Original Owner: A Daughter Fulfills Her Promise to Find Her Mother’s ’Cuda

Misty-G-71-Cuda-mom-reunion-featured
Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

After 12 years of waiting, Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani finally got the call.

“I think the car just showed up on Craigslist,” said her nephew.

Misty was stunned.

Her nephew hadn’t sent a picture. Misty was in Hawaii, an ocean away from Arizona, where their families lived. “How do you know?” she asked him. The Tunisian Tan paint, the options—everything matched the description Misty had given him of the car that she had promised to find for her mother, whose health and memory were now failing. 

Misty called the seller, desperate to confirm whether the car was the Plymouth ’Cuda Marlene Dwiggins had bought new in 1971.

“I kind of spilled my guts to him,” Misty said. “I no longer had the VIN for the car, but the color and all the options made me think that it was hers. That’s when [the seller] told me he had the original warranty cards. He read me the name and address. It was my mom’s car.”

Misty G 71 Cuda as found in storage
The ’Cuda was found for sale on Craigslist in early 2021, with the body prepped and painted and all parts included.Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

The ’Cuda was about an hour north of Misty’s home in Arizona. Misty called back her nephew, Kevin, who lived in the same area. “I told him to take as much cash as he had and get up there as fast as possible.” Kevin did as she asked, but he arrived too late. Another buyer had already offered the full asking price in cash.

“[Kevin] called me and asked what he should do. I told him to start in $500 increments and go from there.”

Then came a miracle. When the other buyer heard why Kevin and Misty wanted the car, he refused to outbid them. “I’m not going to offer any more,” he said. “This is their car.”

“He was such a gentleman,” said Misty.

Misty G 71 Cuda pulled from storage
Misty’s mom was there when they pulled the ’Cuda from the storage shed.Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

In tears, she called her mother to tell her that she had bought the car. “‘I want to come pick you up,” Misty told her mother. “I want you to be there.’ Marlene cried as she saw Misty and Kevin pulling the car out of the storage shed and putting it on the trailer.

“She was so happy,” said Misty.

The ’Cuda and all its parts had been sitting in the storage shed for several years. Misty’s older brother, Mike, had sold the car around 2012 without telling anyone in the family. The incident caused hard feelings between the siblings, and certainly some pain for their mother. Dale, the younger of Misty’s two brothers, had died a few years after the car was sold.

“We had an idea the car was in that area, but we didn’t know the exact location,” Misty said. “Dale had lived in that area for over five years.”

After buying back the ’Cuda, Misty and her husband, Mark Giuliani, got to work on the restoration. They had a shop where Mark had restored muscle cars and built some hot rods. Mark and Misty were on a mission: Finish the ’Cuda as soon as possible.

When Mom Bought a ’Cuda

Marlene Dwiggins was 38 and recently divorced when she walked into Luke Chrysler Plymouth in Phoenix, Arizona, on September 26, 1971 to buy her first car. Her 16-year-old son, Mike, accompanied her. Marlene did not need much persuasion from Mike to buy the ‘Cuda she saw sitting on the showroom floor. 

“My mother was never a car person other than being a passenger in the cars that my dad built,” Misty said. “He raced several hot rods and had ’65 and ’68 Mustangs. Mom knew she wanted a hot rod-type car, to kind of rub it in my dad’s face a little bit after the divorce.”

The ’Cuda was built on September 14, 1970, so it had been sitting in the dealership for about a year. “It was kind of waiting for her. Mom did not even know how to drive, so Mike taught her.”

The car’s Tunisian Tan metallic paint (code GT2) went on just 1.6 percent of all Barracudas built for 1971. The color, along with the optional deluxe wheel covers, gave the car a subdued and even elegant look. The interior trim code H6T7 indicated two-tone tan vinyl and medium tan carpeting. Based on the reproduction price sticker Misty provided, we estimated the ’Cuda’s original retail price:

  • 1971 Plymouth ’Cuda hardtop: $3,134
  • Air conditioning: $370.15
  • Automatic transmission (column shifter): $229.35
  • Power steering: $96.55
  • Power brakes: $41.55
  • Front disc brakes: $22.50
  • F70-14 white-letter tires: $11.50
  • AM radio: $61.10
  • Deluxe wheel covers: $25.15
  • Tinted glass: $36.85

The total would have been around $4300. A report produced for Misty by Mopar historian and authenticator Galen Govier indicated the car was the only one of 260 ’71 383-powered ’Cudas in his registry with that combination of color, trim, and options.

