Car of the Week: 1973 Plymouth ‘Cuda

Story & Photos By Al Rogers

Among the thousands of cars at a recent Iola Car Show in Iola, Wis., a bright red ’73 Plymouth Barracuda caught my eye. As I approached the Barracuda,  the “340” emblem on the hood scoop came into focus and I realized this was the performance ’Cuda edition. Then, as I studied the car, it hit me. This ’Cuda had original paint. A peek through the driver’s side window rocked me back on my heels. The pristine black vinyl interior and Pistol Grip shifter on the four-speed had me wondering if it also had the original interior. As I walked around the car, I was amazed at the condition of the full black vinyl top and the black stripes on the fenders, doors and quarter panels. It became evident the car was very original and had not been restored.

I soon learned that, in the fall of 1974, Keith Conradt purchased a well-equipped Rallye Red 1973 Plymouth ’Cuda from Red Colligan Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge in Waupaca, Wis. He was 23 years old and the ’Cuda was his first new car.

Keith in 1974 with his new ‘Cuda

For the first year of its life, the ’Cuda was a daily driver. The following year, Keith decided to store it for the winter. Wisconsin roads are a slippery driving nightmare during winter, and the cost to insure a muscle car year-round turned into an additional financial concern for Keith. Being a male driver under the age of 25 also put Keith in the high-risk category, which meant higher insurance costs to owning a muscle car.

Keith’s decision to put the ’Cuda in storage during the winter months became his first step to preserving it. The salt poured on the roads during Wisconsin’s harsh winter months has a catastrophic effect on sheet metal, especially on a car from the ’70s, when corrosion protection was in its primitive stages.

Plymouth switched to the round tail lamps that would remain until Barracuda production ceased after the 1974 model year.

As the years went by, Keith’s 1973 ’Cuda turned into a summer-time driver that was only taken out for occasional cruises and local car shows. In 1975, he and future wife Barb went on their first date in Keith’s cool ’Cuda, which made quite an impression on Barb. In 1979, they became bride and groom and the ’Cuda remained an important part of their lives.

The 1973 Plymouth Barracuda was originally ordered by Circus Towne Chrysler-Plymouth in Baraboo, Wis., but a sale was never completed there. Red Colligan Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge in Waupaca eventually received it in a dealer trade. From there, Keith Conradt finally bought it as a new car in August 1974. The sticker price was $4,143.80

In the years that followed, the couple welcomed two children into the world. Daughter Kari was born in 1984 and son Kyle was born in 1989.  Over the years, Keith and Barb’s kids have grown fond of the ’73 ’Cuda as it’s been a part of their lives since day one.

When the Rallye Red ’73 ’Cuda was purchased at Red Colligan Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge in Waupaca, it was prepped by Nick Blohm. He took a liking to the car and went the extra mile while prepping it for delivery. Upon taking ownership of the ’Cuda, Keith was introduced to Nick and from that day forward, Nick has been the primary person to service and maintain the car. For the past 43 years he’s been keeping the 340-cid V-8 engine and four-speed transmission operating in new condition. Over the years, a special bond has developed between car and mechanic.

Scripts on the hood denote the engine and that this car was the ’Cuda performance version of the Barracuda.

Having one dedicated lifelong mechanic with a fondness for the car is a key reason it’s persevered and continues to perform much like it did the day Keith drove it off the dealership lot in 1974. And when Keith passed away in November 1992, Nick remained as fastidious as ever about preserving the ’Cuda.

“Keith passed away suddenly, “ Barb said. “He’d been losing weight and we didn’t know why. A tumor was found, surgery performed. He had a massive blood clot to his lungs. Our daughter Kari was 8 and son Kyle was 3.”

The original interior features the J97 Rallye Cluster that included a tach, clock, oil pressure gauge, trip odometer and 150-mph speedometer. The Rallye Cluster was priced at $75.65.

The sudden death of a husband and father of two small children was hard on the Conradt family and the 1973 ’Cuda that was Keith’s pride and joy remains the one “big thing” the family has left to hold onto from him.

His widow, Barb, is a fifth-grade school teacher at Amherst Middle School in Amherst, Wis., and she occasionally drives the ’Cuda to work when the weather is right. She gets a kick out of watching the high school students walk around the car with an admiring look on their faces, trying to figure out who the owner is. Once they find out it was driven to school and owned by Ms. Conradt, the students give her the nod as one cool teacher.

The code E55 four-barrel 340-cid small-block was the most powerful engine available in a ’Cuda for 1973, and it had 240 gross horsepower. It was a $181.25 option.

During the past 20 years, Barb has turned over the preservation of the paint finish and interior to Tom Mangert, a friend of many years. Earlier in their friendship, he detailed automobiles for a living. Then, in recent years, he dialed it back and only works his craft on select automobiles with the ’73 ’Cuda being at the top of his list.

For our photoshoot, mechanic Nick and automobile detailer Tom Mangert worked their magic on the ’73 ’Cuda. It performed flawlessly and looked phenomenal. Their efforts helped it stand tall.

The’ Cuda still has its original bias-ply tires on its Rallye road wheels, which were optional at $53.40. The spare was a steel wheel, however.

“I was amazed at how it looked and how all eyes were on me as we drove to the photo-shoot location,” Barb said. She has racked up 24,000 miles on the ’Cuda’s odometer on her own over the past 24 years and the car now has around 42,000 miles total. Careful use has helped the car keep its legs to put passengers back in their seats, and Barb plans to keep putting them there while cruising in her family’s 1973 ’Cuda 340.

About the 1973 Barracuda & ‘Cuda

In 1973 the Barracuda and ‘Cuda were now referred to as “specialty compacts” to downplay the high-performance image. Still, they continued to exhibit their previous sporty flavor. The six-cylinder engine was no longer available in either line. The 318-cid V-8, now including electronic ignition, was standard. The ‘340’ V-8 was optional. Another new standard feature was manual disc brakes. Full-volume urethane foam cushioned bucket seats were used. A host of performance packages and decor packages were offered Including sway bars, sport hoods and bodyside tape stripes. Revisions in appearance were seen mainly in bumper design. Rubber-facedguards were standard. The front side marker lamps were also moved to the sidebody feature line, instead of slightly below it. Cowlside signature script on base models was positioned slightly lower than before. ‘Cudas were identified by bold model letters on the left-hand side of the rear panel and by the same twin-scoop performance hood of the previous year. With the exceptions noted above, standard equipment was a carryover from 1972, too.

BARRACUDA

2-dr HT Cpe-5P
Factory Price – $2935
Weight – 3140 lbs.
Production Total – 11,587

‘CUDA
2-dr HT 2-dr HT Cpe-5P
Factory Price – $3120
Weight – 3235 lbs.
Production Total – 10,626

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