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Lifelong Mopar Fanatic Scores a Plymouth Barracuda He Picked Out When He Was Ten Years Old

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 2/8/2019 Scotty Lachenauer
a red car parked in a parking lot: 001-Cuda-Mercurio-top-threequarter.jpg

Jim Mercurio grew up on a healthy diet of all things Mopar, which was fed to him on a daily basis by his immediate family. His good 'ol dad was a lover of all things Chrysler and proudly toured through town with his Hemi-powered '57 DeSoto. Jim's older brother, Art, was more in tune with the current times; his track-tested 340-powered Duster was his main steed and he commanded it with an iron fist, using it to passionately patrol the local streets.

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Jim spent his hot rodinfused childhood mimicking his family and his idols. His time was spent building model hot rods, playing with his bevvy of mini cast cars, and modifying his bicycle into a wild garage-based custom. But mostly, he enjoyed hanging out with his older brother, who at 10 years his senior was already on the road and infused into the world of choice muscle cars.

It was in Art's mighty Duster that Jim would often ride shotgun. Jaunts were made to the track, the local parts stores, and to Jefferies Garden State Motors — a Chrysler dealership just a short ride from their home in Collingswood, New Jersey. There, Art would source the performance parts he needed to help keep the A-Body performing above and beyond the Brand X cars out on the streets.

'Cudascovery On a hot summer day in 1970 Jim jumped in the Duster with Art and took a ride over to Jefferies to pick up an order of speed parts for the A-Body. Once there, Jim split up with his big brother and went along his own way, looking for action only a 10-year old could find. He quickly found the showroom, which was stuffed full of the 1970s' hottest Plymouth rides. "I remember it like it was yesterday; there was a Road Runner, a Duster, and this stunning 340 motivated Rallye Red 'Cuda ragtop," says Jim.

Jim was in heaven to say the least. Instinctively, he headed right for the drop-top ride. Not seeing a problem, he opened up the big E-Body driver door, snuck in, and made himself cozy in the bucket seat. "I then reached over and started playing with the shifter, pretending to put it through the gears," admits Jim. It didn't last long before his brother found him and extracted the youngster pronto. "I'm gonna own a car like this one day," Jim told his brother.

The story would've been over right there, but something that can only be described as a case of Mopar magic happened two weeks later. On his way home from school, Jim passed a neighbor's house, just three blocks away, a house that he delivered papers to. In the driveway was not just any new 'Cuda, but the 'Cuda convertible he had just gotten up close and personal with day's prior. "I couldn't believe it; I really didn't think I'd see that car again," he said.

It was certainly a shock to see the car out on the street just steps away from his home. So now Jim had the pleasure of seeing his favorite car on a daily basis. Whether it was on his typical school commute or his local paper route, the car was always visible to him. "It was this man's daily driver for three years and was driven often," Jim states.

After a few years of ownership, the 'Cuda got driven less and less, spending more time out in the driveway. Then finally, about five years into its life, the drop-top was parked on the side of the house for the foreseeable future. It was in that spot where the car would sit dormant as the owner found himself another new ride to do his daily chores with.

Jim kept an eye on the car for the next year, checking on any movement. Then, one day he spotted the owner outside putting a battery in the car. Having a "business" relationship with him as the kid who supplied his daily paper, Jim figured he'd strike up a conversation. Jim asked what he was doing. The man replied, "I'm getting it started so I can put it in the want ads." With that, Jim immediately stepped up without a second for thought and said, "Oh no, you're not I'm going to buy it from you!"

The man was taken aback, but listened to the now 16-year-old Jim make his pitch for ownership. "How much you want?" Jim asked. "300 bucks," the man replied. Jim raced home and grabbed his dad and told him about the car. Pop was all in on the purchase, and even talked the owner down to $290 for his son. So with that, Jim emptied his bank account, grabbed the title, and drove his new prize home the three blocks back to the house.

a red car parked in a parking lot: 012-Cuda-Mercurio-front.jpg© Hot Rod Network Staff 012-Cuda-Mercurio-front.jpg

'Cuda Gras What Jim bought was an interesting ride to say the least. The 'Cuda was built with a 340 and rowed by a three-speed transmission. No power anything, but it did come with a Rallye dash, 15-inch Rallye wheels, and 11-inch drum brakes at the corners. It ran poorly at the time, so Jim made a plan. To get it street ready quickly, Jim decided to infuse it with big-block power. He pulled the smoking 340, and added the drivetrain from a local '68 Road Runner to the mix. Still not legal to drive, the young gun would have to wait it out till New Jersey gave him the authority to hit the streets once he turned 17 a few months later.

After passing his driver's test in the beefy, all-manual-drive big-block drop-top, life changed dramatically for Jim. Now unleashed and road-ready, Jim did what his brother had done 10 years before, and took his new car to the street and the track. Atco Raceway was close by, and the four-speed drop-top found its way down the quarter-mile. The powered-up street car did well, posting consistent 11-second runs on the well-known South Jersey strip.