Factory Basics: 1971 Plymouth ’Cuda

Plymouth

The third-generation Plymouth Barracuda, known as the E-body, arrived for 1970 with a hunkier body than the earlier Valiant-based A-body models. The E-body was based on the midsize B-body platform (Plymouth Satellite/Dodge Coronet) with eight inches sliced out of the wheelbase. Wider than the A-body, the frame of the E more easily accepted big-block V-8 options, with room to spare. 

Dodge finally entered the pony car segment with its own version of the E-body, the 1970 Challenger. It proved to be the more popular of the two that first year, with about 83,000 made versus about 55,500 Barracudas. Of those, just under 19,000 were ’Cuda hardtops, including 2724 AAR ’Cudas, the SCCA Trans-Am special.

Likely in response to that sales disparity, designers gave the 1971 Barracuda a Challenger-like dual-headlight front, a one-year-only look. The ’71 ’Cuda also featured non-functional front fender “gills.” All Barracudas reverted to the single-headlight design for 1972 through ‘74, and the ’Cuda lost the gills, too.

Nevertheless, sales plummeted for the 1971 E-body cars, with just about 18,700 total Barracudas built, a 66 percent drop. The ’Cuda accounted for about a third of those. The Challenger fell to 23,000 cars. Escalating insurance rates, plus a sluggish economy with a “mild” recession and high inflation, had cooled the muscle car market considerably.

Aside from the restyled front end, the 1971 ’Cuda was essentially a repeat of the ’70, and still one of the best deals among performance pony cars. Its starting price of  $3134 was $375 over the base Barracuda hardtop with a 318 V-8. In comparison, a 1971 Pontiac Firebird Formula with the optional 400 four-barrel started about $400 more than a ’Cuda.

Like the ’70 ’Cuda, the ’71 came standard with the 383-cubic-inch four-barrel, but with compression lowered by a point to 8.5:1 so that it could run on regular-grade gas. Gross horsepower dropped from 335 to 300, and Plymouth now also noted 250 net horsepower, a year before the auto industry officially switched to SAE net ratings.

Misty G 71 Cuda license plate
The license plate honors Marlene Dwiggins’ memory.Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

The ’Cuda 383 still had dual exhaust with tailpipe tips poking through the rear valance, plus heavy-duty suspension, firm-ride shocks, wide-oval white sidewall tires, heavy-duty 11-inch drum brakes, hood pins, a non-functional dual-scoop Performance hood, dual horns, front “road lamps,” and a cigar lighter. The standard transmission was a three-speed manual, with the four-speed stick and automatic optional.

The 440 four-barrel option was dropped, leaving the 440 Six Pack and 426 Hemi as big-block options. As happened in 1970, most ’Cudas came with the 275-hp 340 cu-in four-barrel small-block. While this was a $44.35 upcharge over the 383 versus a no-charge choice in 1970, it was a way to get great performance with possibly lower insurance rates. Dealers likely ordered the cars that way knowing they’d sell better than the big-blocks. 

’Cuda Memories

Misty was just days from her 11th birthday when her mother bought the ’Cuda. The car became Marlene’s daily driver while she was working for Mountain Bell. On weekends, it was a cruiser. Misty’s memories of the car remain vivid.

Misty G 71 Cuda-at mountains
Misty and her mother, Marlene, took the ’Cuda on hiking trips in the Southwest.Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

“My brothers enjoyed the ’Cuda, as you could imagine,” Misty said. “I remember my mom telling them that they needed to take it out and open it up so the engine wouldn’t ‘load up.’ My mom would take me cruising on Central Avenue in Phoenix with one of my friends.”

