A Very Special Hybrid
This car is absolutely insane. What a quality job they did melding these two together.Walking among a couple hundred cars at a major Mopar car show, it’s easy to overlook significant, creative builds. Tucked away at the far corner of the recent Mopars In May car show held at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, California, was this car.
At first glance, it would appear to be a well-presented 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, albeit sitting on 18-inch wheels, not an unusual modification. But the hood was up, and we noticed that lurking under the hood was the distinctive engine cover of a Gen III Chrysler Hemi. OK, even that’s not all that unusual these days as we’re seeing modern Hemi engines under the hood of all sorts of vintage Mopars, from ’50s-era Forward Look cars, all the way to ’70s A-Bodies and even decades-old Dodge trucks.
But as we peered under the hood, looking at how tidy things were in the engine compartment, we saw a note under the windshield of the car, which was displayed unattended, with all the windows up. It read: “1970 Barracuda Resto-Mod, Donor car: 2012 Challenger R/T. Equipment used from the T/T: Complete interior including the headliner. Motor, Trans & IRS rearend. Wiring, Anti Lock Brake System. Everything works, paddle shift, heated seats, blue tooth, ETC. The air bags were basically only equipment not used from the Challenger.”
Looking through the deeply tinted windows, yes, there was an instrument panel from a 2012 Dodge Challenger installed between the A-Pillars of a 48-year-old E-Body. We knew there was a story here and left our card, hoping that the owner would contact us, as we felt certain you, readers, would love to know how it was designed and built.
That night we received a call from the car’s owner and builder, Lonnie Clabaugh. We spoke for more than 30 minutes, and Lonnie said he would send a photo of the finished interior and build shots of the front and rear suspension. Those arrived quickly and we called Lonnie back and arranged to photograph the car a week later over the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
Lonnie is now retired after working his way up through the ranks of a local water authority over a career that spanned three decades. In our initial phone conversation he mentioned that he started building the Barracuda to “keep myself out of trouble in retirement.” His wife Robin, who Lonnie says is the real Mopar enthusiast in the family is also retired, having owned and operated a local flower shop. Among them they have 11 collector cars of all makes, including the first new car they owned together, with a 1978 Formula Firebird with the 403 Oldsmobile motor, and it now only has 82,000 miles on it.
“We get very attached to our cars and trucks. My first car was a 1961 VW single cab pickup I purchased for $200. I had mostly trucks until we bought the Firebird. Robin, on the other hand, was the muscle car fanatic. Her first car was a four-door police special 1969 Plymouth Belvedere. She then found a 1969 Road Runner Hemi — minus the motor and trans — and we swapped the running gear from the Belvedere to the Road Runner. She had it painted and loved that car. One day some years later, in my infinite wisdom, I traded it for a dirt bike, and she really never forgave me until she bought her 1969 numbers-matching GTX the same color her Road Runner was. I’m a classic car enthusiast, but Robin is the fanatic. Out of our 11 cars, she purchased nine of them including the 1950 Ford hauler we have. She loves classic cars. It took her over a year to find the exact 1969 Mustang she wanted, Silver Jade, 390 motor, top-loader four-speed Mach I.
We did a full frame-off restoration back to factory stock. Even though she had the Mustang, her vision was a 1970 Barracuda. Her real love was Mopar. Every time we saw a Barracuda she would say ‘some day we are going to own one of those.’ That’s how we came about our 1970.”
So we know Lonnie and Robin are dyed-in-the-wool car enthusiasts with a special attraction to Mopars. Lonnie said they did little research before building the Cuda. At the time, they were short of cash, so the starting point was a very rusty 1970 hardtop. The front was twisted up and it had been sitting since 1987 in Oakland, California. The car was purchased off of eBay. It was a bottom-of-the-line 318 car in Vitamin C Orange. Their original plans for the car was to restore it with a 440 engine swap.
