1970 AAR Cuda | Perfection Personified
Lew Bisbing has always had a liking of Mopar cars. Growing up in the Northeast, Lew was exposed to the popularity of these cars from a young age. After acquiring this project car, Lew spent 13 years painstakingly disassembling and restoring literally every nut and bolt on this car. Lew, along with and his friend and colleague Joe Mischik built their own electroplating station to renew all of the car’s components. There is no ‘Cuda that has had as much attention to detail as this car! Hear the story and see the amazing end-result.
Certainly my wife gives me a hard time and says, there's more photos of the car and the restoration process than of our boys growing up and and there's probably a little bit of truth to that.
Hi folks and welcome to Center Lane I'm Bruce Hitchen. Today I'm in Scottsdale Arizona and we're going to be looking at this beautiful AAR Cuda. This car has been meticulously restored by Lew Bisbing who's taken it apart and restored every nut and bolt on this car. I've never seen such detail when it comes to a restoration. Now if you like this episode, please subscribe to my channel and click the bell to be notified of future episodes. Now, let's talk to Lew about this car.
I've always loved the Cudas but in particular the AAR is largely because of, and and some of the styling cues, I really have always drawn me in. The blacked out hood treatment and obviously the strobe stripe up the side is pretty iconic. I think many people recognize these cars based on that strobe strike. Back in the mid 90s, I had a purple AAR Cuda, four speed car. And I work as an engineer at a major defense contractor and my checker at the time, Joe and I used to head to car shows and during that time, built a friendship. Life got in the way, I had heard about this car through another co-worker and that co-worker had described how somebody in his family had a car similar, and that could mean a lot of things but ultimately it turned out that it was the very car we're looking at today. His cousin ended up coming down with something terminal and passed away in the late 90s. At the time I was not really set up to do a restoration on that car and so fast-forward seven years later and this particular workmate came by and he said, "hey, I think my cousin's ready to sell that car". And at that time I had then become in a position where I could again do a restoration. And I went over to look at the car and honestly, the car was a complete car which was so important, in hindsight, but there was some damage to it that I was very uncomfortable with. And if not for Joe, honestly I would not have ever picked this car up.
The whole car was there but it was, had a lot of damage to it. And you know, somebody was using it as a pot holder because there was paint cans on top of it and you know and it was, had dents here and there and I... When you, when you're restoring a car, you gotta be able to look at the car and say, "I can see this car finished. I can, I know what it's gonna look like when it's done". Now, Lew has taken this car to the level even I didn't expect to get to. And I like, I'm pretty, we'll use the word anal here. Lew is way more anal than I am about cars.
He was certainly the sounding board that, "hey, no, don't worry about it. You can come over to my house, we'll take care of it, like trust me we can do this, we can do this". So I picked the car up in 2007 and took it over to Joe's and the tear down began. And I'll never forget, at the start I always thought that I understood cars and I understood what it took to restore a car. And I will tell you, I clearly did not. Joe's advice at the start of this was, "You know how you eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Just don't focus on the big picture, take small bites, take some, take some pride in redoing small pieces and that'll get you through this whole process." And that's basically what happened.
So my vision was, I always saw it as, this is something that we can do. I mean, or I can help you do, and you know, if you let me, I will I'm willing to help you do that. So that's kind of where we're at.
When I first got the car, my thought was, I really wanted to build a nice, driver quality car and I had planned to go around to some local shows and I wanted to be able to compete at a local show type of a level. As we got moving on this, I should have recognized my own personality flaws, if you will, which is a little bit OCD at times. And I didn't have the ability, quite honestly, as I would restore a component, I found that I lack that ability to turn off being over the top versus what's good enough or or what presents well. And I think because of that you see what you do behind you. Which is, which is an over restored, what I like to refer to as, engineering intent with good execution.
So the restoration obviously, we started out, you do full teardown and the body work, and I did send it out for paint. I knew my limitations on paint and I wanted that right and so a friend of mine, Scott Arnold Restorations. Our agreement was, is that anything he didn't like on the body work, he would fix. He did not think that I would do as good a job as he could do
I mean, I don't know how many hours we have in this car. I know in my past cars you're running between 200 to 300 hours in in bodywork on some of these cars. And there's a lot of, when you get a body that's perfectly flat, and this car is about as perfect as you're going to ever see a car, it takes a lot of time to get to that point. And that was the part, pushing Lew into that where Lew now he's become the teacher now. So he knows what it's supposed to be like. And that, that took a while to get, to get there, I think. And even Lew might admit that, I mean it was it was a process.
