Shades of Black: Joe Mazzola's 1970 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda and Pam Mazzola's 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8
“Life got in the way of drag racing and I wound up parking the car in the garage where it served mostly as a shelf. I got plenty of offers on it over the years, but I thought it fit pretty well in there, so that’s where it stayed.”
So sat Joe Mazzola’s 1970 ’Cuda: a tire-shredding terror on the street and strip sentenced to 20 years hard time propping up paint cans and garden tools. But after two decades, the imprisoned Mopar would be turned loose with a slick new look, a monster Hemi under the hood, and a cutting-edge partner in crime set to follow in its 18" tread marks.
Back in 1973, Joe emptied his savings account and netted the Mopar as a bank repo for a now unheard of $1,400, complete with a black vinyl roof, four bald tires, and a respectable 383 under the Sublime Green hood. As an added benefit, it didn’t hurt his chances with his then-girlfriend, Pam.
“I was actually the one who told him to get it. It was my dream car,” she admits. “And it was way cooler than that old Bel Air wagon he was driving.”
Evidently Joe’s investment paid off, as the pair hopped in the Mopar—bald tires and all—headed to Virginia, and got married that same year. However, after a few years of “spirited” driving, his relationship with the ’Cuda wasn’t quite as blissful.
“Within three years, I had about 10 points on my license thanks to that car,” Joe laughs. “At that point I decided that if I was going to keep it, I'd have to take it racing.”
To keep up with the big fish at the strip, Joe punched out the block .030", added a set of Ramcharger heads, and topped it all off with a free-breathing 750 cfm Holley. Earning him the nickname “Mad Maz” at the strip, his fully built, 110-octane guzzling drag racer darted down the quarter-mile, reeling in 11-second time slips until a frame-twisting final run sent the Mopar into early retirement.
“I didn’t even notice at first,” recalls Joe. “I went to get in the car and I saw this huge crease down the rear quarter panel. I thought it’d been backed into, so I asked around, and someone suggested that I’d tweaked the frame on my last pass. Sure enough, it was completely bent.”
The ’Cuda spent the rest of the season up on blocks, letting gravity undo what two sticky tires and several hundred ft.-lbs. of torque accomplished in an instant. And that’s where the car sat for the next 20 years.
In the meantime, Joe and Pam raised two children and even campaigned a 1971 ’Vette around the local show circuit, but like any E-body enthusiast will tell you, for Joe it was Mopar or no car. “The Corvette was great, but eventually I thought to myself, ‘this thing isn't half the car that I have sitting in the garage!’”
After 20 years of hibernation, Joe picked up right where he left off, giving the race-prepped ’Cuda the full Pro Street treatment. With the help of Carson “Skippy” Stone of Skippy Did It Race Cars in Ravenna, OH, the rear seats came out and a four-link suspension with a custom RideTech setup went in. To get a grip on that metal bending 383, they tubbed the rear wheelwells to make space for the biggest set of Cragars and Mickey Thompsons they could find.
But even with the extra tread and slick suspension, the high-strung 383 proved too much motor for casual cruising. “Once I started taking it to shows, it was pretty obvious that I had to either tear apart the 383 and make it easier for driving on the street, or completely remove the motor and find something else,” says Joe, smiling. “...And besides, I wanted a Hemi in there!”
With the help of his fellow cruisers, Joe cast out a line and pulled in a beauty. This Hemi—an impressive hunk of iron in its own right—came loaded to the gills with top
spec racing goodies like a Valesco billet stroker crank, Wiseco 10.5:1 pistons, and an aggressive Crane hydraulic roller cam. It was a 512 c.i.d. behemoth!
Friend and engine builder Rusty Vaughn handled the transplant, and then it was back to Skippy, where he and Joe chromed every component they could get their hands on. Finally, it was off to Lintz Collision for a shot of gloss black and that signature silver stripe.
“That’s about the time everyone started freaking out when we took it to shows,” says Pam. “You never get tired of all the thumbs up—everyone loves a ’Cuda!”
For most car buffs, this is where the story ends, but not for Joe and Pam. Refusing to be outdone by her husband, Pam took delivery of her own Mopar musclecar in early 2009, and the family resemblance is undeniable.
