Craig Parker gets the ride of his life in one of the finest street machines ever built in Oz - the iconic King Kong Cuda
This story on Greg & Chris's Cuda was originally published in the November 2016 issue of Street Machine
AFTER seeing the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda dubbed ‘Sick Fish’ that Rad Rides By Troy built for UFC commentator Joe Rogan, Graeme Cowin (i.e. Mr Rocket Industries), decided he wanted one just like it – only better! So a 340 donor car was purchased out of Adelaide in 2005, and the story of King Kong Cuda began.
The initial one-year build blew out to five years – along with the budget. Overseen by Rocket’s Chris Palazzo, the build started with Fast Lane Speed Shop, who remade virtually every panel by hand, as well as incorporated a host of custom touches including the metal dash, console, full-metal nosecone and integrated rear spoiler. From there Hills & Co finessed the body and laid on its two-tone grey/silver livery.
Ultimately the build was rushed in the final stages, so that it could make its Street Machine Summernats debut in 2010. This meant it was never properly debugged – until now.
Even so, King Kong Cuda is one the most epic street machines ever built in this country – period! It’s graced the cover of SM twice, took out a host of awards at Summernats 23, including Top Judged Elite and People’s Choice, then cleaned up Street Machine Of The Year for 2010.
Having won just about everything worth winning, Graeme sold King Kong Cuda to a mate of his in Queensland, who later on-sold it to Greg and Julie Holmes from South Australia. Unfortunately the incredible Plymouth was damaged in transit, necessitating some fixes that turned into a full rebuild.
During the rebuild process, circumstances changed with Greg and Julie and they were contemplating getting out of the ’Cuda. At this point Chris Palazzo offered to partner up with the pair to take a financial stake in the car. This way, Chris’s business Outlaw Rod Shop, which has a track record for turning out show-quality streeters, could work hand-in-hand with Simon Bonello of Ground Level Panel & Paint, who ironed out the scrunched sheet metal and laid on the King’s new coat of custom PPG charcoal grey. He could also ensure the ’Cuda went back together properly, receiving the debugging it always deserved.
“I had invested a lot of myself in the ’Cuda,” Chris explains. “The car has its own personality and I wanted to make sure that when Greg and Julie have it over in SA, it is trouble-free and they really get to enjoy it.”
And now, they’re letting me take it for a drive. Why? Well for one, we never had the chance to get some killer driving images of the car, something photographer Chris Thorogood was burning to do. Second, we wanted to see just how well this crazy wet dream of a car actually drives. Would it be everything we hoped? Or a bitter disappointment? Either way, we’re about to find out.
As a work of automotive art, King Kong Cuda’s got it all – 700 horses, belly-scraping ride, mile-wide rubber, a gazillion gauges, trick this, crazy that, monster the other. And being such a mammoth build, I’m prepared for a litany of unique character quirks.
“The buttons for the electric seat are here,” Chris instructs. “Make sure you press ‘M’ on the airbag controls to bring it up to ride height, and watch the power.”
He then hands me the keys and walks around to the passenger side.
“Is that it?” I enquire. “What about backing it out of the garage?”
“Nah, you’ll be right,” Chris assures me. “I keep telling everyone, it drives like a normal car.”
Chris is pretty adamant about this point: “It was never built to win shows; it was always meant to be a killer street car. It’s gone back together properly this time, and I’m keen to demonstrate that it’s reliable and genuinely street-driven.”
As the healthy Hemi erupts into life, there’s no escaping the deep, guttural, heart-thumping throb of that many horses stampeding out of twin three-inch pipes. However, it’s far from ridiculous – definitely a music-to-the-ears thing.
Concerned that even at idle, the sheer torque of the thumping great Hemi could probably flip the ’Cuda on its roof, I push the brake pedal with considerable force as I pull the Bandit shifter into ‘R’. To my surprise, the ’Cuda doesn’t buck or snarl. I don’t have to ‘catch’ the throttle; it simply settles at a couple of hundred rpm and is clearly happy to get on with things.
For the first few kilometres, piloting such a valuable and fearsome beast is overwhelmingly intimidating. But I have to admit, the way King Kong Cuda drives is drama-free, with rather civilised road manners. It doesn’t dart, or wander all over the shop. It goes where you want it to go, the steering feels nice and all the controls are intuitively placed. The throttle is pleasantly progressive, tractable enough for manoeuvring in tight confines and linear enough to sneak up on the power rather than have it come on like a light switch. The Baer braking system doesn’t throw you through the windscreen, instead pulling up fast ’n’ straight.
For a streeter with fully fabricated suspension and re-engineered, er, everything, there is nary a squeak, rattle, knock or shimmy; it feels very, very solid. And while it sits on its guts when aired out, it was built to drive at just 100mm off the deck, which is still gnarly-low. That said, the airbag set-up – while competent – isn’t for me. I’d love to see what it drives like on a set of dialled-in coil-overs. But hey, I really am nit-picking.
There’s nothing subtle about King Kong Cuda. It’s loud, it’s brawny and it’s downright sexy – everybody stares. Chris is far more aggressive on the throttle than I’m daring to be, and it really plants you back in the seat when you get up it. At one set of lights, an overly judicious jab of the throttle results in a firm step to the left. So while the car never feels like it wants to rip your head off, you’re in no doubt it’s not to be trifled with.
It’s all over way too soon. My nerves barely had time to settle to allow me to really enjoy the experience. And while I have to admit, I couldn’t bring myself to do a Jeremy Clarkson and flog the absolute living daylights out of King Kong Cuda, laying blacks wherever I went – though Chris demonstrated the car can do that with ease – I did log 35-odd minutes of seat time, enough to leave me grinning like a Cheshire cat for the next couple of days.
All that’s left to do is to head down to the pub to brag to the lads. No doubt they’ll tire of the story after I tell them at least 100 times. But fugg, I drove King Kong Cuda!
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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