A special 1970 Plymouth Barracuda was in Alexander City this weekend.
While the car drew eyes at the 1970+1971 MOPAR reunion hosted by the Wellborn Musclecar Museum, the stories surrounding the one-owner car of Curt Wright of Danville, Illinois may be more valuable than the car itself. Wright’s blue ‘Cuda is almost all original except for the paint, to be expected of a car 51 years old, and a removable piece of the interior.
“I lost the floor mats on a cold winter night when I placed them under the rear tires trying to get traction trying to get out of the snow,” Wright said. “I had to get to the funeral home to say goodbye to my friend, Lt. Mike Welch who was killed in Vietnam earlier that month.”
Wright’s connection to Welch had started years earlier. Wright was a Marine in Vietnam when they met. Wright got to come home and a pilot noticed passengers moving from seats around Wright. Wright got to take a seat overlooking the cockpit and the pilot offered Wright advice.
“After some small talk, he told me that, ‘A lot of people did not support the Vietnam War and what just happened will happen again,’” Wright said the pilot said. “‘It would be up to me to accept that and find a way to be happy in this world, stay proud and reward yourself. You deserve it. Go find that old girlfriend or buy that new car you’ve been dreaming of.”
It was 1969 and Wright was following the pilot’s advice. Wright had an order placed for a 1969 Barracuda. A few months later Wright was short on funds but the dealer said they had a buyer and that Wright would likely want the newer body style coming out in 1970.
Wright would order the car and pick it up.
The Barracuda would sit as Wright started a family. Soon, Wright would run across Welch.
“Last time I saw Mike alive he said he was going back to Vietnam in three weeks holding this little kid,” Wright said. “He went back and got killed.”
The car made it back to Wright’s home after Welch’s funeral minus the floor mats. The paint would flake off the top about seven years after Wright bought the car. It would be repainted. The classic car would be driven some but not much. Wright would take care of the car with his daughter admiring it.
“We would wash it together, “ Wright said. “It happened all the time.”
But Wright was still reluctant to drive it much. Wright would pull the car apart rebuilding it, afterall it had sat forever, hardly driven. The exhaust and brakes needed to be redone. Wright had the car on a rotisserie to aid in the rebuild. Wright’s wife Nancy would urge him to finish the project.
“She really got it going,” Wright said. “It had been apart for a couple of years. I had taken photos of each bolt. They are turned that way now.”
Along the way a unique visitor came to visit Wright at his business in Danville, Illinois. It happened to be Welch’s son who Wright hadn’t seen since Welch had clutched him before returning to Vietnam.
“My hair stood up on the back of my neck,” Wright said.
“Well that little boy, some guy walked into my shop about three or four years ago and said he needed a job real bad,” Wright said. “He had had some trouble in his life.”
Wright acknowledged he felt pressure from the heavens to do something.
“The way I was looking at it, Mike was dealt a bad hand,” Wright said. “This guy who walked in needed help. I’m thinking I’m righting a wrong. I hired him. I finally got a chance to right a wrong.”
As the car sat at the Wellborn Musclecar Museum Saturday it still had less than 29,000 miles on it and Wright has a value for it.
“A lot of my friends keep asking me what the car is worth,” Wright said. “My standard answer is exactly what I paid for it new, $4,500. I can’t put a price on the memories though. It’s part of the family now. I couldn’t get rid of it if I wanted to.”
The Wrights do take the car out some but it is always trailered to events, only putting about 500 miles per year or less on the car.
“I got to change the oil one of these days,” Wright joked.
The Wrights have been to Alexander City three times before for the Wellborn Musclecar Museum’s MOPAR reunions. Besides, it’s only 600 miles to Danville.
“It’s nice and relaxing,” Wright said. “It’s not bad, not that far. We are small town people. We don’t need the excitement.”
Nancy likes Alexander City too.
“We are staying at the Hampton Inn this time,” she said. “It’s a bit different coming in because we used to stay at Cherokee Bend. They had a great place out there.”
For the Wright’s though the treasured ‘Cuda is just an introduction.
“We have taken it many places,” Wright said. “The beauty of it is it’s not the car, it’s the people we meet. It’s really enjoyable to get out and make new friends. Talking to people about the car is what I really like.”
Even though Wright is proud to display his car and talk about it he isn’t willing to take the car on a road trip by itself.
“No, if it wasn’t that I bought it new and babied it so much, I would drive it more,” Wright said. “We do drive it a little bit. I can’t replace it. It’s a memory for me. You can’t go out and buy another one.”