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Baracuda muscles in on top Cruise Nationals prize

The 1971 Plymouth Cuda owned by Robert Young of Whitby, Ont., won the gold medal in the Cruise Nationals competition.

Bob English/The Globe and Mail

Robert Young has always been keen on Plymouth's muscle-car 'Cudas, purchasing his first as a 16-year-old, after waiting until his parents were out of town on holiday. But his curious-yellow-liveried '71 may prove his favourite after being named 2012 Cruise Nationals Gold Medal winner at the Canadian International Auto Show.

Now an auto show tradition – it will launch its 10th season this coming summer – the Cruise Nationals brings together 10 finalists selected from the best hot-rod and classic cars and trucks displayed at car cruise events in Southern Ontario, for a final shoot-out.

Medal winners are selected through an online voting process and by three celebrity judges who view the cars at the show. The winners and finalists are displayed in the room adjacent to the Auto Exotica display, on the lower level of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's North Building.

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This year's Silver Medal winner was Kevin Saindon of Port Perry, Ont., who built his wild-looking, but extensively street-driven, 1939 Ford Roadster with his father Paul. It had been purchased in 2008 "in a thousand pieces" from famed hot-rod constructor Boyd Coddington's California shop, following his death.

After various long-range legal hoops had been jumped through, the Saindons were informed the boxes of bits and the body had been dumped outside the shop and they could come and get them. "Then we had to scramble," says Kevin. Since then, "we've had it apart and together again so many times you could blindfold me and I could take off and replace any part," says Paul.

The beautifully restored 1956 Thunderbird that won the Bronze Medal belongs to Teresa and Jason Villari of Woodbridge, Ont., and was purchased a couple of years ago by the then-newlyweds, fulfilling an almost life-long dream.

Jason first spotted a 1955 Thunderbird at a car show as a six-year-old and decided he wanted one, "but my father said, 'You've got to see a '56, they have a much more voluptuous rear end.' I asked my mother later what that meant and she said, 'I'll tell you when you're 18.'"

The '56 was purchased restored, but has since had a lot of additional work done by Jason and his brother-in-law. "A lot of late nights arms-deep in the grease." The couple has been enjoying it since as a weekend ice-cream-parlour-cruiser.

This year's Gold Medal winner – owned by Young and his wife Fiona, who live in Whitby, Ont., – is the third Plymouth 'Cuda this 40-year-old millwright has owned, after acquiring his first under circumstances that might be described as devious.

"I'd always wanted a muscle car," says Young, and when his parents returned from vacation, after having left 16-year-old Robert behind to work his summer job, they found a '72 'Cuda in the driveway. Dad wasn't overly impressed, mom was okay with it.

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That first 'Cuda was written off after being rear-ended a year later, and Young was strongly urged by his father to replace it with something more sensible. Vacation time rolled around again and, this time when his parents returned, it was to find a '74 'Cuda in the drive. Dad wasn't exactly well-pleased, mom refereed the rematch (aren't moms great?).

The by-now 18-year-old Young restored the car and, when it returned from the paint shop looking pristine, his father had a change of heart. "He wouldn't let anybody get near it, or touch it."

Young kept that car for 13 years, tuning it for "bracket"-style drag racing and making it a seriously quick street car, which didn't prove too practical after marriage and the arrival of son Cayden.

But Young wasn't quite finished with 'Cudas. "I'd always wanted a '71," he says, and found this rather rare one on the Internet, still wearing its original paint, in the northern United States. Plymouth built about 7,800 Barracudas in 1971, but only 220 to the specification of Young's example.

What became one of the hottest "muscle cars" of the 1960s and 1970s arrived in 1964 as the Plymouth Valiant Barracuda, which despite its name, didn't have much of a performance bite. That had changed by 1967, with its 383-cubic-inch V-8 by then putting out 280 hp. By the end of the decade, there was a 440-incher under the hood pushing 390 hp. The last Barracudas were built for 1974.

Rust has claimed many, but this one had suffered a catastrophic driveshaft failure at some point, the thrashing shaft trashing the tunnel and floor, after which it had been stuffed in a barn. It still has only 73,856 miles on its odometer.

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After getting it home, Young stripped it and bagged and tagged every last nut and bolt. Then did "everything with the car myself, except the paint." After a pause, he corrects himself, recalling son Cayden did his share of panel-bashing with his plastic hammer.

The curious-yellow paint was applied by a specialist shop in Montreal, and it was then meticulously put back together by Young, the job completed by July of last year.

After winning first prize at its inaugural cruise and another at its second, Young entered it in the Cruise Nationals to "see what would happen." That turned out to be winning the Cruise Nationals Gold Medal.

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