Everything about this car was completely disassembled to include; wiper motor assembly, starter motors, you know the entire rear differential got pulled apart. We redid everything on this car.
Lew's a very detail-oriented person and sometimes that detail, even I would get frustrated with the detail that he would get to. But, in respect to Lew, I'd go along with it, and I'd be like, "that's okay". I mean the more heart you pour into it, the better the product's gonna be. I mean, this car literally, you know Lew touched upon some of the things that he's restored on it but when you get to the...you know he restored the radio in the thing. I mean, took it all apart. I mean, who does that you know it's like you know to make sure all the knobs were working and all the push buttons because it's got the original radio and everything. And it works, it works perfectly. So that amount of detail where you're, you're getting in...there's things that are finished to a level that it was, when it was brand new, that you can't see. Most of the stuff behind the dash. We learned how to do welding of plastic so that it would be just like it was originally. Because clips get broken off, so clips are literally welded back on, plastic welded back on, so that they were perfect. I mean, there is nothing on this car that I would say is lacking in. Because of Lew's tenacity, you might say, that he wanted to get it right, and it is right.
You know I really wanted to keep the car as original as possible so anything that could be salvaged during the restoration process we wanted to maintain that. I was concerned over being able to get correct finishes onto the the hardware that came off of the car, as well as, getting those fasteners back into their correct locations. And so it became, in my mind, a much more easily manageable task to control that process myself. And with my professional affiliation, I had access to some folks at our materials and processes department who are very familiar with plating and electroplating. And so they became, along with again Joe and I, we we spent more than a couple of weekends trying to figure out what we would need, how we would go about controlling the current. Ultimately building our own rectifier because rectifiers were probably the most costly element of the electroplating process.
This car took me 13 years, almost to the month, from start to finish and I never set out for it to take 13 years. I always, at the start of this, I thought maybe it would be three years, maybe five and quite honestly I think the naivety of that thought probably helped to have me stay focused and to continue to build this car. You know, obviously being over at Joe's, I felt a certain obligation to continue to show up on a regular basis. And at some point, you know, we had met Mark and Mark was building the garage we're in today, and the timing worked out just incredible that I could transfer over into this garage for the assembly process.
Lew was working on the Cuda in Joe's garage when I met Joe. And I hadn't met Lew for maybe a few months after I met Joe and Lew's car was in the garage there. And I'd see it progress over time because Lew would come on maybe a day I hadn't been by. Then once I started coming very regularly to Joe's house, I got to know Lew pretty well and we were just all working on our stuff together. Since that point, I had a lot of involvement in that if Lew needed something held then you know, I'd help hold it in place or or just, "hey what do you think of this", you know, "that looks good" or "maybe it should be better".
There's times where you certainly start to feel a little defeated or lose interest but you kind of force yourself past that and then you find that eventually, much like a relationship, it gets better again and and it gives you that strength to continue to move forward.
I look at the bottom of this car and this looks like it has to be better than what the original car looked like. Can you tell me where you made some decisions about keeping it original versus making it a little bit better? Certainly. One of the things Chrysler did from the factory would have been, where they would have dipped the cars and it would have had a grey base primer and then yellow over spray coming inside. So I did take a liberty there and we did spray the entire bottom of the car yellow. Short of that, the rest of the components on the bottom of the car are finished in what they should be. A lot of the engine painted hardware ends up being finished in phosphate coatings where, depending on the component, things are plated with electrodeposition plating and then either a clear yellow OD or a black chromate.
How much of this, like your suspension, your drivetrain, all these things... how much are original parts from this car and how much have you had to replace?
These are all original components to this car. Matter of fact in some cases what we tried to do is literally, because of the level of restoration, I think a lot of people assume we redid everything and there are a handful of components that, believe it or not, were able to be cleaned up and reused and a good example that is on this control arm right here, on the steering arm. This is actually just cleaned up and we re emphasized this inspection mark onto it. What we wanted to do is only replicate the inspection marks that we could identify and validate as part of this car.
When I look at your drivetrain, your differential, your exhaust, it all looks brand new. You've refurbished all of this? These are not new parts? Some parts are new, the exhaust system obviously, that is a new a new component but everything else pretty much that you're seeing under here would have been on the original car. You know we took a lot of pain you know to restore the drive shaft even and to validate the part numbers and the date codes and things on this car. The drive shaft, I take a lot of pride in that because it took hours of of soaking to de-rust and we went so far as to replicate like as you see here, that heat affected zone that would have been recrea...that's recreated but that would have been there as a result of the weld that was put onto those components.