Just like its older brother, Pam’s Brilliant Black Challenger SRT8 packs a tire-melting Hemi under the hood, but this time it’s a modern, fuel-injected motor. The contemporary Elephant engine sports a long list of performance upgrades courtesy of “Dyno” Steve Leerentveld at RDP Motorsport in Perry, OH, including a custom RDP cold air induction and 3" exhaust setup, BilletTech fuel rails, and a DiabloSport Predator flash tune, squeezing an estimated 500 hp out of its 6.1 liters.
But the mods for this modern Mopar don’t stop there. “I really wanted people to say ‘wow’ when I opened up the hood,” says Pam. To complement her Challenger’s dash, Pam added a heavy dose of flash with a show stopping combination of chrome powdercoat and polished stainless steel accents, plus a specially designed fiberglass firewall fascia to clean up the engine compartment. A silver side stripe is the last bit of DNA that unites Joe and Pam’s twin Mopars.
Which is best? Well that all depends on who you ask. “The Challenger is amazing going down the road. It has all the luxury of a modern car with more than enough muscle to keep things fun,” says Pam. “Yeah, but I don’t like the ’Cuda because it's comfortable to drive,” retorts Joe. “I drive it for the reaction I get!”
Photography By: Keith Berr Productions
Story By: Dan Michaud
FAST SPECS: 1970 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda
Owner: Joe Mazzola, Ravenna, Ohio
Suspension: Custom front/rear RideTech setup with fabricated steel A-arms, custom 4-link rear suspension
Rear Axle: Narrowed Chrysler Dana 60, Strange Engineering 35-spline ring and pinion, Moser Engineering center section
Brakes: Wilwood 10" disc brakes (front/rear)
Wheels and Tires: Cragar SS wheels (15 x 7 front/15 x 14 rear); Mickey Thompson sportsman tires (28 x 7.5 front/29 x 18.5 rear)
Chassis Fabrication By: Skippy Did It Race Cars
Engine and Transmission
Engine Type: 512 c.i.d. Hemi
Reciprocating Assembly: Valesco billet crank, Wiseco 10.5:1 pistons, Manley H-type rods, Pete Jackson gear drive
Cylinder Heads: Mopar Performance aluminum cylinder heads
Valvetrain: Crane 1.5:1 hydraulic roller lifters, Manley Race Series valves (2.25" intake/1.90" exhaust), Crane Cams hydraulic roller cam (.580" lift, 236° duration)
Induction: 650 cfm Edelbrock Performer carbs with Endurashine finish, Mopar Performance dual-quad manifold
Ignition: MSD 6AL ignition box, Taylor 10mm ThunderVolt ignition wires
Cooling: Griffin custom-size radiator, FlowKooler mechanical water pump
Exhaust: TTI Exhaust 2 1/4" ceramic-coated headers, custom-bent 2 1/2" stainless steel exhaust, high-flow RDP mufflers
Transmission: Chrysler 727 Torqueflite transmission, TCI 2,400 rpm StreetFighter torque converter, B&M deep transmission pan
Other Items: Milodon Drag Race 10 qt. oil pan, Milodon high-volume oil pump
Engine Assembly By: Rusty Vaughn
Modifications: Fiberglass hood, AAR rear spoiler, urethane front bumper, LED taillights
Paint Color: Gloss black
Body Work By: Lintz Collision, Ravenna, OH
FAST SPECS: 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8
Owner: Pam Mazzola, Ravenna, Ohio
Suspension: Pedders Suspension front/rear shocks and coil springs (2" drop)
Brakes: Hawk Performance ceramic brake pads (front/rear)
Wheels and Tires: Stock Challenger SRT8 wheels with custom chrome powdercoat (20" x 9" front/rear), Mopar center caps, Vredestein Sessanta tires (275/40 ZR 20 front, 315/35 ZR 20 rear)
Engine Type: 6.1L Hemi
Induction: RDP cold air induction kit, RDP 85.5mm billet throttle body
Exhaust: Kook’s long-tube headers, custom 3" RDP stainless steel pipes with high-flow catalytic converters
Other Items: JET Performance 180° thermostat, DiabloSport Predator flash programmer, Moroso aluminum power steering tank, Moroso aluminum coolant tank, RDP coil pack covers, BilleTech billet fuel rails, BilleTech oil catch can, Moroso valve covers, Summit Racing braided stainless steel hoses, Summit Racing
aluminum hose ends, custom fiberglass firewall shroud
Modifications: Color matched rear spoiler
Paint Color: Brilliant Black crystal pearl with silver accent stripe