But there was more. Living so close to the "City of Brotherly Love," Jim and his 'Cuda also made their way to world-famous Front Street, where the Philadelphia locals took their muscle rides to street race without a fear of getting caught. It was the '70s and street machines were living life around every corner, just waiting for a chance to pounce on unsuspecting victims.

This ride was Jim's daily driver for the better part of five years, including his last two years of high school. Soon Jim decided to mix it up and bought new rides to commute to work with. Luckily, Jim did what he loved, working for Chrysler at a local dealership. He set the 'Cuda aside for the time being, but it never went far from his thoughts.

Being a skilled engine builder, he was often asked to build powerplants for local cars. After working on a 340 for a local client and test-driving the man's Dart, he knew he had to get the car back on the road. Luckily, he had the knowledge and skills to do that.

So after seven years of storage, Jim got to work on the 'Cuda, bringing back its 340 power. He installed things he'd have wanted on his car if he bought it new, like an original shaker hood, an OEM rear wing, six-barrel induction, and elastomeric bumpers. Disc brakes from a '73 'Cuda were added up front, an AAR rear sway bar out back, and 3.91 gears in the rear. He rebuilt the body with all NOS sheetmetal he scored at places like Carlisle, and then had Misha Auto Body in Mount Holly, New Jersey, baste his ride in Chrsyler's brand-new Viper Red paint.

There the E-Body would go on to win awards and accolades at Chryslers at Carlisle and even scored a feature showing on Daddy Don Garlits TV show, Inside Drag Racing, filmed at Raceway Park in Englishtown. Jim loved ripping up the local streets with the healthy small-block power, and enjoyed the nimbleness of his reborn small-block 'Cuda. The car was even part of his nuptials just after it was finished.

a red car parked on the side of a road: 021-Cuda-Mercurio-top-rear.jpg© Hot Rod Network Staff 021-Cuda-Mercurio-top-rear.jpg

'Cudaphant Jim would continue to drive it that way till 2013 when he decided he really did need more power under that shaker. He had always admired the FE5 Rallye Red Hemi convertible press car, one of the only 14 Hemi-powered drop-tops produced by Chrysler in 1970, and knew the 'Cuda needed a power surge that only an Elephant motor could muster up. He did his research and decided that Jim Gosselin of Gozzy Mopar would handle the duties of building him an over-the-top Hemi powerplant.

The Hemi started out as a 528 World Products block, and was built up with Mopar Performance aluminum heads, along with an Edelbrock dual-quad intake topped with a pair of Edelbrock 800-cfm carbs. The car has stock cast-iron manifolds and a stock exhaust. It uses an MSD ignition for spark. All this power is rowed by a modified Hemi four-speed transmission, built by Passon Performance. This feeds a Dana rear with an Eton Truetrac posi and 4:10 gears, which twist Strangle axles.

The Cragars that Jim put on in the '70s are now back on the car and shod with 27x10.5x15LT Hoosier Quick Time Pros out back. Up front, 215/75/15 Pro Track Competition tires keep this ride pointed in the right direction. SuperStock springs out back give the ride just enough rake to signal to onlookers that this 'Cuda means business out on the street.

Today, Jim can't be happier with his ride. It's been nearly a 50-year journey with this 'Cuda, from the time he first laid eyes on it to the car being his hopped-up getaway vehicle on any given weekend. It's a bond between machine and man that's solidified through the decades. "Driving this car is never boring and is a time machine back to my youth," he says. "It always brings me back to the first day I sat behind the wheel."

Fast Facts

Jim Mercurio

'70 Hemi 'Cuda convertible

ENGINE TYPE: 528 Gen 2 hemi

BORE x STROKE: 4.50 x 4.150

BLOCK: World Products 528

ROTATING ASSEMBLY: Forged steel crank, Eagle H-beam rods

CYLINDER HEADS: Mopar Performance aluminum heads

COMPRESSION: 10.7:1

CAMSHAFT: Comp Cams hydraulic roller

VALVETRAIN: roller rockers

INDUCTION: Edelbrock tunnel-port dual-quad intake, two Edelbrock 800 cfm carburetors

OILING SYSTEM: stock

EXHAUST: stock manifolds with TTi stainless exhaust

IGNITION: stock distributor with MSD 7AL ignition box

COOLING: stock radiator

FUEL: Holley high-pressure mechanical pump

OUTPUT: 696 hp

ENGINE BUILT BY: Gosselin Automotive (Stockbridge, MA)

DRIVETRAIN

TRANSMISSION: Passon Performance Hemi box four-speed with Centerforce dual-disc clutch

SHIFTER: Hurst Comp Plus

STEERING: stock manual

FRONT BRAKES: stock disc

REAR BRAKES: stock 11-inch drum

REAR: Dana 60 with Eaton Trutrac 4.30 gears

INTERIOR

SEATS: stock vinyl buckets

INSTRUMENTS: Rallye gauges

WIRING: stock

WHEELS: 15x6 (front) and 15x8 (rear) Cragar

TIRES: 215/75/15 Pro Track Competition (front) and 27x10.5x15LT Hoosier Quick Time Pros (rear)

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