Don Johnson, for those of us who are not much into TV, is Dakota Johnson’s dad, as in the shades of grey actress, and was once famously married to the much younger Melanie Griffith. Mostly known for his TV series work, it was his role in MiamiVice as Sonny Crockett and then later as Nash Bridges in the eponymous TV series that made him a household name.
Nash Bridges starred Don Johnson as Nash and Cheech Marin as Joe Dominguez, and the highlight of the TV series was the bright yellow 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda, from the house of Chrysler, a car far above the salary of a cop in the San Francisco Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit. Cars do add a lot to movies and series and this Hemi ‘Cuda made Nash Bridges one cool TV series.
While Nash Bridges is shown to be rather dashing and debonair, its the car that adds that much-needed machoness to the show.
This “1971 Hemi ‘Cuda” comes with an equally interesting backstory and not many know much about it. Here’s what we could dig out for you about the famous yellow Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda that looked better than Nash Bridges himself did.
The 1971 Plymouth Hemi’ Cuda
Let’s begin with one very important fact: The term Barracuda and Hemi ‘Cuda are not interchangeable, like say a Chevy or a Chevrolet, because they are not the same car. The Hemi ‘Cuda is a Plymouth Barracuda with a Hemi V8 stuffed under the hood for premium performance, along with plenty of other performance additives. The Plymouth Barracuda, a potent car in its own right, had no Hemi, period.
The Hemi ‘Cuda was introduced in 1969 to raise the bar for the Barracuda during the famous horsepower wars of the ’60s. But it was only in the 1970 and 1971 models that the Hemi ‘Cudas came with a shaker hood, though for 1971, the design was extra special. This was the model that came with four headlights and the distinctive fender gills, along with a better grille, taillights, and trims too. The fender gills or vents were pure staying and did nothing to add to the performance of the car.
Very few Hemi ‘Cudas were made in 1971, and the convertibles were even rarer with estimates ranging from single digits to just about 11. So how did the producers of the Nash Bridges manage to get their hands on such a rare model, in mint condition ?
We’ll come to that a bit later but to be honest, initially, Don Johnson himself was gravitating towards the Pontiac GTO Judge, the car that started all muscle car wars, only later realizing that there was nothing flashier and more powerful than a Hemi ‘Cuda, with due respect to The Goat.
The Nash Bridges Car Was Not A Hemi’ Cuda
So the question was, how did the producers of Nash Bridges manage to land such a rare and price car? Think about this: One 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible sold for a whopping $3.3 million, according to Road and Track.
The answer is, they didn’t. There, we said it. All Hemi ‘Cudas are rare and convertibles are like the creme-de-la-creme of rarity. These cars were very, very expensive, even back then and too rare to be sourceable.
Since the 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda had been chosen and frozen as the hero vehicle, producers decided to reach out to Frank Benetti, the owner of Same Day Paint and Body Shop in Newhall, Los Angeles, known for his movie and television car builds.
The idea was to find a reasonable and economical solution to the problem. Since he was a seasoned car procurer, Bennetti agreed to a deal of three cars: a hero car for close-ups and two mock cars for stunts and such, all of them then modified to look the part.
Bennett managed three cars: a 5.5-liter Barracuda with a shaker hood and two 5.2-liter Barracudas, all of them being the non-Hemi variety. The production company later also purchased another 7.2-liter Barracuda as the hero car.
All the Bennetti cars were 1970 models and needed extensive work to look like 1971 convertible Hemi ‘Cudas but with a catch, the cars had to be made ready within a month. The monies exchanged hands and Benetti got to work, and Nash Bridges‘ Viewers got a treat in what they thought was a 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible in mint condition, even though it was fake.
But basically, none of the cars were Hemi ‘Cudas, they were just cleverly disguised and marketed as one.
The Color & Other Details
One of the Barracudas were modified and pumped-up to play the fake ‘Cudas, the first hurdle that producers had was how to explain the pricey car on a cop’s salary. The storyline was then woven such that the car belonged to Nash’s brother who left Nash the keys while being deployed to Vietnam. Unclear on how the brother got the car though. During the war, he disappears from a battle and is later declared MIA so Nash drives the Hemi ‘Cuda honoring his brother.
The second thing they needed to figure out was the color of the car, which in 1971 came in cartoonish names like “Curious Yellow”, “Sassy Grass”, and “In-Violet”. “Curious Yellow” became the chosen one but did not look great on camera. So they painted the car a brighter school-bus yellow, more like Bahama Yellow and that’s the car Nash Bridges drove.
Other than the 5.5-liter Barracuda, all other cars were sold off once the show ended. One of the cars was sold at a not-so-premium price of $151,000, approximately, and was one of the hero cars Don Johnson drove as Nash Bridges. The car did ultimately have a Hemi crate engine in it as part of the restoration/modification but it was never a Hemi ‘Cuda.
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