Source: Sherman Publications

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Local Cuda heading to Autorama

by Trevor Keiser

February 26, 2014

Oxford resident Jim Unis’ 1971 Plymouth Cuda will be displayed at Autorama March 7-9.
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but classic car owners like Jim Unis are gearing up for something delightful.

The 75-year-old Oxford resident will be showing off his 1971 Plymouth Cuda, a black convertible, at the 62nd Annual Meguiar's Detroit Autorama March 7-9 at the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

His Cuda will be part of the Michigan Mopar Muscle car club's display.

"I always wanted a Cuda convertible," Unis said. "I worked at Chrysler for 35 years in the stamping division and we made a lot of those parts (for the Cuda). In fact, we made them all."

He worked in management at the stamping plants in Sterling Heights, Warren and Twinsburg, Ohio. He retired in 1991.

In 2006, Unis, who's lived in Oxford for 28 years, made his dream come true when he bought his Cuda on-line from someone in California.

Although the classic vehicle ran, it definitely needed a ton of work to restore it to pristine condition. Unis said the metal had "a lot of holes in it, a lot of Bondo."

"It needed a lot of new sheet metal because I didn't want anything that was suspect," he said.

The body and paint work was all done by the Clio-based Hot Rods Unlimited, owned by Mark Le Duc.

Unis did the rest himself.

"I did all the chassis work," he said.

He estimated "about 65 percent" of the car is original parts and metal.

During the restoration project, Unis took the opportunity to give the Cuda a little something extra under the hood.

He upgraded the car's small block V-8 engine to a 426 Hemi engine with dual-quad carburetors and an automatic transmission.

Unis noted only 11 Cudas rolled off theassembly line in 1971 with Hemi engines and dual-quad carburetors.

"Those are million-dollar cars and I couldn't go that far," he said. "So, I bought the el cheapo one, if you will, with a small block V-8."

Unis was finally able to finish restoring his car in 2010. It wasn't the work that took so long, it was tracking down all the necessary parts. "It has very hard to find parts," Unis said. "I waited like 18 months for a pair of fenders."

When asked how much he's invested in his classic Cuda, Unis replied, "If I told you, you'd have to kill me."

"Big dollars, big dollars," he said.

He noted the Hemi engine he used costs about $25,000.

Primer and paint for a vehicle like this can cost $2,500 and that's just materials, not labor, according to Unis. "With basecoat/clearcoat paint, you're looking at somewhere around $700 a gallon," he said.

Restoring classic cars is primarily a labor of love, not an investment. Most owners never recoup what they spend.

"You're lucky if you get 60 percent back," Unis said.

But he doesn't plan on selling anytime soon. "Unless somebody wanted it bad enough I'd sell it," he said.

All the hard work and countless dollars paid off in 2010 when Unis' car earned a third place finish at the Mopar Nationals in Ohio.

He lost points for very minor details such as a rear window that would only go up halfway, a cigarette lighter that wasn't plugged in and disconnected windshield wipers.

Unis noted the last one he did on purpose because he "didn't want to scrape the windshield with dry blades."

"If not for those three items, I probably would have had a second (place finish) with no problem," he noted. "But when you go to the Mopar Nationals, they pick you apart. That was my first time there."

This will be the second time Unis' Cuda will be displayed at Autorama. The first time was in 2010 as part of the Hot Rods Unlimited booth.

"We finished (working on) it like five minutes before we had to take it down there the usual story," Unis said.

In addition to his beloved Cuda, Unis also owns a 1970 Dodge Challenger hardtop coupe with a big block engine and a 1938 Dodge pickup truck with a new 5.7-liter Hemi engine.