Many Plymouth ‘Cudas were sold at outrageous prices. Top buyers say it’s one of only a handful of numbers with a particular engine, paint or performance package option. Some are truly rare, but Chrysler at the time offered so many checkboxes and catalog modifications that any discerning enough buyer could have put together a fairly unusual build. However, one 1970 Cuda coming up for auction is truly one-of-a-kind: a factory order commissioned by Plymouth itself.
During the golden age of muscle, the Big Three marketing departments came up with all kinds of ways to satisfy America’s appetite for horsepower and build brand loyalty. Mopar’s was arguably the best, using creative color names, eye-catching decal strips 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 transport (because who really wanted to be car-free in 1970) and perhaps a nod to the R/T (Road and Track) designation of top-performance trims, the RTS made buyers proud to own a Plymouth.
Psychedelic ads, hop-up clinics and specialist high-performance parts dealers are just a few of the attractions. The “System” portion combined Plymouth’s diverse racing efforts—from NASCAR ovals to NHRA drag strips to Trans-Am road courses—and promoted the idea that the lessons learned from these endeavors seeped into their production cars.
But Plymouth didn’t stop there. The Rapid Transit System Caravan took the latest models and parts and toured the country. As if that wasn’t enough, Plymouth also ordered four wild customs for the tour, a Duster, Dart Swinger, Roadrunner and ‘Cuda. All were heavily modified in the street freak style popular at the time, with paint and bodywork trends from the “kustom” era.
If they looked like Hot Wheels cars, it was no accident. RTS show cars sprung from the mind of famed car designer Harry Bentley Bradley, who came up with most of the original Hot Wheels cars when the toy line launched in 1968. Bradley has designed several award-winning customs. ’40s Mercs to Pontiac land bargesand his personal car was a controversial Infiniti J30 recently discovered for sale. Plymouth hired Bradley to develop the RTS cars, and under his pen each car was heavily upgraded, but the base car underneath remained unmistakable.
Esteemed car collector Steven Juliano has made it his life’s mission to collect RTS memorabilia and has managed to acquire and restore three of the four Bradley-designed show cars. He found the Cuda, but was never able to take it from its owner. When it passed, it was put up for auction, and the others brought six figures each.
The missing piece of the ‘Cuda has just been found after it had been stored in a garage since 1976. Automotive archeology, the car was found in downtown Detroit in the mid-1970s. The current owner was able to buy it, drove it around a bit, but was scared by the attention it was getting. That’s how it parked for more than four decades.
The car’s odometer shows only 976 miles. The serial number is 100005, which means it was one of the first to roll off the line and straight to the customizer. The first Cragar is in it, but it wouldn’t hold the 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 flawless as an unrestored 53-year-old cabin.
It was a symbol of a bygone era, and no one knew that the days of cheap gas and horsepower would collapse within a few years. The Rapid Transit ‘Cuda will debut at the Mecum Indianapolis auction next month.