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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Gary Dodane’s 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda is on display at the National Automotive and Truck Museum in Auburn.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The front seats are leather and the rear seats are vinyl inside Gary Dodane’s 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda.

  • The dashboard of the 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda is referred to as a “rally dash,” which does not include a tachometer.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette A 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, owned by Gary Dodane, is on display at the National Automotive & Truck Museum in Auburn. The car has no hood pins.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Gary Dodane, with his 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda. Dodane, is only the fourth owner of the car which he is getting ready to auction off.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette A 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, owned by Gary Dodane, is on display at the National Automotive & Truck Museum in Auburn.

  • The engine of a 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda is original except for the battery. The one-of-a-kind car is up for auction with a $3.2 million reserve.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette A 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, owned by Gary Dodane, is on display at the National Automotive & Truck Museum in Auburn.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette A 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, owned by Gary Dodane, is on display at the National Automotive & Truck Museum in Auburn.

  • In 34 years, Gary Dodane has put only 30 miles on his 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda.

Thursday, November 02, 2017 1:00 am

His million-dollar Cuda

Bought for $500, one-of-a-kind car heading to auction

Kimberly Dupps Truesdell | For The Journal Gazette

Gary Dodane had nearly given up.

Every Monday for months, his day off from working as a barber, he would call an acquaintance to ask the same question.

“Are you ready to sell your car?”

Each time, the acquaintance had said, “No.”

On June 23, 1983, Dodane clearly recalls, he decided that would be the last call. He was going to give up on the 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda.

He went to a pay phone at a gas station, inserted the required coins and dialed the phone number for the last time.

But Dodane, now 69, didn't get the answer he expected. The acquaintance, who had fallen on hard times, agreed to make a deal.

On that day, for $500, Dodane became the owner of the Alpine white muscle car.

More than 34 years later, the car with an 8-track player, black leather seats in the front and vinyl in the back, will go back up for sale – with a $3.2 million reserve.

Nothing special

Dodane, who has been a barber more than 49 years and owns Karl's Barber Shop off Maplecrest Road, still doesn't know what it was about the 1970 Hemi Cuda that made him pursue it with such interest.

It was a clean, low-mile car and quite powerful. But, as he tells it, there was no shortage of muscle cars on the road then.

“In '83 nobody wanted these cars. Nobody was researching the cars,” Dodane says.

Cars like the Hemi Cuda were considered gas hogs, getting about 5 mph or 6 mph to the gallon with gas at the time about 60 cents a gallon. The Hemi Cuda required high-test gas, too, because of the high compression of the engine.

Dodane, though, thought he would take a chance on the car. “I've lost money on cars and I've made money on cars,” he thought at the time. “This is just another opportunity, and let's go for the challenge.”

“I drove the car home that day, not knowing what I had that day,” Dodane says.

Car No. 1

The 1970 E-Body Plymouth Hemi Cuda, which currently resides in a museum, is a manual four-speed with 17,729 miles. The serial number is BS23ROB100003.

To most people, the lengthy list of letters and numbers doesn't mean much. But when Dodane saw zero after zero as he completed paperwork to transfer the title, he realized that there might be something to this car.

He contacted Galen Govier, who had a reputation for being able to research cars based on their serial numbers. Govier didn't want to know anything about Dodane's recently purchased Hemi Cuda – just the number on the fender tag, which Dodane found by doing a pencil scratch test.

Two weeks later, at 11 o'clock on a Wednesday night, Govier called Dodane.

“Are you sitting down?” Govier asked him.

The Hemi Cuda, Dodane learned, wasn't just one of the muscle cars on the road. It was the one.

The car was the first of 652 Hemi Cudas built in the 1970 model year, being hand built on Aug. 1, 1969, at the Clairepointe pre-production facility in Michigan. According to Govier, only 284 of the 652 were manual transmissions with the others being 727 Torqueflite automatics. Unlike other Hemis, it doesn't have painted stripes.

“This car is the total envy of any muscle car lover and the total epitome of what a muscle car is and should be,” Govier says on the website for Dodane's car, Firsthemicudaever.com.

The bit of knowledge that Govier gave Dodane sparked a three-decade research project on the car that was a pilot for the Plymouth company.

He knows that his car didn't come with a broadcast sheet tucked in the springs under the front seat like other assembly line cars. He knows that it was made in a secretive area. He knows that though it was the first one made, it was the last one to be sold. He knows that Plymouth ran tests with the car and it was taken apart and put back together. If it were made today, it couldn't be sold, he says.

“I've never researched a car like this one,” says Dodane, who says he has always loved cars. “It is in my blood now to research things.”

No joyriding

Even with its powerful engine and the lengths Dodane went to buy it, he's only put 30 miles on it in 34 years and it's been registered with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles just one year.

“I couldn't afford to drive it,” he says.

It's not just the gas but the attention the car draws from others. A bump, a scratch could drastically change its worth, and one can't come by parts for a car like that. And so for 22 years, it's been on display at the National Automotive and Truck Museum in Auburn.

The Hemi Cuda has been for sale just a few times – up for auction twice and posted on Craigslist.

The first time Dodane put the car on the block was 2001 at the eBay/Kruse International Auburn Fall auction. The price at the time was $300,000 and bids got up to $150,000. In 2007, the car went to Atlantic City but the reserve wasn't met.

However, a lot has changed.

Dodane has seen Hemi Cuda convertibles, of which less than 10 were per model year in 1970 and 1971, go for $3 million to $5 million. With the rarity of his Hemi Cuda and the documentation, Dodane thinks his $3.2 million reserve is warranted.

With the help of family, he built the website to help garner attention for the car. “Word is getting out,” he says, adding that he's kind of amazed at the inquiries.

He's been in contact with media outlets, car lovers and two auction companies in Arizona. Regardless of which one he chooses, the Hemi Cuda will go on the block early next year.

“I'm not getting any younger,” Dodane says when asked about why he wants to sell the car now. But, there's something he wants to do with the money – buy the cars he's always wanted.

There's seven on the list, he says, including other muscle cars such as the Plymouth Superbird and Dodge Charger Daytona.

He won't drive them, of course, and with the extra money from the sale – maybe, he hopes – he'll find a place to store them on his own.