When Misty ran track and field for a travel team during high school, her mother would ferry her to the meets in the ’Cuda. “I remember her taking me to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to run in races. We drove up to Flagstaff, Arizona, several times to acclimate to the altitude, and I’d run in races up there.”

Then came the big event: Misty learned to drive in the ’Cuda. “The car became an even more important part of my life. I was able to drive it on Central myself when I was 16.”

As a bonus for Misty, her mother was part of a carpool at work, so she would drive one week and ride with others for a week. “I remember being so excited on those off weeks, because then I could drive the ’Cuda to school,” she said. “It always got attention wherever it went.”

Misty drove the ’Cuda to her senior prom, accompanied by two other couples driving a Mustang Mach 1 and a ’68 Camaro. She also drove the car to her graduation, with pride.

Misty G 71 Cuda HS graduation
Misty drove her mother’s ’71 ’Cuda to her high school prom and graduation. The car had been repainted a darker color in 1976.Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

The ’Cuda was also their ticket to experience the American Southwest. “My mom and I did quite a bit of hiking. We took the ‘Cuda to the Grand Canyon and Sedona. One of the old pictures I have of the car was taken at the base of a mountain in Phoenix. The car was a special part of our family history as we navigated through a difficult time in our lives. My mom and I were on our own for several years after [my older brother] Mike got married and Dale [my other brother] went into the military.”

The ’Cuda’s Decline and Loss

By 1977, the punishing Arizona sun had baked the ’Cuda’s paint. Marlene had it repainted in a dark rust color. The following year, her work transferred her to Denver, so she left the ’Cuda in Arizona with her son Dale, who was home from the military. When she returned for visits, Marlene drove the ’Cuda.

Marlene had grown up in Massachusetts, so when she retired five years later, she decided to move to Maine and buy a bed-and-breakfast. She’d close the place for winter and spend the season back in Arizona, occasionally driving the ’Cuda. She eventually moved back permanently.

“After owning the car for 20 years, Dale decided he didn’t have the time or money to restore it, so he gave it to Mike, who had expressed interest in doing that,” Misty said. “But it sat for another few years, untouched. Mike then sold it to someone outside the family without giving us the opportunity to keep it. 

“My mom would always talk about how disappointed she was that the ’Cuda was no longer in the family. I reassured her that someday I would find it and buy it back.”

Restoring the Cuda

Hagerty: When did you start the restoration?

Misty: My husband and I began working on the ’Cuda in March 2021. We did almost all the work ourselves except sending the engine to our engine builder, and we had help from a mechanic who works for us. For anything needed outside what we could do, we have friends in the business.

Misty G 71 Cuda adding grille details
Misty works on grille details.Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

Hagerty: The car was disassembled when you bought it. Did you have to hunt for parts?

Misty: Fortunately, the man who bought the ’Cuda from Mike had restoration experience. He disassembled the car and labeled everything. The original engine, transmission, rear, trim, interior, glass, and seatbelts were still with the car. He had already prepped and painted the body in the correct color. The car never had any rust and had never been in an accident.

Hagerty: Did you have to replace anything?

Misty: Being an Arizona car, the sun had cooked the interior, so we sent the dash and side panels out to Just Dashes to restore. Certain things were hard to get because of Covid.

Hagerty: Did your mother get to see the car being restored?

Misty: She was struggling with her health and memory, and I knew we were fighting against time. I brought her to the shop several times to see the car while we were rebuilding it. I have a picture of her sitting in the ’Cuda, and she’s just beaming. I wanted her to see her car finished and to ride in it with me again. Unfortunately, I was unable to make that happen; she passed six months before it was completed. Some of the last conversations I had with her were still about the ’Cuda and how special the car was to our family.

Hagerty: When was the car ready for the road?

