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1971 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda achieves world record 3.5 million at Mecum Seattle

World record 1971 'Cuda convertible
World record 1971 'Cuda convertible
Mecum Auctions

Mecum’s inaugural Seattle auction carved out a place in the history books Saturday with the record-setting sale of a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda Convertible (Lot S95). Hammering at an unprecedented $3.5 million, the sale now stands as the highest price ever achieved at auction for an American muscle car. The sale price equaled the 3.5 million realized by the 1967 L-88 Corvette in Scottsdale last January. This sale confirms that the 1971 Hemi ’Cuda Convertible is the crown jewel of muscle cars. Overall auction results included the successful sale of 321 additional vehicles, bringing total auction sales to $15,125,097.

World record setting 1971 Plymouth 'Cuda convertible
Mecum Auctions

In 2002 a 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible generated national headlines when it became the first muscle car to sell for over one million dollars. Yet even before reaching that historical milestone Plymouth’s Hemi-powered Cuda was long considered by enthusiasts and authorities alike to be the ultimate creation of the muscle car era. A well-documented and fully restored example of this most coveted of factory muscle cars, this 1971 Hemi Cuda convertible, one of just two 4-speed versions delivered in the U.S., has been hailed by enthusiasts, collectors, journalists, researchers and appraisers as the Holy Grail of muscle cars.

New for 1970, the redesigned Barracuda and its high performance 'Cuda variant scored a hit with buyers. Sales all but doubled from 1969’s total of 27,392 vehicles to 50,617, including 652 Hemi Cuda coupes and 14 Hemi convertibles. But with increasing government regulations and ballooning insurance rates, buyers shied away in 1971. Total sales tanked to just 16,159 units, with Hemi production falling to 108 coupes and 11 convertibles.

Documented as the only matching numbers 4-speed convertible in existence, its factory broadcast sheet confirms that it was equipped at the Hamtramck, Michigan assembly plant with the New Process 4-speed, Dana 60 rear end with 4.10 Super Track Pak, 26-inch radiator and power brakes. Previously owned by Russ Meyer, a famous cartoonist from the Southwest, who later sold it to a buyer in Oregon for $250,000, it was eventually seized by authorities there in a drug investigation and sold at auction for $405,000, both prices were unprecedented at the time.

The buyer subsequently commissioned a restoration by highly regarded Mopar restorer Julius Steuer of Los Angeles, California, who completed the work in approximately 2000. A few years later it was then traded for a number of vintage Corvettes from the current owner’s prestigious collection.

For any diehard Mopar enthusiast, the process of decoding the Cuda’s fender tag can best be compared to sitting at a slot machine as it spins out a jackpot; everything is there to add up to the grand prize of Hemi Cuda convertibles. In addition to being exceptionally rare, the car is a visual feast, its code B5 Bright Blue combining with a black power top and matching blue high-back bucket seat interior.

Nominally adorned with rear deck lid bright trim and wide sill strips, the car’s exterior decor is kept to a minimum, its painted steel wheels, dog dish hub caps and raised white-letter tires establishing the look of a serious road-burner further bolstered by the rare Shaker hood, hold-down pins and chromed dual exhaust tips. Driver appointments in the bright blue interior include the rallye instrument cluster with 8,000 RPM tachometer, 150 MPH speedometer, oil, temperature and alternator gauges and clock, 3-speed wiper switch and Hurst Pistol Grip shifter. Perhaps most importantly, in addition to retaining most of its original sheet metal, it is the only remaining example with its original factory-installed drivetrain.

To watch the NBC SN coverage of the sale, click here. Top ten sellers at Seattle were as follows:

1. 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible (Lot S95) at $3,500,000
2. 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429 Fastback (Lot S118) at $340,000
3. 1968 Shelby GT500KR Fastback (Lot S125) at $160,000
4. 1958 Buick Limited Convertible (Lot S163) at $150,000
5. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle LS6 Hardtop (Lot S106.1) at $150,000
6. 1937 Packard Twelve Victoria Convertible (Lot S208) at $150,000
7. 1958 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible (Lot S103) at $143,640
8. 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz (Lot S140.1) at $130,000
9. 1967 Shelby GT500 Fastback (Lot S134.1) at $125,000
10. 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T (Lot S217) at $115,000