This 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda Is One Marine’s Dream Come True
Photography by Andrew Golseth
Most of us have the car in mind—the one car you yearn for more than any other. The car that, if we’re lucky to ever get our desperate digits on, cherish and hope to own until our dying breathe. For U.S. Marine Cory Navarrete, that dream car has been the Plymouth ‘Cuda for as long as he can remember. After years of dreaming, he was finally able grasp the keys of this menacing midnight blue 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda.
Like the path to becoming a Marine, the challenges of sourcing this dream machine were well worth the efforts.
Andrew Golseth: What was your first vehicle and what started your car obsession?
Cory Navarrete: My first car was a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle. It had rust holes in the floors, it was a four-speed, 1600 cc motor, and probably one of the most fun cars I’ve ever had. I’ve always been into cars. Growing up, my dad had a BMW 2002 “roundie” and I use to watch him tinker on that thing but it was my Bug that got me into building cars. It was from Florida and rusty. The exhaust was so rusty it fell off while driving down the highway. Having to fix and replace stuff on that got me into putting stuff together.
From the Bug, family happened. I had a baby so I needed a newer car. I bought a brand-spanking new Nissan Altima and I hated it. It wasn’t cool, but it was safe for the baby. So, I ended up building another Bug and trading it for an SVT Cobra and then traded that for my first Jeep.
That started a big craving for Jeeps. I started buying them up, all CJ models, all classic Jeeps. CJ5, CJ7, and CJ8, building them up, flipping them for a profit, and repeat. Sixteen Jeep builds later, I was able to afford the car I really wanted, the ‘Cuda.
AG: Out of all the cars, all the muscle cars, why the ‘Cuda? What was the attraction to that particular car?
CN: I remember going to a car show a long time ago with my dad and there was a ’70 AAR ‘Cuda and it just, like, stood out. It had the black AAR hood and strobe badging down the sides. For some reason that car was just burned into my memory. When I was little, I didn’t know what it really was but every time I saw a ‘Cuda, it took me back to that first time I saw one. It’s just stuck with me. I’ve always been a MOPAR guy, I like them all but the ‘Cuda has always been my dream car. Never in a million years did I think I’d be able to buy one.
AG: They’ve certainly gotten pricey over the last couple decades. Tell me, how long have you been a Marine and what are you currently doing here in San Diego?
CN: I’ve been in for almost 11 years now and I’m currently a career planner. Essentially, I help Marines reenlist, transition out, and just generally assist in setting up their career path, whatever that may be. In the coming months, I’m actually going to become a Drill Instructor here in San Diego at the Marine Corps Recruit Depo.
AG: Wow, my dad always wanted to be a DI—and in some ways, he was in raising my siblings and me! (laughs) Thank you for your service. Now tell me how you scored the car.
CN: For the longest time, I’ve always talked about owning a ‘Cuda—just ask my wife! (laughs) When we were in Texas, we were building our homestead the best we could – buying a house, getting established, so we’d have a place to come back to whenever I finished with the Marine Corps. So, buying a ‘Cuda wasn’t on the priority list. The Jeeps were always on the side for fun and I have a truck for daily driving, but I’ve always wanted that weekend cruiser, that flashy car, which ideally would be a ‘Cuda.
So, when I got orders to San Diego, which was around fall of 2014, I started casually looking because California is known for having the best classic car selection in the country. Unfortunately, all the ‘Cudas were priced stupidly high. I was starting to think I’d never be able to get one. I kept looking, even considered GTX, Road Runners – the “lower end” of the Mopars – but still everything was kind of pricey.
I started talking to my wife about getting a classic and she just said, “I’m not going to see you buy any car just to settle, if you’re going to get a car you need to get a ‘Cuda,” because it’s the car I always talked about and pointed out at shows. We went to the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park and they happened to have a 1970 AAR ‘Cuda Six-Pack. The wife liked it and said, “I’d let you get something like this!” In my head, that was the approval I was looking for! (laughs)
That’s when I really started looking. Daily. I had update notifications forwarded directly to my phone from forum posts and websites, I probably showed my wife, no joke, a 100 ‘Cudas. Ranging from total rust buckets in South Florida to a fully restored $60,000 example in Tennessee and everything in between. They were all either out of the price range or too much of a project to take on.
My wife said, “I don’t even know why you keep looking. You find one you want and it’s out of your price range and you get so upset.” It was pretty discouraging realizing how expensive they were. I came close to buying a ’74. I thought I could change panels and parts to build what I really wanted, but my wife wisely told me, “It’s not what you really want. Just wait and get exactly what you want.”
I had pretty much given up completely on finding one and thought I’d just have to wait until I retired. But one day, at work, I did a quick search and found a listing that had been posted just three hours prior. It was setup for drag racing, but something was telling me this was the one. I fell in love with it as soon as I found it. I thought, “This is it. This is the one.”
My wife had thought I’d given up on searching for one, but I sent her some photos and she was pretty supportive. Up to this point, not a single one I’d shown her was given her seal of approval. That checked box number two: my wife is okay with this one! (laughs)
The asking price was nearly double what I could afford but I’ve always lived life by “you never know until you try.” So, I called the guy up, the owner goes by PJ, I asked for a rundown on the car. I told him how it’d always been my dream car and I loved his. PJ gave me the skinny on the car, everything. I said, “Look, before I waste any more of your time, I’m going to throw you a number. If you need anymore for the car, I just can’t afford it.” I made the offer, assuming it’d be far too low.
