What's Under The Hood

Enjoy a ride in some of your favorite muscle
cars.  It's the next best thing to being there, or
having been there.  Expect to be entertained,
maybe even enlightened by the time you
figuratively turn off our key.

Subjects like muscle car values, trends, people,  
the industry in general, even muscle car history
are fair game.  We'll be talking about all post WWII
muscle cars, not just those produced during the
classic era.

Street Hemi vs. Big Block Vette

I was cruising the campus of Kent State University in the spring of 1967 with my ’62 Dart.  It was a 361 big block with a
dual quad induction pirated from the 343 horse 383.  I thought it was pretty hot stuff.  As I sat at a stop sign watching the
coeds walk by I heard the sound of an engine rev that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up.  A quick
check of my rearview mirror produced the image of a dark blue Plymouth Belvedere.  It was a 2-door post car with a
chrome tach on the dash and I just knew it had to be a Street Hemi.  

Before advancing through the intersection, I hopped out of my car and ran back to the driver’s side window of the
Plymouth. He smiled and confirmed the Hemi factor then asked me if I wanted a ride.  I instantly parked my Dart and
jumped into the passenger seat of the plain blue sedan.  It was a 4-speed car with few if any options besides the
$904.60 Hemi package. Big cubes, a low restriction exhaust and solid lifters gave the Street Hemi the sound of a 600
pound, nuclear powered Swiss watch.

After a few first and second gear punches on the roads of the inner campus, we headed out to the public streets.  I
remember thinking the Street Hemi felt stronger in second gear than my Dodge felt in first. At the next stoplight we paired
up with a new big block Vette.  It was like a Hollywood script.  There was no other car on earth I wanted to see us race
more than that one. And suddenly there it sat, just waiting for this profound instant in muscle car history.  

There were two guys in the silver fastback Vette and we knew it was a 4-speed.  The Hemi and I were staged on the curb
side and the Vette was in the inside lane.  Students on the sidewalk started scrambling to the curb as if they all knew
something special was about to happen.

As the light turned green both cars instantly filled the vicinity with tire smoke, the sound of screeching rubber, and the
music of thunder.  Students, yelling their approval, looked like silent action figures out the window of the Plymouth as the
big Hemi raised its voice in anger  drowning out all other sounds.  

Both cars nailed second about the same time but the Hemi’s torque and 4.10 gear started displaying its wrath.  We had
an open car length over the Vette when we both leaned on the brakes for the next light that had just turned red.  

The Vette ducked down a side street back into the campus apparently not looking for a  rematch.   The Hemi guy looked
at me, smiled and said, "See what I put up with every day?"

Now back to the present day.  Bob Winnitoy was kind enough to let me use photos of his personal '66 dark blue
Belvedere I Street Hemi for this story.  Now get this, since the universe of 1966 dark blue 2-door post Hemi Belvederes is
so small, Bob thinks he knows where the actual car I rode in is located.  Proving once and for all that not all good
memories fade away.

Predictions On Muscle Car Pricing

Look for prices to go up on such cars as the 1967 Dodge R/T and
its sister ship the Plymouth GTX.  These 440 cars are still faster
than most, offer very clean and stylish lines and really personify
the “classic” muscle car era.  Naturally any non-Hemi Mopar is
going to be far more affordable than an actual  Hemi.  But in the
case of the RT and GTX, a well tuned version would run with most
Hemis then, and will still do so now.  So, like in ’67 for a lot less
money you can have 95% of the thrill the Hemi owners get.  The
disparity in pricing between a Hemi and a 440 will eventually lessen.  
I still see nice versions of these cars in the $25K range.  They won’t
always be so cheap.  But, they will always be that fast.

Other Mopars that seem overlooked by the serious investor, are the big block A-body cars, especially the Barracuda
fastback - perhaps the best looking of all the A-bodies.  I actually owned a ’67 383 Barracuda that I bought from its owner
at stoplight on Detroit’s Telegraph Road in 1969.  Even though the ’67 was the lowest horsepower 383 4-barrel rated at
only 280hp, 1968 saw the number climb to 300, and in '69 it swelled to 330hp.  In '68, the scuttlebutt was the 383 was
likely rated only 300 so as not to steal too much thunder from the brand new 340.  As you know, both Dart and Barracuda
offered the 440 in 1969 and the small production numbers of these cars give them greater price potential still, although
they weren't necessarily nicer drivers than the 383 version. I support this prospect with the fact Sox & Martin's '68 Hemi
Barracuda was one of the most winning Super Stockers of its time, and therefore vastly influential in developing
Chrysler's street rep.  It will be even more difficult to gloss over these A-body big blocks as the market becomes
increasingly sophisticated.

