Jeff Kiszonas has a neighbor who has an SRT Challenger. Really nice car. Occasionally the neighbor pulls up next to Jeff’s beautiful 1969 Barracuda resto-mod and says “Mine’s faster.”
Jeff always replies, “Yeah, but mine’s cooler.”
No doubt about that.
In 2006, Jeff was visiting his friend Al’s shop in California. He’d met Al while both of them lived in California, and they used to hot rod together – Jeff in his Dodge Dart GT and Al in his Datsun 260Z. But in 2006, Jeff was living in Michigan. He was in California on a business trip and went by Al’s shop to visit.
“Go out in the back,” Al said, “I think there’s something there you might like.”
Jeff described the Barracuda he saw then as “pretty much a basket case”, but he was interested. He met with the owner Bill. Bill and Jeff hit it off (they’re still friends to this day) and agreed on a price that was actually lower than some other offers Bill had already received. Bill said he made the deal because he was sure Jeff was going “do the right thing with it” and not sell the car for parts.
The Barracuda got shipped back to Michigan. The engine had been recently rebuilt, but otherwise Jeff had some work to do just to get the car road-worthy. The interior was completely trashed; the headliner was hanging down and the seats, upholstery, and carpets were badly deteriorated. Mechanically, the brakes, suspension, steering, and tires all required attention. But Jeff got it going, driving the ‘69 around to a few car shows up North.
A new job required Jeff and his wife Margaret to move to Arizona, and they decided the time was right for a complete restoration of the Barracuda – which they call Wanda. (So, yes… that makes the car a Fish called Wanda.)
Jeff had clear goals for the restoration. “I’m not 18 any more,” he said, “and I care more about cruising than I do about getting from light-to-light. I belong to a couple of Mopar clubs and we cruise!”
He wanted to build the car as a resto-mod, with driveability, handling, and comfort taking priority over quarter-mile times, while maintaining period correct hot rod attributes like the look, stance, and sound.
Jeff started the build by taking the entire car apart and sending the body out to a shop. Fortunately, the floor was in pretty good shape with just a few pinholes on the passenger side that needed to be filled in. Unfortunately, Jeff found out that at some point in the past, the car had been rear ended. Although the accident didn’t damage the frame rails or unibody, it did break all the welds inside the trunk floor and between the quarter panels and the deck valence beneath the rear window.
“Because of that,” Jeff said, “everytime it would rain, the water would go down the damaged right side and into the trunk. There was a hole in the trunk about the size of my fist.”
The trunk floor was replaced, including the deck valence and rear valence, along with the trunk rain drip rails and both bumpers. Other than the accident damage, the body was in good shape. To this day it’s still all original sheet metal except for the Stinger fiberglass hood with a 6-Pack scoop.
The original white paint was completely stripped off and the gorgeous purple you see now was applied. Jeff went through a lot of color combinations in his head before he settled on the RM Diamont metallic violet with blue, red, silver, violet, and white pearl.
With the body done, Jeff went to work on the suspension and powertrain.
He installed a complete Firm Feel suspension, including tubular upper and boxed lower control arms, adjustable connecting rods and Polyurethane bushings. He upgraded the stock 0.882” torsion bars to 1” and added a front sway bar. There are new shocks at all four corners and Eaton Detroit leaf springs in the rear.
Wanda still has the factory front disk and rear drum brakes. But with the exception of the brake lines, Jeff had to replace most of the brake system, including the master cylinder and all four wheel cylinders. To get that period correct look and stance, there are 15” Mopar Rally wheels wearing 235/60-R15 Cooper Cobra Radial GT tires on all four corners,
The Barracuda does not have power steering or power brakes, and that’s OK with Jeff. Weighing in at about 3000 pounds, Wanda drives just fine with the manual versions. But Jeff’s thinking he might upgrade to power steering sometime in the future to tighten up the steering a bit and to make it easier for his wife to drive the car.
Those suspension mods are keeping with Jeff’s desire for his Barracuda to “go around corners as well as it went straight”. That goal also impacted the engine choice.
Jeff purchased a complete 440 big block for Wanda, with a 727 transmission to go with it.
“They sat in my garage, Jeff said, “and I kept looking at them and looking at the Barracuda… and I sold them. If I put those in there, it’d be the fastest thing on the road around here, but I wouldn’t be able to go around corners. That engine would have defeated all the suspension upgrades that made it handle so nicely.”
But make no mistake, Jeff’s small block is very healthy. It’s a 1973 block, bored .030 over. With flat top pistons, Cometic .027” steel head gaskets, and 1967 318 cast iron heads, it’s running an 8.5:1 compression ratio. Jeff considered installing high performance heads, but once again, they didn’t make sense for the type of driving he’s doing with Wanda.
The heads have been mildly reworked by a local shop. They have 1.94 / 1.60 valves with 11/32 diameter stems, polished bowls, 3-angle valve job, and hardened seats. The 320 pound valve springs are compressed by PRW 1.5 ratio adjustable roller tip rocker arms. Mopar Performance valve covers top it all off.
The small block has a Comp Cams 270H grind camshaft with 240 duration and .470 lift; a 600 CFM Edelbrock AVS 4-barrel carb sitting between an Edelbrock Performer aluminum intake manifold and Edelbrock chrome air cleaner.
Smelling gasoline one night in his garage, Jeff found that the carb sitting just on a thin gasket was getting too hot and boiling the gas in the bowls. He installed a .320” thermal spacer underneath the AVS, which provides great insulation, and gives some more plenum space for better fuel distribution. It also eliminated the slight run on problem Wanda was having.
