Bill dropped in a big Plymouth 440, transplanted from another ’Cuda. Portage Performance bored and stroked it out to 496 c.i.d., and then Bill took it to his friend Rod Kuchenbecker. Rod assembled it like a “Best of the Summit Racing Equipment Catalog” highlight reel, sorted out some electrical issues, and topped it with Bill’s custom-made cross-ram intake.
While Bill handled a lot of the final assembly, he did find a few things beyond his skills, like how his unique engine configuration required a custom set of headers. Fortunately, a friend introduced Bill to Jim Palosi, proprietor of Customs Unlimited of Ohio. Bill gave Jim some vague instructions about the headers, and two weeks later, Jim had them done. Bill thought they were so nice, he had Jim ceramic coat them, too.
Eventually a pattern formed: Bill kept coming back to Jim with wild ideas, and Jim made them happen. That included the subtle rear spoiler (inspired by a 1969 Challenger), fiberglass front fenders, roll cage, and the hood scoop modified to clear the special intake and carbs.
“The trickiest part was probably the mini-tubs,” Jim said. “We had all the usual challenges, like relocating the trunk hinges, but Bill also wanted the bench seat to look stock.”
Once the paint was dry and the last bolts were cinched down, Bill and Jim loaded the “Agent Orange” Barracuda onto the trailer and cruised over to the 2009 Canton Hot Rod Show (Canton, OH), where it won Best Paint and a Diamond Award.
“We took the judging sheet home and started working on the little details they pointed out,” Bill said.
The extra work paid off, as the car took home a wealth of trophies at local shows, eventually earning 1st Place: Mild Custom Hardtop at the 2010 Cleveland Autorama and Grand Champion at the 2010 Canton Hot Rod Show. Even better, he got to park next to an official Sox & Martin replica Barracuda at a show in Columbus, OH.
When we asked Bill what is was like being a Barracuda celebrity, he was literally speechless. When he finally found his words again, he said, “It’s been so amazing, talking to all the fans, making new friends. It’s like a dream come true.”
As cool as this ’Cuda is, Bill says the car is still only about 95-percent done. His finishing touches will include some billet aluminum pop-up hood pins, polishing the intake, and sharpening up the old-school throttle linkage.
“I also have a few changes I’d like to make on the back seat,” he says, glancing sheepishly at Jim.
Jim just rolls his eyes a little, as if to say: “Here we go again.”
Frame: Stock unibody with front and rear subframes and Mopar Performance subframe connectors, rear springs moved inboard to frame rails, Reilly MotorSports AlterKtion tubular K-member, Lakewood driveshaft loop
Rear End: Strange Engineering S60 Dana axles (narrowed five inches), Strange Engineering 3.54:1 ratio ring-and-pinion set
Front Suspension: Reilly MotorSports AlterKtion independent coil-overs and tubular control arms, AFCO shocks and coil-overs, QA1 Racing Springs
Rear Suspension: Chrysler Super Stock biased semi-elliptical springs, QA1 adjustable aluminum shocks, Mancini Racing adjustable pinion snubber
Steering: Flaming River Mustang II rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Wilwood Dynalite disc brakes front and rear
Wheels and Tires: Billet Specialties Street Lite wheels (15-inch x 4-inch front, 15-inch x 10-inch rear), with BFGoodrich T/A Radial (P155/80R15) front tires and G-Force T/A Drag Radial (P325/50R15) rear tires
Engine and Transmission
Engine: Plymouth 440 V8, blueprinted, de-burred, bored, and stroked to 496 c.i.d.
Engine Machine Work By: Portage Performance
Reciprocating Assembly: Eagle 4.150-inch stroker crankshaft, Eagle 6.768-inch “H” Beam connecting rods, Ross forged aluminum dished 9.5 CR pistons with Perfect Circle piston rings, Clevite bearings, balanced Cylinder Heads: Indy Cylinder Head 440-SR aluminum heads, bowl ported and gasket matched, 72cc combustion chambers, stainless steel valves (2.20-inch intake/1.81-inch exhaust)
Valvetrain: Lunati Voodoo hydraulic cam (.242 inch/.252 inch @ .050 inch, .533 inch intake/.552 inch exhaust lift), COMP Cams lifters,Crane aluminum roller-tip rockers, Indy Cylinder Head springs and retainers, Indy Cylinder Head cast aluminum head covers with Moroso breathers
Induction: Custom-built aluminum individual runner cross-ram intake, two 625 cfm carburetors, two Billet Specialties 6 3/8-inch aluminum air cleaners with K&N air filters
Ignition and Electrical: MSD Pro Billet electronic distributor, Mopar Performance 6AL CD Ignition Box and voltage regulator, Mopar Performance Blaster coil, MSD 8.5mm plug wires, MSD APC Mini Starter, and Powermaster 75 amp alternator
Exhaust: Custom-fabricated ceramic-coated two-inch headers into 3 ½-inch collectors, 2 ½-inch ceramic-coated exhaust pipes with X-pipe, 2 ½-inch Dynomax mufflers
Other Items: Holley 110 gph Blue Pump and regulator, Aeroquip inline fuel filter, Mopar Performance high-volume aluminum water pump, chromed stock pulleys, Milodon dual-pickup oil pump, Canton Racing Products remote oil filter adapter, Earl’s AN fittings, Summit braided stainless steel hose
Transmission: Plymouth 727 3-speed automatic with Turbo-Action full manual forward pattern valve body, B&M 10-inch torque converter (3,500 rpm stall)
Shifter: TCI Outlaw with line lock
Transmission Built By: Rod Kuchenbecker
Body: 1969 Plymouth Barracuda Fastback
Custom Features: Rear wheelwells mini-tubbed 2 ½-inch, fiberglass front fenders, hood and Super Stock hood scoop modified to clear intake and carbs, custom rear spoiler fabricated in steel and molded to decklid
Body Work By: Bill Watkins and Customs Unlimited
Paint: 2001 Chrysler Prowler Orange Metallic
Paint By: Jim Palosi of Customs Unlimited
Front Seats: Stock front buckets and rear bench with reproduction black vinyl
Upholstery By: JW’s Upholstery
Dash: Aluminum dash insert
Gauges: Auto Meter five-inch Pro-Comp tachometer and speedometer, 2 5/8-inch Sport-Comp instruments
Other Items: Competition Engineering six-point roll cage, Pioneer head unit, 5-inch x 7-inch speakers in kick panels
2010 Cleveland Autorama 1st Place Mild Custom Hardtop
2010 Cleveland Autorama Outstanding Custom Engine
2010 Canton Hot Rod Show Grand Champion
2009 Atwood Lake Best of Show
2009 Verhage of Holland Best of Show
2009 Mopars at Summit Best Of Show
2009 Canton Hot Rod Show Best Paint
2009 Canton Hot Rod Show Diamond Award
My wife Barb, who let me sell her Camaro so that I could keep the Barracuda 35 years ago, and for converting into a true Mopar lover.
Jim Palosi for bringing all of my vague ideas to life, and all of the guys at Customs Unlimited.
Rod Kuchenbecker who sorted out all of my electrical issues and worked his magic on the engine and transmission.
Photography By: Studio Martone
Art Direction By: Lance Nemes