“A well thought out, though perhaps an overly ambitious bad decision in the winter barren farmlands of Illinois…”
That’s how Alexa Black describes the project of rebuilding her 1974 Plymouth ‘Cuda. And while most hot rodding projects are probably overly ambitious, based on what she’s done so far, and what she’s still planning to do, Alexa’s ‘Cuda project is definitely well thought out, and is most assuredly NOT a bad decision.
Hot rods have been a part of Alexa’s life for years. Her dad has a 1970 AMX. Growing up, she loved going to car shows with him. Alexa said she’d always wanted a vintage car, but she assumed they were out of her reach. A few years ago, when she was looking around kind of informally, she saw a 1972 Charger that was very affordable. She didn’t buy it, but it planted the seed that maybe a classic hot rod could be an option for her.
Alexa and her Dad got to talking about his cars a few years ago. “He said to me that he could have bought the AMX a lot sooner in his life, and he really didn’t know why he didn’t. He said ‘I probably could have afforded it, and I could have done more, but I just didn’t think I could.’ That really resonated with me. There’s got to be a way I can do this and have this car before I retire and I’m too old to enjoy it.”
“I got set on it,” she said. “I got the obsession in my head that this is doable. What would it actually cost me? How could I afford it? What would I have to do? It slowly started developing and I started talking to people about it. Why spend $35,000 on a new Challenger when I could spend that money on a vintage car. This would be so cool.”
Alexa got a big tax refund in 2019, and chose to use that money to start her hot rod fund. She started with a few thousand dollars. She kept putting money aside. The fund kept building, and Alexa started researching what kind of cars she could get with her money.
Her list of possible hot rods had about 6 cars on it, but a ‘Cuda wasn’t one of them. Alexa didn’t think she could afford one. And then…
“I was watching an episode of Rust Brothers,” she told me, “where the guy buys a ‘Cuda for $16,000. Wait a minute… I could own a Cuda? My poor boyfriend got a call that day with me freaking out, ‘I could buy a Cuda! I can do this!’”
Despite the Rust Brothers’ success, finding a ‘Cuda she could afford was not an easy or quick task. But her persistence paid off and she found one for sale by a farmer in Illinois.
The farmer told Alexa that someone else owned the Plymouth in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. This person did a lot of work on it and kept it in a garage. But then it was neglected for a few years and the farmer bought it with the intention of restoring it and flipping it. Then just three months after he bought the ‘Cuda, a local farm came up for sale and he decided to purchase the farm. He was not going to have time to work on the car, so he sold it to Alexa in February, 2021, in the same condition it was in when he bought it.
“I’m sure he made money,” Alexa said, “but in the two years I was looking, I only ever saw two ‘Cudas for less than $30,000, and this was one of them.”
I asked Alexa what condition the car was in when she got it, “You could almost call it a barn find. The whole car needed some restoration,” she replied. When I said that it looked better than that in her photos she quickly said “It’s not.”
The good news was that the Plymouth was drivable and there was very little rust. “My father and I went over the car with a fine tooth comb,” she said. “There’s a silver dollar size hole in the floor pan right above the subframe and there’s some bubbling around the rear window. That’s really it.”
One main focus of Alexa’s well thought out plan with the Plymouth is to take it “one section at a time.” And her first focus was on improving the ‘Cuda’s driveability.
“Right now the main thing is getting it to drive the way I want it to,” she said. “When I first got that car, it was literally like riding a wooden roller coaster. Everything shook. Everything rattled. Running over a road reflector was like hitting a 6″ pot hole. It was bad.”
After installing a kickdown linkage, which was missing when Alexa bought the car, she went to work on the suspension.
Alexa replaced the front suspension with a complete Tier 3 kit from QA1. She is very impressed with the QA1 system. “The Tier 3 QA1 suspension system,” she told me “is Plug. And. Play. We were literally saying ‘Something has to go wrong here because this is too easy.’ Whoever is doing their engineering knows their shit.” Alexa’s also installed new MOOG tie rods, idler and pitman arms.
She installed a pair of Wilwood disc brakes and a new Leeds 1.125” bore master cylinder along with the suspension. As Alexa pointed out, “Stopping is more important than going.”
Out back she’s replaced the ‘Cuda’s leaf springs with General Spring 6-Leaf springs. They have an extra 2” of lift over stock (shown below), giving Alexa the “70s slant look” she loves and the room she needs for 15” Keystone Klassic wheels and 275/60 BFGoodrich TA Radials. The ‘Cuda has QA1 shocks all around.
Another project that’s in progress is replacing the rear end with an 8.75” unit. The third member was built by Quick Performance and has a Yukon nodular iron 489 case with a Detroit true trac differential, Timken bearings, billet steel bearing caps, and 3.23 gears. Some of her friends want her to put in steeper gears, but Alexa’s not doing it. “I want to be able to take it on road trips,” she said. “I don’t want to deal with that much RPM on the highway.” She’s putting Wilwood disc brakes on the rear as well.
Under the hood, the ‘Cuda has a 318, which is currently running with an Edelbrock 650 cfm four-barrel on a Performer RPM intake Manifold. Alexa reports it’s running fine, but she says, “it’s only 150 hp and that’s just not that much fun.” No it’s not.
To increase the fun factor, Alexa is having a new engine built. It’s going to be an upgraded 360 that will end up at about 408 cubic inches. She hopes to have the new engine soon, but the build is being held up because of trouble getting parts.
That new engine will still work through the current TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission that’s currently in the ‘Cuda. Although Alexa has thought about swapping it for a manual transmission – that’s what her dad did on his AMX – she’s keeping the TorqueFlite. “I’m having fun with my car as it is,” she said.
