There have been many Plymouth ‘Cudas sold for jaw-dropping prices. Top sellers claim to be one of only a handful with a particular engine, paint or performance package option. Some are truly rare, but Chrysler offered so many checkboxes and catalog changes at the time that any sufficiently discerning buyer could have put together a fairly uncommon build. However, one 1970 ‘Cuda that’s coming up for auction soon is truly unique: a factory custom commissioned by Plymouth itself.
In the golden era of muscle, Big Three marketing departments were coming up with all kinds of ways to satiate America’s appetite for horsepower and build brand loyalties. Mopar’s was arguably the best, using creative color names, eye-catching decal stripes, and associations with popular cartoon characters to hype up their products.
In 1970 the Plymouth division came up with a truly memorable advertising campaign, the Rapid Transit System. A play on public transportation (because who in 1970 actually aspired to be car-less) and possibly a nod to the R/T (Road and Track) designation on top performance trims, RTS made buyers proud to own a Plymouth.
Psychedelic ads, hop-up clinics, and specialized dealers trading in high-po parts were just a few of the attractions. The “System” part of it united Plymouth’s many-pronged racing efforts — from NASCAR ovals to NHRA drag strips to Trans-Am road courses — and promoted the notion that lessons learned from these endeavors were trickling down into their production cars.
But Plymouth didn’t stop there. The Rapid Transit System Caravan took the latest models and parts and traveled the country. As if that wasn’t enough, Plymouth also commissioned four wild customs for the tour, a Duster, Dart Swinger, Roadrunner, and ‘Cuda. Each one was heavily modified in the street freak style that was popular at the time, with notes of “kustom” era trends in paint and bodywork.
If they looked like Hot Wheels cars, that was no coincidence. The RTS show cars sprang from the mind of renowned auto designer Harry Bentley Bradley, who came up with most of the original Hot Wheels cars when the toy line launched in 1968. Bradley designed multiple award-winning customs, from ’40s Mercs to Pontiac land barges, and his personal car, a controversial Infiniti J30, was recently recently discovered for sale. Plymouth commissioned Bradley to come up with the RTS cars, and under his pen each car was thoroughly enhanced but the base car beneath was still unmistakable.
Esteemed car collector Steven Juliano made it his life’s mission to collect ever piece of RTS memorabilia, and managed to acquire and restore three of the four Bradley-designed show cars. He located the ‘Cuda, but was never able to wrest it from the owner. When he passed they went up for auction, the others each fetched six figures.
Now the missing piece ‘Cuda has been unearthed, after being stored in a garage since 1976. According to Auto Archaeology, the car was found in downtown Detroit in the mid-70s. The current owner was able to buy it, drove it around for a bit, but was spooked at the attention he received. So he parked it for over four decades.
The car has only 976 miles on the odometer. The serial number is 100005, meaning it was one of the very first to roll off the line and went straight to the customizer. The front Cragar is included but would not hold air, so they put the original spare on it for now. It still wears the original paint and custom bodywork, and the interior looks as pretty close to flawless an unrestored 53-year-old cabin can look.
It was symbolic of a bygone era, and no one knew the days of cheap gasoline and horsepower would come crashing down in a few years. The Rapid Transit ‘Cuda goes up for bidding at Mecum’s Indianapolis auction next month.