NORMAN — Albert Steele is the original owner of a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S automobile. Not even 21 yet he was already a U.S. Air Force veteran and needed a new ride for his job with Rainbow Baking Company in Oklahoma City.
Also he was traveling to Dalhart, Texas every other weekend to visit his folks who’d moved there to operate the town’s motion picture theater.
“I found my Barracuda at Gil Cables dealership on North May parked in an odd place with a bunch of Chrysler New Yorkers around it,” Steele said. He traded in a 1966 Dodge Charger and drove away in his new Plymouth. Steele gives the car credit for contributing to his successful love life.
“I wouldn’t have gone out on a blind date with a young woman named Virginia if I hadn’t got that Barracuda,” he said. Not long thereafter he proposed to her in front of a closed flower shop.
Virginia became Mrs. Steele in 1969 and remains so today. The car has been on and off transportation for them since that first date. It has over 390,000 miles on the odometer. Not a show car in its present condition, the Barracuda starts easily, runs well and the engine sounds full of powerful vigor.
There’s a 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8 in Steele’s driveway but the venerable Barracuda has a special place behind their home. The family currently own 15 vehicles housed at three properties around the metro. Most are in running condition. The oldest is a 1950 model but those from the late 1960’s with names like Satellite, Dart and Road Runner predominate.
One eye-catcher in this stable of rolling stock is a shocking pink 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger. “The official paint color is called Moulin Rouge,” Steele said.
He has lost count of how many cars they’ve had over the years.
“I started working when I was 8 years old which is a no-no today,” Steele said. “I was tall enough to be able to stand behind the popcorn machine at the theater.” He was employed at the 77 drive-in movie on South Shields and the Sooner Twin at 29th and Sooner Road. Most people remember their first automobile and his was a 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop.
“I intend to restore the Barracuda back to its original beauty,” Shields said. This will entail body work, a new paint job and new interior. He also has some modern improvements in mind. “The handling department includes needing better brakes,” he said. “That car was not noted for brakes when it was brand new, especially with that 340 V-8 engine in it.”
Although he’s a Chrysler-Dodge-Plymouth guy through and through, Steele admits that occasionally his knuckles have turned white on the steering wheel wondering if he was going to stop.
“The drum brakes was real, real bad on them cars,” he said. “They build up too much heat. Chrysler should have gone with bigger brakes like on the Road Runner.”
Although the Barracuda’s engine has never been rebuilt, four timing chains and gear sets have been replaced. The car is on its third transmission and second rear end.
“Mostly I have just driven it on the highway,” Steele said. “It’s been out to the Las Vegas strip.” The bumpers have been re-chromed and tail lamps replaced. A new Legendary Auto Interior is waiting to be installed. The car’s handling characteristics and body lines are what appeal to Steele most.
“Mine has the close-ratio power steering and sway bar,” he said. “There’s a 150 mph speedometer and also a ‘performance indicator’ which is a fancy name for vacuum gauge.”
Steele admitted to maxing out the speedometer on some of those seemingly endless stretches of panhandle straight-aways. Following Greyhound buses would make his mama carsick so he’d regularly run 95 mph to keep them from passing him.
“My Barracuda is pretty much like a time capsule,” he said. “I haven’t butchered up anything on it.” He has a poly-graphite front end rebuild kit waiting to be installed. Ease of maintenance and repair allows him to do the work himself. “It’s not that hard,” Steele said.
“Nothing like these new cars with their computer control on everything.”
Pulling the instrument cluster has been the biggest challenge to date. “My hands are big and some of those bolts inside are small,” Steele said.
“When I come across other panels I buy them because some of those parts aren’t being produced anymore.” Steele retired from Kerr- McGee a few years ago. These days he doesn’t drive the old Barracuda very often, sometimes months will go by without taking it out for a spin. But when he does it reminds him of being just a kid and that first blind date with Virginia.
Have you seen a cool vehicle around Norman? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. E-mail him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.