The 1971 Plymouth Viper Custom Cuda is one-of-a-kind thanks to Time Machines. Here are the details:
Engine swaps have been around from the earliest days of motoring. More sophisticated hot rodders pioneered chassis swaps to get more performance and less weight. But rare is the car that can so seamlessly blend two completely different vehicles as seamlessly as this 1971 Plymouth Barracuda convertible. You see, that body is just an illusion, because underneath it’s a 2001 Dodge Viper, complete with a thundering 450 horsepower V10, 6-speed manual transmission, and fully independent suspension. What’s truly exceptional, however, is how beautifully built the entire car is, and the engineering required is truly mind-boggling. Why, just for starters, note that it’s now a two-seater, just like the Viper, although the proportions of the ‘Cuda body remain unchanged. How cool is that? Read more to find out and check out the large gallery!
Starting out with a clean, complete 318-powered ’71 ‘Cuda convertible, Time Machines in Hudson, Florida was contracted to mate the two different vehicles, having experience in such things after building the award-winning “Six Shooter.” The body was gutted and stripped, with the floors removed but saving the front subframe, rockers, and radiator cradle. After the conversion (which we’ll talk more about in a few moments), the entire body was refinished to show condition using 100% original ‘Cuda sheetmetal and no fiberglass. Bright Viper Red paint was appropriately selected to cover the radical new E-body, and the two-stage urethane looks about a mile deep, even out in the bright sun. If you’re going to build a car like this, there’s no point in keeping it subtle. Notice the trick details like the custom-made billboards which feature a Viper logo in place of the usual engine size designation. And the forward-tilting hood is both a tribute to the original Viper setup and an extremely trick way to attract a TON of attention at any car show. Open this sucker up and you’ll be able to sell admission tickets.
All the original chrome and trim remain, including the freshly plated bumpers, as well as items like the door handles and side gills. Bright stainless was polished up and reinstalled around the windshield, and the stock hood was upgraded with a set of “Viper Powered” badges from an SRT-10 pickup. The original grille has been repainted in the stock argent silver, and the blacked-out tail panel looks factory fresh, and is perhaps the only stealth part of the entire build—there’s not even a stock ‘Cuda badge back there. The overall look is incredibly stock, yet extremely impressive.
Now, about that chassis swap.
The foundation of this car is a 23,000-mile 2001 Viper, which was purchased from X2 Collision, who specializes in wrecked Vipers. They delivered this fully intact chassis sans bodywork, to Time Machines for the conversion. For the most part, the conversion was straightforward, but the tricky part was getting the A-pillars lined up, which is why Time Machines fabricates a special all-steel dashboard to make that transition, and special brackets to mount the stock ‘Cuda sheetmetal fenders. But otherwise the Viper mechanicals made the translation 100% intact. The drivetrain is completely stock—with 450 horsepower on tap, do you really need upgrades? That also ensures that it idles, drives, and behaves like a stocker, which means easy driving with no worries. Look closely and you’ll see just how OEM the conversion really is—note factory hose clamps, air filter assembly, and even cables actuating the dual throttle bodies. Custom sheetmetal panels were fabricated to frame the V10 in the ‘Cuda’s engine bay, and it’s obvious that there was a ton of fabrication involved, seeing how the engine is snuggled up under the windshield for improved weight distribution. It fires up like a stock Viper, idles perfectly, and is happy to drive in rush hour traffic without getting cranky or overheating, all signs of an OEM, not a homemade project. One of this car’s coolest tricks is the electrically-operated hood, which uses a massive actuator to effortlessly open and tilt the assembly forward, an extra step that few other customizers would have pursued.
The chassis is also from the Viper, and features a bulletproof Tremec 6-speed manual transmission and a heavy-duty 3.07 rear end that can handle massive holeshots and not break a sweat. The Viper already uses a fabricated tube frame, so grafting it to the ‘Cuda’s unibody was relatively easy. Custom floors were created to fit the body tightly over the frame, and the suspension was fortified with a set of Aldan coilover shocks, but otherwise it would look familiar to any Chrysler tech at the dealership. The exhaust is handled by a custom dual setup that uses glasspacks and resonators that dump out just under the rear bumper, and bystanders will undoubtedly do a double-take when they hear 10 cylinders fire up. More than two years were invested in getting the chassis setup exactly correct, and today it drives like a stocker with no questionable handling, no bone-rattling ride, just a smooth, fully engineered piece that can cruise like a factory-built car. It even rides on stock Viper SRT 6-lug wheels, 18 inches in the front and 19 inches in the rear, that wear 275/35/18 front and 335/30/19 rear Michelin Pilots.
As you can imagine, the interior was a big challenge, but the transformation from 5-passenger to 2-seater is seamless. Time Machines fabricated a custom all-steel dashboard that not only houses the original Viper gauges, but provides the right setback for the engine and allows the interior proportions to be adjusted to fit those two Viper bucket seats. The transition between the dash and door panels is especially well done, blending Viper and ‘Cuda shapes until you can’t even see where one ends and the other begins. The dash is very driver-oriented and recalls the Viper with its simple leather-wrapped surfaces and white-faced gauges, and the mileage shown is on the original Viper drivetrain. The power window and lock switches were relocated to the console, and the Viper’s stubby shifter protrudes just enough to make the shifts. And there’s just nothing like the power of an OEM climate control system, which delivers effective heat and A/C that no vintage or retrofit system could ever match. A new Pioneer AM/FM/CD stereo has been fitted to the dash, with speakers in the rear area that has been completely resculpted to eliminate the back seat, yet still provide a sleek top-down profile. A stock black convertible top operates as it should, and all four windows seal up tightly. The trunk has been upholstered to match, and houses electronics for the stereo system.
This is a well-known car, having appeared in several magazines including the February 2011 issue of “Mopar Action.”
This is an extremely impressive car that has been professionally engineered and built to the highest standards. It will run the tires off a stock Hemi ‘Cuda, and handles like a Viper, which is no mean feat. With OEM-grade mechanicals that will last virtually forever and the ability to be serviced at any Chrysler dealership in the world, it’s a no-compromises car that encompasses the best of both worlds. Expensive? Maybe. But it’s still a fraction of the construction cost. Go price a ‘Cuda convertible and a Viper, then get back to us. Pro-touring has never been this accessible, and if you’re the kind of guy who wants something nobody else has, this is your E-ticket ride. Call today!
Photos by RK Motors Charlotte: