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After 12 years, Creston body shop restores 1970 Barracuda

More than a decade after Tom Clemens began to restore his ex-brother-in-law’s 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, the project is finished...
Tom Clemens with the 1970 Barracuda he restored between 1999 and 2012.

More than a decade after Tom Clemens began to restore his ex-brother-in-law Jeff Filutze’s 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, the project is finished and the car has been shipped back to it’s owner in New York.

When Clemens began the restoration in 1999, he never imagined that it would take more than 1,000 hours stretched over 12 years to get the end result of a vehicle that will likely be valued between $100,000 and $130,000.

But rather than a few new parts and a fresh coat of paint, the restoration required the ’Cuda 440-6 — the sport model, as compared to the base model or luxury Gran Coupe — to be torn down to its frame.

“In the era when these cars were new, they were made to race,” said Clemens, who owns Red Dragon Collision on Northwest Boulevard. “Many owners abused these cars. They had a lot of horsepower and were pushed to their limits. With that said, they also needed to be daily drivers so they were driven in the winter environment with a high salt concentration on the roads. Therefore, rust and daily abuse took its toll.

“There were not many of these cars that really survived. So when one does make it to our era, it’s an expensive but worthy endeavour.”

The interior was also in rough shape. Mice had chewed into and nested in the ceiling above the visors; their urine stained the ceiling and ran down the windshield frame into other parts of the car.

With so few of these cars existing, parts are hard to find, particularly when trying to do a serious restoration — authentic numbers are stamped on parts, including hoses.

“If you don’t have the right numbers, it’s not a complete restoration,” said Clemens.

So he turned to the Internet, where he scoured car part websites and discussion groups to find what he was looking for. Some discoveries took years and others were made by sheer luck — while chatting with someone about a fender, Clemens learned there was one in Atlanta; it had been in an accident, but was fixable.

“Every piece has a story,” Clemens said.

A rear quarter panel was one of the hardest parts to find — for a reasonable price, anyway. When Clemens first found one, the dealer wanted $300. The price jumped to $600 the next time he inquired, then soared to $1,200, and finally $1,500 before a reproduction became available for $600.

The Internet also made it possible for others to follow the restoration’s progress, with Barracuda enthusiasts keeping a close eye on Clemens’ Facebook page. Among those are some of the car’s previous owners, all five of whom live in the same area.

“They’re all waiting for the car to come back — it has quite the following,” said Clemens, who also has a 1970 Barracuda, which is more of a trans am version that had only one production run.

And Filutze’s ’Cuda is more than just a fully restored car — it also has an engine built by legendary drag racer Herb McCandless, which, along with the transmission and rear end, was the only portion Clemens didn’t work on.

“It’s been a large undertaking and it ended up way longer than I ever imagined,” he said. “I’ve had customers over the years come in and say, ‘I never thought it would come together.’ ”

With the ’Cuda back in New York, Clemens now has one of his shop’s bays open for the first time in 12 years. And the sign with the words, “Do not touch this car,” has been taken down for the first time in 10.

He looks forward to seeing the car again one day, but not when it is so fresh in his mind — he’s his own worst critic, so what looks like a perfect coat of paint to an amateur doesn’t appear that way to him.

“I’d like to not see it for a while,” he said. “Then I can go up to it and not see that spot and that spot and that spot.”