A set of TTi ceramic coated shorty exhaust headers, with internal heat shields, feed the 2.5” dual exhaust with an H crossover pipe and Flow-master D-40 mufflers with chrome tips.
The 318 has a Pertronix billet distributor with the electronic Ignitor II module and an MSD Blaster II coil. Jeff is liking the electronic ignition. “I set the timing one time and boom! That’s it.” There’s a Tuff Stuff 130 Amp alternator to keep everything charged up.
The end result is a calculated 300 horsepower and 350 ft-lb of torque from the small block. That power goes into a TorqueFlite 904 3-speed automatic transmission that Jeff controls with a B&M floor shifter. Jeff replaced the original rear end with an 8.75” Sure Grip. When he rebuilt the rear end, Jeff chose smaller 2.93 gears over the orginal 3.20s because the new gears made for better cruising. “Everywhere I drive is 45-80 mph,” he said. “The 2.93 gear is better for me.”
Hot rodding in Arizona has some advantages – and one big disadvantage. It’s really hot in Arizona. This year they had 54 days straight days with temperatures over 100 degrees. And for the last two months Jeff’s been wrestling with the cooling system.
It started when Jeff flushed out the old radiator. “I flushed out the old one with vinegar and distilled water, filled it back up, and went to get a sandwich,” he told me. “When I came back out it was leaking all over the place. Apparently when I flushed it, I knocked out all the little bits and pieces that were blocking holes.”
So Jeff installed a Wizard Cooling aluminum 2-row radiator and twin 1600 CFM 10” electric fans, which are mounted in a custom shroud. The radiator gives more cooling capacity, but it’s deeper than what he used to have, and much deeper than the stock radiator.
He’s still working through the resulting space and cooling issues, looking to increase the cfm rate of the fans. He’s even considering putting a push fan in front of the radiator, but there’s not much room up there either, and he was hoping to use that space for an engine oil cooler.
You can’t cruise in style without a comfortable place to drive, and Margaret gets credit for the Barracuda’s beautiful white interior. “My wife said ‘If we’re going purple on the exterior, I want a white interior.’” Jeff said. He was reluctant at first, but now he thinks it’s a perfect offset to the purple paint.
The upholstery is white faux leather. Jeff originally wanted cloth seats. “I don’t like leather,” he said, “It makes me sweat.” But he does love the way it looks, so he’s got a local shop working on custom seat covers that will match the interior and be a little cooler than the leather.
Wanda has a front bench seat with a folding armrest and 3 point seat/shoulder belts. Jeff can check out the in-dash tachometer through his billet aluminum steering wheel mounted on a Flaming River chrome tilt steering column. The JVC 50-watt stereo, with deck mounted Rockford Fosgate 6×9 triaxial speakers, provides the tunes while on the road.
That stereo is a little easier to listen to since Jeff installed Kilmat sound and vibration deadener from the firewall to the interior, over the hump, and all the way to the tail panel of the car. “It made a huge difference,” Jeff said.
He started with the trunk, which was just bare metal. With his dual exhaust and Flowmasters, it was pretty loud in the passenger compartment. Having a conversation while driving down the highway required yelling. But since Jeff installed the mats, he and Margaret can enjoy conversations at a normal volume. To further improve the ambiance, Jeff plans to have insulation installed under the headliner as well.
There’s an Old Air retrofit air conditioning system in Wanda – for now anyway. To help resolve the cooling system problems, Jeff’s thinking he may have to take out the A/C temporarily. Once he gets the engine cooling worked out, and he’d reinstall the Old Air system.
One other Arizona heat-related item on Jeff’s to-do list is to have a ceramic coating put on the windshield. The coating is made by 3M and will act as a UV heat reflector, much like the glass that is used in home windows in Arizona. But the coating blocks only 5% of light, which will still leave Wanda’s sparkling interior shining through.
Not surprisingly, Jeff reports that Wanda is a lot of fun to drive. A recent Mopar club day trip included lots of windy mountain roads that ended up at an elevation of 6600 feet. Jeff says Wanda had “no issues” at all on the trip, and got 14 mpg going up the mountains and 16 coming down.
You also won’t be surprised to hear Jeff say that Wanda gets a lot of attention. He hears a lot of “Hey that’s cool” comments. One day he heard a guy in a delivery truck behind him at the stop light yelling, “That thing is badass!” In the first year after he restored Wanda, he won three trophies at three different car shows. As soon as he parked it at his first Cars and Coffee car show, people swarmed it. But the compliments Jeff loves the most are the ones he gets when a biker pulls up next to him and shows his appreciation for what Wanda has become.
Restoring the Barracuda is Jeff’s retirement hobby, and he’s jumped into it with both feet. “I research a lot,” Jeff said. “I’ve learned a ton the last 4 years. I try to take in as much information as I can, learn what I don’t know, and make decisions from there.”
Part of Jeff’s research showed that from 1967 through 1969, the years of the Gen 2 Barracudas like Wanda, there were about a million Mustangs manufactured, 3/4 of a million Camaros, but just 235,000 Barracudas. “That’s part of why I love Mopars,” he told me. “There aren’t as many of them. I’m lucky enough to have one.”
Jeff set a goal to build a resto-mod to cruise in with Margaret, and he did the research to make sure he did it right. “I think I’ve accomplished that,” he said. “I think I’ve put together a pretty good hot rod.”
No doubt about that.
Photos courtesy of Jeff Kiszonas
Click here to see more pictures of Wanda