Turns out, he had a tie to the USMC, his brother was in the Marines. I was in no means trying to use that to my advantage but in my head I thought, “Maybe that’d mean something to him?” I knew it was a huge gap in price but you never know, right? Instead of flat out rejecting my offer he said, “Let me talk to my wife and I’ll get back to you.” I’ve done so many automobile sales that I know when someone says they need to talk to their wife, that’s game over. That’s a no go! (laughs) I mentally tossed it out as a loss. I seriously said to myself, “Enough. Stop looking for one, just buy one when you retire.”
A couple days go by and I’m totally done searching, which my wife was happy with. Three or four days later, I get a phone call from PJ while I was at work—I’ll never forget, I had saved his number in my phone as “PJ ‘Cuda” and thought, “Why is he calling me?” I answer and assumed he was going to say the car was sold and just wanted to put my feelings at ease.
But, he said, “My wife and I spoke. We took some time to think it over. We denied a lot of offers on the car and turned people away because we want to make your dream come true.” I reaffirmed that I could not afford anymore than my initial offer, and he stated, “I know, and we’ll take that offer. We want to thank you for everything you’ve done for our country and we want to make your dream come true. We want the car to go to you.”
I was speechless, but of course I’d told my wife I was done looking. I asked PJ to call me in an hour when I was home to have the conversation with my wife – as if it was the first time he had called me about accepting the offer. He laughed saying, “Brother, I totally understand.” I got home and, my wife has the intuition of a goddess, she could tell something was up. “Why are you so chipper? What’s going on?” As I’m trying to play it off, PJ calls and smiling I say, “Babe, PJ is calling!” Immediately, she’s all, “That’s why you’re so happy!”
I answer the call laughing and PJ asks, “She found out, didn’t she?” We chat with PJ and the wife was pretty open about it until I told her the car was in Detroit. There was just no way I could afford to take time off work to fly out there, test drive and inspect the car, and have it shipped to California. My wife insisted I get as much documentation of the car’s condition as I could before finalizing the deal. PJ was kind enough to send me 2-to-300 pictures of every nook and cranny and every bolt, the entire car.
My wife and I looked through the photos and decided it was the one. I had a shipping company haul the car from Detroit to Texas because we were headed home soon for vacation anyway—I was going home for a high school reunion and thought what better way to show up than in a 1970 ‘Cuda?
I sent the car home to Texas but I didn’t see it until two months later! The suspense of knowing my dream car, titled in my name, was sitting halfway across the country at home in the garage was tough to live with. When we started driving from San Diego to Fort Worth, I just wanted to do the 21-hour drive straight so I could finally see the car.
When we got to our house, I opened the garage and when I saw the tail end of that thing, my heart just dropped. It was everything I’d ever imagined it to be. I didn’t even look at it very long. I got in it, shut the door, fired it up, backed it out of the garage, and I was off with my wife in the passenger seat. I didn’t waste any time driving it! (laughs) I’ve had it for just over a year and I still can’t believe I have it. I’m just so thankful to finally have my dream car.
AG: So, that’s the reason behind the “7HX GOD” [Thanks, God] vanity plate?
CN: It means “Thanks, God” because I’ve prayed for everything that He’s ever given me and He’s given me more than I could even dream of. A lot of faith and praying has allowed me to accomplish my goals. It’s been awesome. He’s definitely blessed me with more than I can be thankful for.
AG: That’s great. When you got the car it was mostly stock, right? What all have you modified since?
CN: Well, when I got it back to San Diego, I started going through the car and realized the fenders had been replaced with fiberglass fenders because it was drag raced back in the day—so the fender tag info was missing. So, I started looking through the car to try and find the build sheet. Well, I couldn’t find it so I hired a friend who’s a Private Investigator to look into the car’s past, to get a hold of previous owners.
Through that, I was able to contact the original owner who bought the car new and he informed me the car was originally a 383 four-speed car ordered with bucket seats, three speaker dash, all these special add-ons that were ordered from the manufacturer, and it was originally Vitamin C orange—which I was able to confirm when I pulled the door panels off to reveal original paint that hadn’t been painted over.
Since it was missing the original fenders, had been repainted blue, and the original engine was replaced long ago, I figured it’d be all right for my imagination to go wild. So, I could modify it to my liking. I ordered American Racing wheels and modern tires, lowered the suspension, put on an AAR style fiberglass hood, painted the top of the fenders matte black to match the hood, swapped out the yellow fog lights for some clear ones, and installed a rear duckbill spoiler. I wanted a Pro Touring look. That said, one day I will take it all down to bare metal and repaint it Vitamin C orange.
Mechanically, I installed COMP cam roller tip rockers, pushrods, a “Purple” cam, and MSD ignition system. The original motor blew up in a drag race years ago but a date code correct 383 block was sourced and rebuilt entirely. When I bought it, the rebuild only had around 3,800 miles on it. It runs great!
AG: Very cool. It looks pretty mean in its current configuration and sounds fantastic. You’re well into your military career and have a family now, but is it safe to say the Plymouth is a keeper?
CN: Oh, yeah! There is not ever gunna’ be a day when I’ll even think about selling this car. When my two-year-old daughter goes into the garage with me, she points at the car and says, “Daddy’s car. Daddy’s car!” It’s crazy. My youngest one, she knows classic cars aren’t like normal cars. She loves riding in the ‘Cuda too! This will be handed down to my children and hopefully down to their children. This is definitely going to be an heirloom.