We asked Lonnie about the change in direction, from a classic big-block to the installation of the modern Mopar Gen-Three Hemi. “I have always admired restomod cars,” says Lonnie. “You can pretty much do anything with them if you have an imagination. I would Google restomod cars and go to images for inspiration. I told Robin my vision with the Cuda, and she was all in. She went to work right away and found a crashed 2012 Challenger R/T in Los Angeles with just 30,000 miles on it and no drivetrain damage. We bought it for $8,000 and sold the stuff we didn’t use for $3,000.”
“The original plan was to install just the engine and transmission. Once we got the R/T home I started checking things out and determined I could use the front strut and rear IRS components with a little ingenuity. As I was doing the swap, I kept looking at the interior of the R/T, the car had been well taken care of, and it would be a shame to not do something with it, so I again told Robin of my new plan to use it. I think she was a little apprehensive this time, but agreed. It took some doing, but I had a vision of what I wanted it to look like, and I kept working toward that goal.”
First, Lonnie straightened out the Cuda in his well-equipped home garage, the start of a process that would last over two years. Next, the rust issues were addressed on the Cuda. “I actually found the specifications of the car on the internet that gave me the numbers I needed to get the car square and true again,” says Lonnie. “Then, I left the rear end in the car and installed the front strut system off the R/T, so I could use the rear for a reference point. I then installed the motor and trans with the IRS system being the last of the drivetrain components.”
In talking we Lonnie, he said that adapting the suspension was straightforward. “The front end was fairly easy, the subframe of the Cuda was almost exactly the same width as the R/T, so once I got the K-member lined up for the proper wheelbase I duplicated the mount from the R/T. I marked the spindle center on the K-member before removing it from the R/T to help with that process. Setting the struts was a challenge because of the caster camber settings of the spindles, I made a jig to hold the spindle at the right angle then built the strut mounts. The stock trans mount from the Cuda was a simple modification to fit the R/T automatic. The Cuda wheelbase is 8 inches shorter than the R/T, so I had to have the driveshaft shortened. I stayed with the stock 2012 driveshaft with the carrier bearing. The IRS assembly was just a matter of getting the driveshaft flange at the right angle and square to the car, I had to make custom mounts to attach it to the rear subframe. I also installed frame extensions and torque boxes to minimize body flex. I tried to build the car and use as many OEM parts as possible so if I had issues on the road I could go to any auto parts house and purchase what I needed for a 2012 Challenger or a 1970 Barracuda.”
We talked with Lonnie about the selection of the aftermarket 18-inch wheels. “I just didn’t like the look of the R/T wheel and wanted something that would make an impact. And I needed at least an 18-inch wheel for the clearance of the brake components.” We think the 18-inch Asanti wheels, front and rear, strike the right balance. Going the route of 20-inch wheels would have been a huge mistake.
With the major mechanical issues addressed, Lonnie tackled the interior. “I tried to make the existing firewall work,” continues Lonnie. “But there were too many complications, so I just cut the firewall out and designed my own. I had never done that before so I took a lot of measurements and installed some bracing. I also took a lot of pictures of the wiring and recorded the degree settings of the front and rear components as they sat in the R/T — caster, camber strut angles, and driveshaft flange angle. I always had to be three steps ahead in the planning process, or I would just create my own problems.”
We asked Lonnie what was the most difficult part of the build, and here’s what he said: “Probably the dash. It had to be shortened and narrowed. To get it to fit and look like it belonged was tough, because of the massive HVAC system and the dash framework. Next was the wiring. I didn’t use the airbag system or the fuel vapor system so I had to check the resistance of each component used and fake out the computer with a resistor, so the trouble lights on the dash wouldn’t stay on. The next most difficult was to get the fuel gauge working. The R/T has two fuel pumps and two gauge senders. The computer takes a reading of each sender and averages them and that’s what’s reported to the gauge. I did some research and found a signal duplicator that allowed me to use one fuel level sender, but make the computer actually think there are two. I spent many hours on Dodge/Chrysler forums to find solutions to these issues.”
