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Jim's Story

From: Jim olmstead <olmstead@wsunix.wsu.edu>

My love affair with the A-body Chrysler started at a young age. My father had two different 1963 Signet convertibles as I was growing up, and the car I was brought home from the hospital in was a 1971 Dart Swinger. I guess it was only a matter of time until the bug bit me.

My first Mopar was a 1979 Omni O24. It was a great car to learn to drive on, but to say I wanted more would be an understatement. I always found the 67-69 Barracudas attractive, so as soon as I convinced my dad I was responsible enough, I set out on a search. Just my luck, the three Barracudas I found advertised in the paper were beyond repair or already gone. A little depressed and ready to head home empty handed, I just happened to pick up a local paper and saw an ad for a 1965 Valiant. I called and went to see it. To my surprise, it was a fairly rough convertible that had sat out in a field for three years. The top was in shreds, the interior was in pieces, and the original 273 V-8 was gone. What it did have was a used 318 V-8 out of a van, a good 904 transmission, no rust, a new top in a box, and all the parts (even though they were in boxes all over the garage). The gentleman selling the car also just happened to have lived up the road from my dad while they were growing up. He had thrown out his back, and couldn't continue with his project. The car was pretty rough, but both my dad and I knew them inside out because of his previous Valiants, and to a 16 year old boy, the convertible sealed the deal. A week later, the car was delivered to my house and I set about fixing it up.

A full restoration was out of the question, but I wanted a nice car I wouldn't be ashamed of driving. The engine was in great shape, so after a head job and some cleaning, it went in with no troubles. Well, that's not exactly true. If anyone ever has the chance to put a later model engine in a 65 and wants to use the 65 exhaust manifolds, be sure to have the air injection holes just underneath the exhaust ports plugged. I spent probably three months trying to figure out where the exhaust leak was and why it was so badly out of time.

The transmission is certainly a tribute to Chrysler engineering. With a 65 Barracuda Formula S torque converter, it snaps the shifts off like the day it was built. I gutted the interior and painted everything with a new coat of Valiant red, then put the new seat cover kit in that I bought from JC Whitney. It's not stock, but it looks really nice for $250. The top took a day to get right, and then my dad learned how to paint.

I ended up with a nice convertible I drove daily for three years. The only reason I quit driving the convertible was because I couldn't stay away from the A-bodies and I got a 65 Formula S Barracuda. The guy spun a main bearing on the engine, but the interior was totally original and had one tear in the driver's bucket. There was some rust on the rear quarters, but nothing serious.

Now that I had finished one A-body, I decided to have some fun with the Barracuda. Unfortunately, I was and still am going to college, so money is really tight. It is amazing what you can do if you are on a budget and you look hard though. I didn't have the money to completely go through the 273, but I wanted to stick with that instead of transplanting a 340. After much searching, I came to the conclusion that it is very hard to find parts for the 273. So after reading everything I could, I decided to use a 318 block with the 273 goodies. By using a 318 block, parts were a little cheaper, I had a few more cubic inches to work with, and I could get a better selection of pistons.

I didn't want to use the high compression Formula S 273 pistons because I was a little weary about what the quality of gas would do to the engine. I went with 9.7:1 318 pistons and heavy duty 340 connecting rods. The steel crank from the 273 went right in the 318 block, and the heads and intake from the 273 bolted right up so I could use the Carter AFB four barrel carb. I also used the solid lifters and hot cam from the Formula S engine. The automatic was in shambles because it had sat for about five years with no pan. I lucked out and found an A-833 four speed from a 65 Barracuda that would fit up with the engine and driveshaft. The guy at the swap meet threw in everything except the clutch linkage and the clutch. It was only after I had the bellhousing hooked up and the transmission on and I was lowering the engine in that I realized the floor pans are different between the automatic and 4-speed cars. That definitely put a kink in things.

Well, to make a long story short, three years later and a lot of sweat and love, I have a beautiful 65 Formula S Barracuda. The convertible is safely tucked away in storage and there is no way I could think of parting with either of them. I drive the Barracuda every day, and I can't think of any other car I would enjoy driving so much. It gets 20 MPG on the road and I never have to worry about not having enough power. It is easy to work on, and has been more reliable than most of my friends' newer cars. Besides, how many people will stop and talk to you for an hour in a parking lot about a Nissan Sentra?

Incidentally, remember the Dart Swinger I mentioned at the beginning of the story? Well, my brother and I happened to see it one day, about 15 years after my dad sold it. Well, that one is my brother's now, and I think we will always have A-bodies in our family.

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