Misty: The whole process took about a year and a half. The car was finished in early 2023 — a 1971 Plymouth ’Cuda fully dedicated to my mom, her beautiful car restored to look exactly like it did the day she brought it home. The first time driving it after we had finished it, I entered it in a Mopar show in March 2023, 33 years after I’d last driven it. When I drove into the parking lot, people surrounded it. I’ve had it in several car shows since and people are just drawn to it. The license plate is “Moms 71.” Wherever I go, people ask me about the car, and I tell them the story.

Hagerty: What is it like to drive the car after so many years?

Misty: It rides and drives exactly as I remember it — the distinct sound of the engine, the rattle of the window when the door closes, the purr of the engine when it’s cruising at 75 mph. I don’t drive it as much as I probably should, because I’m very protective of it. 

Hagerty: We’d guess the car will be a keeper.

Misty: I don’t want any harm to come to it, and I don’t want to lose it again. My mom’s ’Cuda will remain in our family long after I’m gone, and the legacy will continue with my children and grandchildren.

Misty G 71 Cuda mom in nearly finished car
Marlene Dwiggins smiles in the restored 1971 ’Cuda she’d once bought new.Courtesy Misty Dwiggins-Giuliani

__

Are you the original owner of a classic car, or do you know someone who is? Send us a photo and a bit of background to tips@hagerty.com with ORIGINAL OWNER in the subject line—you might get featured in our next installment!

***

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Read next Up next: Turns out the Mustang SVO Won after All

Comments

    I just love stories like these – they bring tears to my eyes every time!
    Thanks for sharing it with us Misty, and keep your Mom’s legacy rolling as long as you can.
    -Chris
    ’71 Olds 442 and ’67 Dodge Charger (both with big blocks in ’em!)

    I’m a Chaja also. Loved the story about the car. Your last name really caught my attention. Are you from Indiana?

    Great story. Thank you for sharing and for letting us see the photos, especially the one of your mom in the car in the shop. Really beautiful and unusual car.

    Thank you! She was a very special lady and I’m so grateful that I’m able to share her story and legacy.

    What an awesome story! I’m sorry to hear the mother passed before it was finished, but I’m sure she’d be proud of what her daughter and her son-in-law did to get the car back to its original shape! 😊

    Thank you! It was an honor for us to bring the car back to life and keep it in the family again.

    What a terrific story. So glad the rivetted on body side molding of the era did not find its way back to the car. Has Mike seen it?

    Great story, and obviously Mom was happy to see her car back in the family. Nice work on all that, and on the car as well. Nice to see one in its original form, and not being turned into a clone or restomod or a 440-swapped street rod.

    You didn’t mention if you had patched things up with Mike? I hope you did, life is short.
    Thanks for sharing a great story!

    Congratulations Misty. Keep that Mopar in the family forever. Hope to see it some day at a car show/coffee in the Phoenix area .

    Ms. Giuliani, that is just marvelous testimony to your mother, and to your work in finding, retrieving and restoring that beautiful muscle car. It’s a great story; thanks for sharing it! As I write, our daughter and her husband are nearing the end of the restoration of our 67 Firebird 400 convertible, which I bought in 1985, and in the family since. We are not the original owner, but when they restore the car it will be a very pleasant end result.

    Two of the pictures included in this article of the completed car look like they were taken at the “Run To The Pines” Car Show in Pinetop, AZ. We always attend that car show as well. We will have to look for the ‘Cuda this coming September at the show.

    Great story! My first car was a ’73 Barracuda – it was several year old when 17 year old me got ahold of it. I loved that car, but it eventually got passed to my brother who ended up selling it to buy a Mustang. I often think about that car and what may have happened to it, but after 2 teenage boys had it, there wasn’t much left.

    I can relate to the car pooling story. I was part of a carpool (worked summers with my Dad) when I had the car, so it was funny to see me and 3 older and not-so-happy men driving in that car. It was an ’80’s thing.

    Hi. That is a wonderful story. I’m very sentimental about my 72 Mustang because it was my mom’s. Thank you for sharing your story. I live in Phoenix and was wondering if you and your husband still fix vehicles or have someone you would recommend. I have an oil leak and my rear differential has a drip, plus I would like to paint my engine and air filter that lovely Ford Blue:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *