Make no mistake, 1970 Hemi ‘Cudas are rare. Plymouth made just 652 Hardtops total to be exact, and the best one, in the best spec and the best color would be worth just south of $300,000 according to current Hagerty Valuation Tool figures. When new most were ordered with one thing in mind: Going really, really fast in a straight line, either from one stoplight to the next or perhaps 1320 feet at a time. Not many Hemi ‘Cudas were loaded up with heavy or power-robbing options but were rather ordered as lean and mean as possible.
There were just 18 people in 1970 who wanted their Hemi ‘Cuda to put a little more wind in their hair. That’s how many people ordered one as a convertible, conventional go-fast wisdom be damned. As a result those 18 folks got not only a more expensive, heavier and slower ‘Cuda out of the deal but also a far more flexible one as well. You see, as a car from basically the dark ages of unibody design (not to mention one rushed into production) chopping the roof off removed a great deal of structural stiffness and introduced plenty of cowl shake for these Elephant-powered tanning beds.
I’ve never driven one in anger but I did own a 1970 440 Six Pack ‘Cuda Convertible years ago, and you could pinch your fingers in the flexing door gaps just driving down the road. But worse than that, given a hard launch or a power shift (in my defense, they were worth a lot less then and we treated them as muscle cars and not collectibles!) the passenger’s door would be hard to open and even harder to close for a while, a result of the body twisting like a wooden toboggan.
But I digress.
In the end there were valid reasons why not too many people ordered a drop-top Hemi ‘Cuda. And for years they remained an obscure part of the Hemi E-Body legend. Which you’d expect considering just 42 Hemi E-Body Convertibles in total, ‘Cudas and Challengers, were built in 1970 and 1971.
That isn’t to say these cars weren’t valued by collectors and among the most valuable muscle cars around. By the late 1970s Hemi convertibles were roughly $10,000 cars. In the mid-1980s a few sold in the $25,000 range. By 1990 they had just tipped into six-figure territory. And at the beginning of the aughts a few traded in the half million dollar range. Serious money to be sure.
Then prices went crazy. In late 2002 collector Milt Robson had the stones to advertise his one-of-two 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible for $1,000,000 in Hemmings Motor News. And it sold. Suddenly 1970-1971 Hemi ‘Cuda and Challenger-powered convertibles were million-dollar cars. And then multi-million dollar cars. They were, for all intents and purposes, the poster children for the explosion of muscle car values. And yes, like all other muscle cars, that wave did crash from roughly 2008-2013 but has demonstrated a remarkable recovery in the last five years.
Which brings us to our subject car, the Lemon Twist 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible selling at Mecum Auction’s Indy “Spring Classic” sale as lot F120 on Friday May 17.
It is a well-known car, expertly restored years ago by Legendary Motorcar of Canada, and featured on their television show during the process (Chi-town Cuda, season 3. episode 12). It is also reported to have solid factory documentation and owner history, which is obviously quite important to have when buying any muscle car let alone one deep into seven figures. This car’s “High Impact” Lemon Twist paint color and saddle interior are also attractive, and it is the only one built in this combination as you’d expect with such a miniscule run of cars. So this particular car’s bonafides are solid.
Let’s dig in to what the price guide can’t. Yes, this is one of just 18 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda Convertibles, but in the hierarchy of such things the 1970 model year ‘Cudas have always been worth considerably less than the 12 1971 models produced. The subject car does not have its original numbers-matching engine, although that is more common than not as most Hemi engines seem to have been blown up in-period. Nevertheless that generally means a value deduction from top dollar. This is also an automatic transmission car, which may remove some collectors from the buying pool. One more ding is a lack of certain options that typically greatly enhance value, such as one of the very desirable “Axle Packages” which would be the “Track Pack” or “Super Track Pack” ones that replace the 8 ¾” rear axle with the far heavier Dana 60 unit, or other upgrades–the optional Rallye Dash, or “Hockey Stick” stripes to name a few.
For a comparable sale that did have those goodies, look at the Lemon Twist 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible sold by Mecum in 2016. It was a four-speed, Super Track Pack car with Hockey Stick stripes, the Rallye dash, and some other desirable options. Similarly to the upcoming sale, the example from 2016 also had an exceptional restoration and also had lost its original engine, but did have good original paperwork and was a “known” car. It sold for a hammer price of $2,675,000. To further muddy the waters an automatic transmission, Black 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible was offered at Barrett-Jackson in January 2017 and failed to sell at a reported high bid of $1,600,000.
As a 30,000-foot view, just 12 of the 42 total Hemi E-Body Convertibles built were 1970 Challenger R/Ts. Historically Challengers have been worth less than ‘Cudas, but when the top goes down and there is a Hemi under the hood the price always goes up (as the saying goes).
So I also like the comp of the Plum Crazy Purple, four-speed, 1970 Hemi Challenger R/T Convertible just sold by Mecum in Phoenix in March of this year. It had all the right stuff- color, four-speed, Super Track Pack, good history and a stunning restoration. It sold for a hammer price of $1,300,000. If there is such a thing as a value-leader in Hemi E-Body convertibles that car may be it.
What will happen with the Lemon Twist 1970 at Mecum next week? Only time will tell. It has the benefit of being the only Hemi convertible that is available right now, and there are less than a handful of deep-pocketed collectors who are attempting to “collect the set” of these top dog muscle cars. Will one deem they have a pace in their collection that would be perfectly filled by this car? And if so, will the seller’s expectations of price be satisfied for what the top bidder is willing to pay?
I anticipate come sale time that there will be a lot of math and a fair bit of negotiations taking place on the block on both sides of this equation. In the end, should a deal get done, another Elephant will move to a new zoo and we’ll have yet one more valuable data point to continue documenting these prized machines.