Now when I come back here and I look, your leaf springs, like these are the original leaf springs...you've actually taken them apart and had them rebuilt right? Well so we rebuilt those, again on our own. I actually took them to a recurve shop and we toyed with the idea of getting them recurved but the gentleman that had the shop actually, at his recommendation was, these springs look to be an exceptional shape and my recommendation would be don't recurve them. Put them on the car and if you're not happy with it then we can have that discussion. So I, hats off to some of these people, when you went to them and that they weren't just there to take your money.
All right. Ao let's open this up and take a look. Absolutely, Bruce.
Well it's just beautiful. Is this exactly how this would have looked?
Absolutely! So this engine is detailed correctly. If i were to be overly critical with myself today, I'm a little shiny on the paint for the motor but short of that, everything is correct fasteners, correct colors, correct finishes, date codes on the hoses, correct ribbing where required on the hoses. Yeah, everything basically is replaced just as it was from the factory.
So Lew, this is one of the details that you were telling me about is these hash marks on the side of the car and that there's an inconsistency in them. Can you tell me about that? Absolutely. So at the time we were tearing the car down I had noticed it at that point on my, on this car prior to removing those stripes. And at that time, I made the assumption that reproduction stripes would carry correct details. And what we found was is that reproduction stripes do not carry correct details. And so what you'll see is, this inconsistency where in general you'll find this pattern that shows up where, it ends up being that this particular stripe ends up being wider and noticeably wider. If you go look at old junkyard photos or photos of cars that have original stripes, you'll notice this stripe to include the auto trade show car that I have pictures of back in 1970, when they would travel around the country displaying these cars for the new model year.
The space-saver spare was actually with the car when we got it but somebody had used the spare and so as a result of using it and then running the spare, the inside side wall, these tires actually buckle in on themselves for storage purposes, and that portion of the tire was permanently deformed out. And we did everything we could to try to save that tire but were unsuccessful in trying to get that to retain its original shape. And so, I had found this spare online and made arrangements to purchase it. The spare shows up and it was in fantastic shape and we documented what marks were on this from the original tire that was received. A thousand dollars into it, it is correct.
You've got the jack instructions here, the sticker on the trunk. Did you reproduce that? There was a gentleman, Dave Walden. Dave was known to probably be more meticulous than I am. And Dave... Couldn't be!
Oh, I you know, but Dave was, Dave was usually angry about how meticulous he was. But Dave did an outstanding job and and honestly these stickers, I can't take the credit for, like this this trunk sticker, this is certainly his work. It's not just in the trunk. It's on the wire harnesses, it's in the door jambs, it's the emission sticker in the engine bay. Things of that nature are all Dave. That's Dave's handiwork.
And you've got a 1970s license plate on this car as well. Tell me about how you managed that?
So I was at work one day and another gentleman who was into cars, he had a 32 Ford. And he came in, talking about how he just purchased the 32 plate and he explained to me that you can run a correct license plate for the vintage year of your car. So in my case, I happened to look online. I thought, well I don't know, I'm not sure what an Arizona license plate looked like in 1970. And oddly enough it was yellow and black and then at that point I knew that it was destiny that I...
Had to do it!
I had to do it.
And it looks great on the car. It actually still carries a 1970 registration sticker on there as well. I always hold my faith in that, if I were to be stopped by a police officer, I do have the correct registration in the glove box and hopefully he would understand why I don't have it on this particular car.
I would have never had this project if not for Joe's enthusiasm and openness and encouragement to proceed with this. He's probably one of the greatest shop teachers you'll ever have and he's great about explaining things and then providing you enough room to go ahead and execute.
Well I'm very, I'm very pleased and proud of it. I mean I'm, I'm lucky to have a friend like Lew and Mark that allows me to be part of that project, you know and and help him. Hold his hand at the beginning, now I just kind of step back and you know let, he's like the maestro now you know. I don't, you know, I don't have to tell him what to do. He does everything on his own now and it's, it's, it's...for me it's a you know, like a proud papa.
Certainly, my knowledge today far exceeds anything I would have dreamt I would have had for expertise in building a car 13 years ago.
And I, obviously I can't see every car in the world but this is likely the highest quality restoration on the AAR Cuda because nobody would spend that type of time on this. I mean it has just thousands of hours on it and Lew is just meticulous about every detail. And so it's really amazing. I love to show this car to people when they stop by and really show people you know what a fantastic restoration looks like.
Oh...unbelievably! Never would have dreamt in a million years, I would own a car like this. I feel fortunate you know to have the friends that I do and the opportunity that they've given me...
It's just it's more than I could have ever asked for.