Lonnie started work in November 2014 and finished in late April of 2017. His goal was to have it ready for the 2017 Mopars In May show, but last year’s show was canceled. Lonnie and Robin became members of Inland Mopars and didn’t realize that members’ cars couldn’t participate in the show, so we just had it at the 2018 show as a member display car. (Due to an injury, Lonnie didn’t attend this year’s show. The car was driven to the show and left unattended, as Robin was busy manning one of the club booths.)
The Clabaugh’s Cuda is a crowd-pleaser whenever it’s displayed. It’s won 10 awards since they started showing over in 2017. “The two awards we’re most proud of is the 2017 Dean Jefferies award for engineering and design presented at the Riverside Show and Go,” Lonnie proudly relates. “It was selected among the more than 800 cars entered that year. The second was presented at the Dr. George show in 2018 at Indian Wells, California. There were over 1,000 cars there, and we were presented an award from Hot Desert Mopars.”
Lonnie notes that real hard-core Mopar people are all over the car. Most of them get down and look under it and can talk for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. “They ask a lot of questions about the build, but mostly about how difficult it was to install a third-generation motor and trans and get it running properly,” says Lonnie. “The best reactions come from the modern-day Challenger owners. They check out the car with little emotion until they see the interior and then go wild. They want to know everything about the car with the question most often asked is, ‘You did use a wrecked Challenger for this build, right?’”
Lonnie completed the design and installation, but he notes that there were two significant outside contributors who he wants to mention. The first was Wayne McCarl at Berdoo Auto Body in San Bernardino, California, for blocking and painting the car, which as the photos show, is flawless. No E-Body ever rolled off the assembly line with the fit and finish this Cuda exhibits. And Lonnie notes that the guys at B&G Performance in Virginia took the time to help him work out some minor motor operational issues he was having and modifying the ECU to work with my custom build.
onnie and Robin mostly drive the car to shows — it’s not a trailer queen. “I’m really not ready to use it as a daily driver, but I have no problem taking it 100 miles to a show,” says Lonnie. “It drives and rides nice. I used Eibach progressive springs and it has all the amenities of a modern car like heated seats, air conditioning, Bluetooth for the phone and so much more. It is a 1970 car with modern technology that was built with almost all OEM parts that can be purchased at most auto part stores. My goal on this build was to have the most unique vehicle at the show with all 2012 Challenger or 1970 Barracuda parts so Mopar lovers from both new and old generation years would find it worth stopping to look at.”
We can attest to this. We drove with Lonnie between photo locations, and the car is rock solid. And we’ll admit it was quite an experience looking over the Cuda’s long hood while staring at the modern Challenger’s instrument panel — truly a seamless melding of old and new Mopar. Congratulations on a built perfectly executed.
TYPE: Gen III Hemi from 2012 Dodge Challenger
BORE x STROKE: 3.92 x 3.58 inches
BLOCK: Cast iron
ROTATING ASSEMBLY: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T, pushrods with two valves per cylinder
CYLINDER HEADS: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
CAMSHAFT: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
VALVETRAIN: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
INDUCTION: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
OILING SYSTEM: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
EXHAUST: S&W Shorty headers with stock 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T mufflers
IGNITION: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T with two spark plugs per cylinder (16)
COOLING: Champion Cooling Systems
FUEL: multi-displacement system (fuel injected)
OUTPUT: 370 hp at 5,250 rpm, 395 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm
ENGINE BUILT BY: Lonnie Clabaugh
TRANSMISSION: W5A580 five-speed automatic
CONVERTER: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
SHIFTER: 2012 Challenger console-mounted with steering column-mounted paddle shifters
STEERING: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
FRONT BRAKES: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T four-wheel antilock disc brakes, 13.6 inches
REAR BRAKES: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T, 12.6 inches
WHEELS & TIRES
WHEELS: 18×8 Asanti three-piece A/F Series
TIRES: 215/45×18 General G-Max (front), 235/55×18 General G-Max (rear)
SEATS: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T front, re-foamed,1970 Plymouth Barracuda retrimmed in leather to match front buckets
INSTRUMENTS: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
WIRING: 2012 Dodge Challenger R/T
#Plymouth #Cuda #Dodge #Challenger #RestoMod #Hybrid #HEMI #TheHEMI