The Plymouth Cuda 440 Rapid Transit From 1971
This is the Plymouth Cuda 440 Rapid Transit show car and unless you’re very well connected (or have a long memory), you may never have seen it before. I know I hadn’t. It’s a custom that was designed as one of the four original Plymouth Rapid Transit System caravan traveling road show cars from the 1970s.
The Plymouth Rapid Transit System Caravan was a promotional collection of four custom Plymouth cars that travelled across the United States in 1970 and 1971, being displayed at key auto shows and at major Plymouth dealers across the country.
Fast Facts – The Plymouth Cuda 440 Rapid Transit Show Car
- This is the 1971 Plymouth Cuda 440 Rapid Transit show car that was hidden away from public view for over 50 years. Those who knew of its location attempted to buy it but no offers were accepted, and the car remained out of sight.
- The Plymouth Rapid Transit System was a traveling caravan of custom show cars. They toured the United States attending auto shows and guest appearances at major Plymouth dealers. The promotion was a wild success, and it’s still remembered by many people today over 50 years later.
- There were four cars in the Plymouth Rapid Transit System, with some guest appearances from drag racing and other specialty Plymouths. The four primary cars were all heavily customized, they were a 1970 Plymouth Duster, a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner, a 1970 Plymouth Cuda, and a 1971 Plymouth Cuda.
- Three of these cars were tracked down and bought by collector Steven Juliano who made it a personal mission to acquire, restore, and showcase the cars. He was never able to buy the fourth car, the 1970 Plymouth Cuda, but it’s now coming up for public sale with Mecum.
The Plymouth Rapid Transit System
The Plymouth Rapid Transit System was developed in the late 1960s as an answer to Ford’s Total Performance and Dodge’s Scat Pack. The Rapid Transit System consisted of four custom Plymouth muscle cars that travelled in a caravan from coast to coast, drumming up publicity and sales.
Above Video: This is the original Plymouth dealer promotional film for the 1970 Rapid Transit System. It explains the specification of each car in the group in some detail, and it was clearly targeted at more knowledgeable enthusiasts.
In muscle car circles, the original Plymouth Rapid Transit System vehicles are now considered highly collectible, though back in the 1970s after the promotional tour ended they had been almost shunned by collectors.
There four cars in the Plymouth Rapid Transit System were all designed by Harry Bradley, a Hot Wheels designer who had also worked at General Motors. The models used were a 1970 Plymouth Duster, a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner, a 1970 Plymouth Cuda, and a 1971 Plymouth Cuda.
“Anybody can offer a car. Only Plymouth offers a System.”
Each of the four cars was significantly restyled, they remained mostly recognizable but their styling had been dialed up to 11, and there was no doubt that they had each undergone significant customization.
After the show was disbanded the cars were sold on into private hands and largely disappeared from public view. Things may have remained this way if it wasn’t for one man – Steven Juliano. In the 1990s Juliano switched from collecting Shelby Cobras to setting out to acquire all four of the original Plymouth Rapid Transit System cars.
Over time, and which much traveling, research, and bargaining, he had been able to buy three of the cars – the 1970 Plymouth Duster, the 1970 Plymouth Road Runner, and the 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. He saw to it that each of the cars was restored to its exact show specification.
There was one car that eluded him, the 1970 Plymouth Cuda. He had discovered where the car was and who owned it, it was in storage under the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. For reasons unknown, Juliano was unable to acquire the fourth and final car, with his health failing he arranged to sell the three Plymouth Rapid Transit System cars that he owned, though he passed away before the auction in 2019.
Juliano’s work assembling and restoring the cars ensured that they would be preserved for future generations, and that one car that he was unable to buy is now coming up for auction in original unrestored condition.
The 1970 Plymouth Cuda 440 Rapid Transit Show Car
As noted in the introduction, this 1970 Plymouth Cuda 440 is one of the four original Rapid Transit show cars from the early 1970s, it was shown nation wide on the tour, likely by millions when you include the print and television media coverage. After the show ended the car was sold into private hands and remained locked away for 50 years, seen by almost no one and known about by very few.
Many attempts to buy the car were made, all were denied. Once positive of this long hibernation is that the car remains in the exact condition today that it was in in the 1970s, it’s a true survivor from one of America’s most successful traveling automobile promotional events.
The car was built for Plymouth by customizer Chuck Miller, one of the most influential of the 20th century. The car had been designed by Hot Wheels designer Harry Bradley, another hugely influential figure who designed many of the Hot Wheels car we lusted after as children.
About halfway through the Rapid Transit System promotion this car was shipped back to Miller to have a fresh coat of paint applied in the style that Bradley had been working on. Amazingly it retains this original paintwork today.
The car is powered by its original 440 six-barrel V8 which is mated to a Torqueflite automatic transmission, it also has a shaker hood, chrome caster-style wheelie bars, a faux parachute, and a side exhaust.
The custom body work on this car was all handmade from steel, a feat requiring significant skill, and the end result is a memorable front end paired with a custom rear, and that one-off Bradley-designed paint scheme. Inside the car everything looks close to stock, with two black vinyl bucket seats up front, and additional seating in the rear.
The wheels have obviously been fitted to the car for show purposes, with wide drag racing tires on the back and much narrower wheels and tires up front. Looking over the car it’s clear that it remains in original condition from the 1970s, this means that there’s understandably some patina and surface rust visible, it’ll be up to the new owner if they want to keep it as is or restore it like the other three Rapid Transit show cars.
This unusual one-off vehicle will be crossing the auction block with Mecum in mid-May. There’s no price guide listed by the other Rapid Transit show cars sold for low-to-mid six figure sums (each) when they came up for sale back in 2019. If you’d like to read more or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Mecum
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.