The ‘Cuda looks pretty good in the pictures Alexa has posted, but she says, “It still needs a lot of body work. There’s a lot of dents. Both bumpers need to be replaced. The front grill needs to be replaced.”
Alexa is a graphic designer, and with her artist mentality, it’s the ‘Cuda’s back-yard paint job that really drives her nuts. “The lines aren’t straight and in the sun you can tell the hood doesn’t match,” she said.
So, of course, the Plymouth will get a new paint job. “I’m very into color,” she said. “I think what I want is a base coat of a deep navy blue with a teal chameleon pearl on top of it. I’ve played with other colors. I mock them up on my computer. But everyone loves the teal. I love the teal. I’m having a hard time letting go of the teal.”
She got a sample of paint from Cande Shop, a veteran owned paint company (@cande_shop on Instagram), that’s pretty close to what she’s looking for. The two pictures below are of that sample – it’s just one color – shown in incandescent light and then in bright sunshine.
Alexa reports the Plymouth’s interior is in very bad shape. “All the seats have cheap re-covers from the 90’s,” she said, “and seams are cracking/splitting. The Dash is BADLY cracked. The door panels are scratched so bad it looks like an animal was trying to claw its way out.”
The rear speaker shelf was dry-rotted, so Alexa replaced it with a birch plywood shelf that she sanded and stained. She’s going to repeat that process on the center console’s wood trim as well. Alexa has also replaced the stock dash lights with led lights. Even in an otherwise stock dash, the difference the lights make is pretty dramatic.
Eventually she’s going to re-do the entire interior, including a new dashboard, leather seats, and a new sound system – but with a retro-look radio. Alexa’s boyfriend used to work on automotive stereos so he’s going to be in charge of that. “ Whatever he puts in there will be amazing,” Alexa said.
In keeping with her well thought out plan, Alexa realizes that the interior work is probably best done when removing the windshield, and removing the windshield is probably best done with the body work and doing the body work is probably best done after the new engine is installed. And of course, all of that impacts her budget. “It all ties in,” she said, “and can be overwhelming.” But she’s working it out.
Although she’s just started with the ‘Cuda rebuild, Alexa likes where the car is and where it’s going. “Everything I’ve done to it has made it a little better and a little better. I’m pretty happy with how it runs right now.”
Alexa drives the ‘Cuda a fair amount. She doesn’t hesitate to drive the Plymouth two hours to a show. And she will drive it to work occasionally. “I work in the film industry,” she told me. “I’ll park it in the lot and if I go out there for any reason there’s always 3 or 4 people crowded around my car.”
The lots at work have given Alexa some great backdrops for pictures, and you’ll see on her Instagram that she’s done some great photo shoots not only with the ‘Cuda and with other classic cars.
I asked Alexa if she was a model. “Not officially,” she said. “I have a particular love for vintage fashion, so I’ve made a lot of vintage dresses in my time and worn them around.” Her vintage clothing caught the attention of The Atlanta Concours d’Elegance classic car show. They asked if Alexa would be willing to let them photograph her and her fashion with the cars in the show.
The home page for Alexa’s Instagram account (@chick_with_a_cuda) says “No money. No experience. And no idea what to do… One woman’s journey to restore a vintage car.”
After talking to her about what she’s been doing, I’m going to have to disagree with her on this. Alexa is still learning, but she’s rapidly building up hands-on experience and it seems to me she’s got a very good idea of what she’s doing.
Not surprisingly, that started with her Dad. “My dad made sure I knew how to do a certain number of things on any car before I set out on my own,” she told me. “At 16 he was teaching me how to change spark plugs.”
Another great resource for Alexa has been the North Georgia Mopar Club. The weekend after she bought her ‘Cuda happened to be the Mopar weekend at the Caffeine and Octane show in Atlanta, and the North Georgia Mopar Club was there.
“I started talking to them,” Alexa said. “They were excited to meet me and got me involved in the club. God bless them, they’ve all been so helpful. Lee, another ‘Cuda owner, has let me use his lift a couple of times. We’ve traded parts back and forth. They’ve been so very helpful. A lot of the help I’ve gotten was from club members.”
Alexa is eagerly learning what she needs for the restoration of her ‘Cuda. And she’s approached learning those things with a very positive attitude. She’s seen what other people have done to restore vintage cars and she thinks “If they can do it, why can’t I?”
“I want the car to be built by me,” she said. “I don’t want to be written off as one of those car girls that doesn’t know anything about cars. I do know a lot about cars. I try to do research on my own and figure out what I can do on my own and at what point do I say I need help.”
Despite the photographic proof of her work, Alexa says she still gets a lot of negative comments on social media. “I’ve still been accused of it all being BS – that I’m just another Instagram Barbie and I don’t actually know what I’m doing. But I’m not going to stop what I’m doing. It’s about me and enjoying my car. Look what I did. If I can do it, you can too.”
Alexa calls her ‘Cuda Betty Anne, after her grandmother who passed away a few days before Thanksgiving in 2020. Alexa told me, “My inheritance from her is what allowed me to purchase the car so I felt it was fitting she was honored in the car. I’m sure she would be equal parts horrified that I ‘wasted’ my money on such an expensive thing, instead of saving it, but she would also be very happy for me to see how much joy the car brings me.”
About her ‘Cuda, Alexa told me, “Every time I walk out of my front door and see it, I start smiling.”
I’m pretty sure Grandmother Betty would agree that in the long run, Alexa’s smile is much more important than her savings account balance.
Photos courtesy of Alexa Black
Click here for more photos of Betty Anne
You can follow Alexa and Betty Anne on Instagram at @chick_with_a_cuda