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Josh Sanders was 14 and in Grade 9 when he bought his 'Cuda.
Josh Sanders was 14 and in Grade 9 when he bought his 'Cuda.

Classic Cars

Pony car veteran comes back to life Add to ...

Some of Plymouth's more rabid enthusiasts might still make the claim that the Mustang-generated "pony car" era of the 1960s should more properly have been known as the "fish car" phenomenon as the division's Barracuda actually arrived on the market a couple of weeks before Ford's model.

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But the Barracuda - created by grafting a fast-back roofline onto a compact-class Plymouth Valiant; basically the largest (1.33 square metres) glass backlight seen on a production car - didn't strike quite the same chord with the emerging youth market buyers of the day as that original Mustang.

Ford's pony car outsold it eight-to-one in the months ahead, which is likely better than the Barracuda would have done if Plymouth's obviously not very "with it" execs had had their way and named it the Panda. And no, apparently they weren't kidding.

The Barracuda nameplate went on to survive through three generations, however, becoming one of the established warriors in the pony car wars that were fought on the streets, drag strips and road courses of the late 1960s, lasting until 1974.

That was just a year after the example owned by Josh Sanders of Wilsonville, Ont., (near Brantford), was built and sold under the contracted and even cooler-sounding name 'Cuda.

I ran into Sanders at the recent Automobile Journalists Association of Canada Canadian Car of The Year TestFest in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ont., where the 21-year-old student in the Canadian Automotive Institute program at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., was handing out keys to test cars.

Family legend has it Sanders worked on his first car while still in diapers - "scraping bondo out" of a battered and rusty E-Type Jaguar being restored by his father Ted - which means he's been messing about with automotive machinery for going on two decades now.

And five of those years were spent restoring the 1973 'Cuda to pristine original condition.

Sanders was 14 and in Grade 9 when, after a long search with his father for a car to base a street-rod project on, they came across the 'Cuda in Niagara Falls. Buying it provided Sanders with his first lesson in the often-convoluted and frustrating process of negotiating the buying and selling of old automobiles.

This one turned out to have been its owner's dream car and had recently been imported from New Mexico, so there was obviously some emotional hurdles involved in its sale.

"He told us he'd sell it to us for X amount, and wouldn't budge when we tried to dicker. And then when we said, 'Fine, we'll pay your price,' he wouldn't sell it to us," Sanders says.

Both he and his father were "extremely pouty" on the ride home, he recalls, but his mother was more upbeat. And her instincts proved correct as shortly afterwards the seller relented and sold Sanders the car, which was basically sound, but had a thrashed engine, fried wiring and badly done bodywork.

The deal was that his parents would lend him the money, which had to be repaid, and he had to be fully involved with its restoration. His father would help, but was involved in his own projects - the E-Type, a '72 Dodge Challenger and a '34 Ford coupe street rod.

During the remainder of his teen years, Sanders served an unofficial apprenticeship working on the 'Cuda under his father's tutelage and with his help. "We did virtually everything ourselves," he says. He's currently putting that knowledge to work restoring a 1963 Ford F100 pickup.

The original slant-six- and small V-8-powered Barracuda of 1964 gave way to the second generation in 1967, still Valiant-based but with unique and more contemporary styling that didn't include a huge rear backlight, and with more potent power plants under their hoods, including the ultimate 426-cubic-inch Hemi with twin four-barrel carbs.

The final redesign came along for 1970 and the car shed its Valiant connection along with its fastback styling and was offered in coupe and convertible form only. You could pick from a pair of sixes and six V-8s ranging up to a 440-cubic-inch (7.2-litre) monster.

A minor redesign for 1972 was the last the Barracuda would receive before production was ended in April, 1974, exactly 10 years after it began. A new version was in the works but the project was cancelled as it was realized it was time to put the last of the pony cars out to pasture.

Sanders 'Cuda is equipped as it came from the factory with a 340-cubic-inch (5.6-litre) V-8 , that's been bored .30 thou over, fitted with a hot cam dual-plane intake, X-heads and high-performance exhaust system. Behind that is a three-speed automatic with a shift kit. Front discs and rear drums provide the stopping power and the steel rally wheels are optional 15-inchers.

"When we started, we were just going to do a quick job. But one thing led to another and it was stripped to the bare shell. And everything in it [all the parts]is new old-stock. I went overboard with it," says Sanders of his efforts to keep things original.

The restoration, which was finished two years ago, was financed with part-time jobs and buying and selling parts, which led to the realization he had a knack for business that matched his fascination with cars.

And that led him to explore three university business programs, all of which he was accepted for, but in the end choosing the Canadian Automotive Institute, where he's now in the third year of its degree program.

Sanders and three fellow students were responsible for staging the school's annual outdoor auto show recently. "It's a great program," he says, with a tight-knit student body that works well together, and opportunities to get hands-on experience in the industry. Which is what he was doing at AJAC's TestFest.

The exposure has provided Sanders with plenty of auto industry career options, but ultimately he says he may just end up making his own opportunities through a business of his own creation.

And the 'Cuda? "It's a keeper. It's not going anywhere," he says of the project supported so strongly by both his parents, and which has driven his choice of careers.

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