My First Motor Swap

I remember my first Mopar engine swap. I was helping a friend replace the dead old 318 in his '68 Plymouth Barracuda with a 340 Six Pack from a totaled '70 Dodge Challenger. Yes, grasshopper, back in the day you could actually total and part out a '70 T/A Challenger! What made this most basic of swaps more difficult than usual was that it was the middle of winter in Marlboro, Vermont and we were doing the job outside. It was snowing pretty hard and the temperatures were in the low twenties. We were dressed in the ubiquitous uniform of the winter mechanic--long johns, hooded sweatshirts, full insulated suits, parkas, Sorel boots, hats, and gloves with the fingers cut off so we all looked like we had gained fifty pounds. Instead of using a cherry picker style engine hoist we threw a "come-along" hand winch and a chain over a lower limb of a big oak tree. It was way too cold for beer so we were drinking Jim Beam rye whiskey. It certainly didn't help with the quality of the work but it kept us warm enough to carry on.

The owner of the Cuda was Anders Newcomer, a fellow student at Marlboro College. He had been messing around with '67-'69 Barracudas since junior high. He walked with a limp from some horrendous motorcycle accident in the past. The court had ordered him to either go to college or prison following an especially "vigorous" evening behind the wheel of some poor Plymouth. He chose college, of course, and we became good friends. He had the sweetest job on campus, tending bar for the faculty parties, which gave him leftover booze to share, so he had lots of friends. When I first met him he had the whole Six Pack intake and carbs sitting on top of the dresser in his room. I had never seen anything like that before! Neither had his roommate, who quickly requested a new place to stay. He drove like an animal! He'd wrecked many cars finding that ragged edge between perfect four wheel drift and the ditch. His mom's yard in Greenwich, Connecticut was littered with the carnage and she complained about it every time we would go there in search of food, beer, and ‘Cuda parts.

The '68 Barracuda we were working with was mostly dark metallic green with some primer spots and a bright yellow driver's side fender. It had just enough of the remnants of the original interior for five dirty dudes to go on a beer run. There was a Hurst four speed shifter protruding through a crude hole in the floor and a couple of mismatched gauges bolted to the ash tray but no tach or any other race car stuff. Even at the tender young age of nineteen, I recognized it as the turd that it was but hey, a '68 Cuda in any condition is a very cool looking car. My parents bought the Consumer Reports recommended station wagon every five years when I was growing up. They didn't even care what color it came in but some reason they were always brown. After driving a brown '76 Toyota Corolla wagon and a brown '80 Buick Century wagon through my high school years I was thrilled by anything with two doors. Also, I'd never seen my parents do anything to their cars beyond gassing them up and washing the windows, although even those minor chores were usually done by me. The idea of swapping a complete drive train seemed like alchemy or some other kind of magic trick. I would soon learn that there is no magic to an engine swap and the only alchemy involved is raising the money to buy all the parts required for the job.

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