On the Ford side, take a good look at ’69 351W Mustangs.  
I see a lot of these cars priced very cheaply. Sooner or later,
the masses will finally realize how cool these cars really are.  
They make great drivers and we all know the modern day
potential of the 351 Windsor.  Besides, a strong case can be
made that this is the best looking Mustang ever.  To a certain
extent, this logic also applies to the ’70 351C.  I like the ’69
front end better than the ’70. The headlights on the '69 are
out-board to the edges of the car's front end where they should
be.  That in-board look of the headlights on the '70 just seems
too contrived.  The look was probably a response by Ford's
designers to the very popular '69 Camaro.  On the other hand,
the 351Cleveland engine that was offered in 1970 makes up for
a lot.  This was certainly the premier mid sized V8 of the day.  
The intake ports on these heads were almost the size of a fist.  
Prices are bound to go up on these machines.

’69 Nova big blocks have great potential as price sleepers.  Here’s another car that offers great performance, and
aggressive looks.  The fact it was just a compact car with a big engine makes it all the more desirable for lots of
enthusiasts.  After all, that’s precisely the look many of us wanted back then.  No fuss, just guts.  With either the 350
horse, or the 375 horse engine in particular, these Novas were the worst nightmare for many conventional muscle car
drivers.  I hate to admit it, but my ’67 383 Barracuda got dusted by one on Telegraph Road in Detroit back in ’69.  Since
I’m confessing, I was alone in the Barracuda and the Nova had four guys in it.  

Buyer Tip
Be careful when you hear the word “rare” in reference to our favorite cars.  We all know what it should mean, and what
impact it could have on a car’s value.  But nowadays, this term is thrown around with reckless abandon.  Lots of cars are
rare but that doesn't necessarily mean anyone wants them.  The reason only one person on earth might have ordered a
green ’68 Corvette with red interior, a bench seat, and a 3-speed column shift is because only one person on earth was
crazed enough to do it.  That doesn't make it desirable, just rare.  You have to ask yourself, “If practically no one wanted
such a car back then, why would anyone want it now?” On the other hand, the best reason to buy a car is because you
love it.     

4-Door Barracuda
As an employee of Chrysler Corporation in 1969-70, I had the opportunity to see many things the "general public" never
did.  Not because I was that  important, but because I worked in the mail room and delivering the mail was that
important. One such sight was a bright red 1970, 4-door Barracuda.  It was parked for only about two days on a kind of  
loading dock attached to the back of Chrysler's World Headquarters building in their Highland Park complex.  This was
around November of 1969.  The dock seemed to be a temporary holding cell for an assortment of interesting cars.  It was
the same building Lynn Townsend, Virgil Boyd and more importantly Tom Hoover worked in. Naturally, Chrysler never
made a 4-door Barracuda but the one I saw looked surprisingly good.  I always assumed it was created around a B-body
chassis because the proportions still looked just right despite the obvious body stretch necessary  to pull it off. Having
seen this car is even more significant now since the Autoweek story about Ford using their new Mustang platform to
build other, less sporty cars - like a 4-door.

100 Olds 442s vs. 100 Cyclone GTs
In 1966, Stackhouse Oldsmobile in Youngstown, Ohio ordered 100 442s
for their dealership.  They were to be delivered all at once. It took bold
marketing moves like this one to launch the muscle car movement as we
know it.  Car  dealers were taking advantage of the momentum in progres-
sive ways.  This dealership had local TV and radio coverage when all 100
cars arrived.  It was  a police escorted caravan of  20 car hauler trucks, each
containing five brand new 442s.  This highly publicize event prompted Wick
Motors, the Lincoln-Mercury dealership across town to do the same thing.  
They too, brought  in 20 truck loads of muscle cars only this time they were
Cyclone GTs.  You know the ones,  they had 335 horse 390s.  They even
brought in one  of  Dyno Don's "Eliminator"  funny cars to set the mood.   
I made myself available for this event by strolling into the dealership that day.  
The place was  an ocean of Cyclones.  Since the crowd of prospects was deep, i was able to con, I mean convince a
salesman to let me drive a 4-speed version and an automatic.  Naturally, I assured him no chaperon was needed.  I was
able to spend a good 30 minutes with each example and  brutalized them equally.   These were very good looking cars to
my eye even though I was not seriously considering buying one.  It can be easily argued the '66 Cyclone, and Ford  
Fairlane 390 GT, we're  Henry's  finest achievements in the intermediate sized muscle car arena especially if
performance and good looks matter.   Sadly, it only really lasted that one year, since the 302 was the standard engine in
these cars by '67.

Hole Shotting Mr. 4- Speed
In the Fall of 1969, Chrysler invited Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin to Detroit for the express purpose of making a
presentation to middle management on the marketing value of  their drag race team.  Everyone was to meet at a big
restaurant out Telegraph Road at 6PM.  There were at least a hundred people in attendance.  By  job description, this
event had absolutely nothing to do with me, or I with it.   It's just that I heard it was coming up and had to be there.   I'm in
my 383 '67 Barracuda fastback and heading north on Telegraph Road towards the restaurant.  Suddenly, a new
Plymouth Sport Fury  eases up next to me with Ronnie driving and Buddy riding shotgun.   There was a traffic light ahead
of us and it just turned red!   I remember thinking the Plymouth was probably a factory loaner car and maybe a 383 at
most.  My Barracuda was at least 500 pounds lighter , plus Buddy was added weight since I was travelling alone.  As we
sat there waiting for the light, I never really looked over at Ronnie to make eye contact.  I figured he'd check out my
Barracuda since it was the same look and shape as his Hemi version - and know I was probably going to make a fool of
myself.   Hey, we had these cars to lean on them. There's also a good possibility he never even noticed me.  

When the light flashed green I was off and running and left the big Plymouth in my wake.  I had to stay on the gas
because  I was on the inside lane and had to merge right - in front of the Sox & Martin Plymouth - to make the entrance for
the restaurant.   Since this move seemed kind of foolish after I did it, I parked my Barracuda way in the back of the lot so
Ronnie and Buddy couldn't see who the idiot was terrorizing them on the street a moment before.  Once I thought I had
established this facade, I regained my composure and actually timed my walk to the front door so I could hold it open
when Ronnie and Buddie got there.  I smiled and welcomed them to Motor City like I was some kind of official greeter.  
They were friendly and engaging, just what you have probably read, heard or experienced before.  Buddy did most of the
actual presenting during the affair, after all he was the team's business manager.  Ronnie also spoke and even
described what the Hemi experience was like from his driver's perspective .  Everyone in the room was upbeat and
agreed on the benefits of this association.   And history has certainly reaffirmed it.   The Sox & Martin effort is one of the
pillars behind the famously popular "Hemi" brand that is so strong even today.  As you probably know, Ronnie passed
away a while back..  So, I wanted to share this personal encounter.

Chattanooga Chug Fest
I met up with Hot Rod magazine's Power Tour on June 6,2013. The cars rolled into the college campus like the waves of
the ocean. No doubt a 1000 American-made classic/contemporary muscle cars, hot rods and customs set up shop in
the warm and welcoming city of Chattanooga.


      Muscle Car Avenue
         is owned and operated
         by Roger C. Johnson
   copyright 2007         

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About the author:
As an active participant in the muscle car street scene during the Sixties and Seventies,  Roger Johnson  has  
driven, ridden in, and street raced virtually every American muscle car when they were still brand new.  He worked
for Chrysler Corporation during the 1969-70 model years at their world headquarters in Highland Park,  Michigan
and has personally applied burning rubber to the surface of Woodward Avenue and Telegraph Road in Detroit
during the heyday.  As advertising manager for Year One in the Eighties, Johnson had a hands-on involvement in
the muscle car restoration industry for over four years.  In the Nineties, he was editor of the Mustang Club of
America's monthly magazine and eventually recruited by CNN's Financial News Network for a six part series on
collectible muscle cars. More recently he was tapped by Barrett-Jackson as the muscle car color commentator at
their first Palm Beach auction.   Johnson has been writing about muscle cars, and the performance industry for
three decades.  His work has been seen in popular consumer magazines and trade journals alike.
Muscle Car Avenue-----
Muscle Car Avenue is dedicated to American
muscle cars and to those who love them.  I
have been obsessed with these machines all
my life and I'm  old enough to have driven them
when they were brand new.  And I did so with
greed and delight.  You might say I was the car
salesman's worst nightmare because I could
make him believe I was a potential buyer even
as a typical poor college kid.  Happily, I had
the keys to the best muscle cars made tossed
my way, along with a smile and a handshake
by both their owners and salesmen alike.  It
was a hobby for me.  Maybe my first vocation.   

Muscle Car Avenue is designed to help me
share these cars, their experiences and the
facts behind them.  So if you missed the
Sixties and early Seventies, or were there, and
simply can't get enough of these cars, get in,
hang on and enjoy.