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The AAR Cuda

Article by Jeff Mittendorf

In February of 1970, Plymouth announced a mid-year addition to the 'Cuda line: the AAR. We have decided to have a separate section for it, because it is such a special car. The AAR (and its sister, the Dodge Challenger T/A) was without a doubt the most complete package of style, straight-line performance, and handling that Chrysler built during the musclecar era. The AAR was produced only for 1970, in order to compete with GM, Ford and AMC in the popular Trans-Am series. World renowned driver Dan Gurney and his racing team, All American Racers, were hired to build and race two cars. The second was driven by Gurneys protoge, Swede Savage. Chrysler was late getting in the game, as the other manufacturers were veterans in this racing series. The racing 'Cudas never saw the checkered flag and finished last in the standings. The cars usually qualified well, and found themselves on the pole on occasion. But the cars rarely finished, and typically limped home when they did. At the end of the year, Chrysler pulled the plug on its unsuccessful effort. The street versions, though, were a wonderful result of an otherwise horrible endeavor. To qualify for the series, Plymouth had to build a minimum of 2,500 street versions that shared most of the race cars' componentry. Plymouth actually wound up building 2,724 AARs (1120 4-Speed and 1604 3-speed Automatic), that way every dealer would get at least one and Chrysler could avoid restraint-of-trade accusations.

The only heart available in the beast was a 340 topped with (3) Holley 2-barrel carbs riding on an aluminum Edelbrock manifold. But this was not the same 340 that came in the other Chrysler products. The block was cast with stress reliefs and more meat, so you could convert to 4 bolt mains. The heads were totally different, as the intake push rods were moved over to allow for hemi-style rocker arms, and so you could grind out the rod lump in the intake port and put in bigger valves. Mind you, Chrysler did not do the extra work for you. Nor did these provisions add to your horsepower or torque. While the AAR's engine was putting out 15 more horses than a stock 340, this was due solely to the increased induction. About that advertised 290 horses, dont believe it. It was more like 325. The power was transmitted through either the 727 automatic tranny (column or console), or the Pistol Grip 4-speed A833. Again, the manual tranny in the AAR was special, as it had lower road race-oriented gear ratios (this version became standard in all 'Cudas in '71). The standard rear gear set was a 3.55:1 sure-grip, with the 3.91 available as a no-cost upgrade. 15 x 7 rallye rims shod with Goodyear skins were the only way offered to put the ponies to the pavement. The tires, however, were staggered in height. Why? Because you needed the rear elevated to allow for the side exhaust exiting in front of the rear tires. Yes, side exhaust, with chrome "megaphones" at the tips.

Plymouth more than made up for the increased center-of-gravity by putting front and rear sway bars underneath, as well as stiffer shocks and rear springs. The subframe was reinforced further by the addition of the boxes that usually were reserved for Hemi and convertible Cudas. To make room for the 15" rims up front, Plymouth bolted on the rolled-lip "hemi" fenders. Also up front were 11" disc brakes. Steering was routed through either the standard manual or power boxes, or a special quick ratio power box available only on the AAR and its sister. These modifications yielded a skidpad rating of 0.76g force, easily the best handling Chrysler during the musclecar craze.

But the changes did not stop there. Up top, a weight reducing fresh-air-induction fiberglass hood with an enormous NACA (not NASA) scoop fed air directly to the carbs. To eliminate radio interference problems with the hood, the antenna was moved to the top of the rear quarter panel. The hood pins on the AAR, unlike the other 'Cudas, were fully functional as there was no hood latch. The hood, along with the fender tops and the front grille, was painted with a textured black paint. The red pin stripe in the grille of other 'Cudas was replaced on the AAR by two Chrome loops surrounding a duplicate of the grille pattern. On the trunk lid sat a black "ducktail" spoiler.

As if this was not enough to grab your attention, the factory slapped on the most outrageous stripe ever to grace a production car. It is known appropriately as the "strobe" stripe. It was a black strip that ran the length and contour of the upper side, and was split into sections. At the front, the sections start out several inches wide. Each section then gets 4% smaller than the previous section. By the end, the sections are mere pinstripes. Then, in big reflective white letters outlined in black, comes the word CUDA, followed by the multi-colored AAR insignia (very similar to an interstate symbol). Every AAR came with the stripes, even black AARs. To say the stripe is noticeable would be a huge understatement. Usually, there is no middle ground, people either love it or hate it. According to the designer of the strobe stripe, the concept came from the sequentially activated tailights on Mercurys Cougar, and was supposed to give the image of motion.

Up front, some of the cars came with optional chin spoilers. They were shipped in the trunk, along with the chrome exhaust tips, to avoid damaging them during transport. That's why no two AARs have the front spoilers in the same place, the dealers had to install them. To my knowledge, there were no instructions or template included to properly mount the spoilers. The spoilers that were left over were made available on '71 'Cudas.

Most AARs came with limited options. One reason for this was that the AAR was supposed to be a bare bones race car for the street, not a luxomobile. The other was that Chrysler delivered the cars to the dealerships on consignment, so they tried to keep costs down. Unfortunately, this meant you could not order one, you got what the dealer had. And most dealers only got one. Most of the AARs you will find with expensive options were cars that just happened to be on the line when production managers at the Hamtramck, MI plant decided to build AARs on a particular day. Of course, with a mid-year introduction, there was a lot of confusion, which also led to production mistakes. To try and help the dealers deal with/correct the mistakes, Chrysler issued a product bulletin outlining some of the changes made to the AARs. But the bulletin was highly incomplete, and not completely correct. The picture on the front page shows an AAR, with the antenna incorrectly located on the front fender.

Today, the AARs are worth considerably more than their original selling price of $3,966. Good examples command well over $20,000. In the late eighties/early nineties, when Mopar prices soared, AARs could fetch as much as $35,000. These cars were beat on and few currently exist in top condition. At the biggest Mopar shows in the country, you might see 5 to 10 AARs. At the Mopar Nationals in 1995, the AAR's 25th anniversary, approximately 40 were gathered, probably the most assembled in one spot since 1970 at the factory. Because of the limited production numbers and the parts unique to the AAR, restorations can be quite expensive and exasperating, but extremely fulfilling to those who truly love these one year wonders.