392 Hemi-powered 1971 Barracuda with hand controls

With some family assistance, Matt Mitchell & Katie Bourke created the hand-controlled Barracuda of their dreams


THE late 60s and early 70s gave us the golden era of American muscle cars. They were proportioned so deliciously right, and none more so than E-body Mopars like the ’71 Plymouth Barracuda. Fronted by a brawny, shark-like mouth, its tight style lines flow through to wonderfully curvaceous hips, topped by a perfectly structured roofline.

First published in the February 2022 issue of Street Machine

It’s these features – coupled with the rarity of ’71 Barracudas – that drew Matt Mitchell and partner Katie Bourke into a hunt for an example to call their own.

“We always wanted to do a restomod, creating a reliable car for us both to use,” Matt says. “For me, it’s more than just a car with hand controls. As a tetraplegic, I need to consider the seat height and positioning, and access to other control points.”

Thankfully, Matt and Katie had someone in their immediate circle who understood these needs and was more than qualified to take on the job. Matt’s brother is Andrew Mitchell, owner of Auto Transformers and builder of the showstopping ‘Gold Rush’ Lincoln Zephyr (SM, Aug ’15). Given Andrew’s fondness for modified rides, it was a given that the Barracuda wouldn’t fall victim to a granny-spec resto. In fact, the project steadily escalated, with an extra 18 months spent on the bespoke bodywork alone.

Once stripped, the body was found to be mostly straight, though poorly repaired damage to one rear-quarter soon came to light. Furthermore, the right A-pillar had more holes than a Chux cloth, and tinworm had devoured the boot floor. This is all regular fare for the Auto Transformers team, who swiftly rectified the issues before the fun stuff began.

At the front, the parkers and indicators in the lower valance were removed (they’re now in the headlights) and a custom grille was added. Both bumpers were tucked, along with the rear overriders, and the tail-light surrounds were binned, with the lights incorporated into the panel for a crisper finish. As an aesthetic tie-in, the boot was duck-tailed with a slight spoiler. Cumulatively, these seemingly small mods consumed hundreds of man hours.

“We worked closely with the panel beater to highlight the classic E-body shape and keep the recognisable ’71 features, with a modern feel and clean lines,” Matt explains. “This meant a less-is-more approach and minimal chrome.”

Topping the plethora of refinements is a timeless colour. “We wanted to blend the mean muscle car look with something modern – dark but not black,” Matt says. The PPG Vibrance Licorice tint hits the spot, finished with a mix of gloss and satin as a nod to the sporty AAR ’Cuda bonnet variance. The complementary American Racing VN507 Rodder rims measure up at 18×8 inches.

Power comes from a 392-cube Hemi cratey, which was chosen mainly for its turnkey reliability, but also because it produces 485hp and 475lb-ft of torque. Backing that is a Torqueflite 727 feeding down to a factory Chrysler diff.

While the cabin is the hub of any vehicle, it was especially crucial for the inside of this ’Cuda to remain comfortable and accessible. Form and function were given equal consideration, and the stunning results speak for themselves.

At the centre of the interior is a console packed with push-button services suited to Matt’s requirements. Leather-clad electric seats from a BMW convertible provide a range of movement, permitting him to slide in from his wheelchair before effortlessly transitioning to the driving position.

A 14-inch Forever Sharp Black Muscle steering wheel centres the bespoke 3D-printed dash, which contains a Dakota Digital gauge set. A Fadiel Italiana hand-control system offers braking and acceleration for Matt, while pedals have been retained for Katie’s stints behind the wheel.

With the end in sight for the almost three-year build, the team raced to get the ’Cuda buttoned up for debut at the November 2021 Adelaide Auto Expo. It was a successful push, with the car earning a MotorEx Superstars invite along with a bunch of Elite awards, including Runner-Up – Best Paint and Runner-Up – Best Body.

It’s all icing on the cake for Matt and Katie. “This build was just as much about the process, family, and working with my brother and his team as it was about the car,” Matt says. “But it is a bloody good car!”

The show stuff was never the ’Cuda’s primary function. Matt and Katie have their sights firmly set on future fun with a purring Hemi backdrop. “Next is to get it registered, then we’ll take it to MotorEx. We built the car to be driven, so we’re looking forward to heading out and enjoying it.”


Paint: PPG Vibrance Licorice
Type: Hemi 392ci crate
Radiator: Aussie Desert Cooler
Exhaust: Stock Chrysler headers, 21⁄2in system
Ignition: Mopar
Trans: Torqueflite 727
Converter: Stock
Diff: Factory Chrysler 83/4in
Front: Factory coils, Monroe shocks
Rear: Factory leaf springs, Monroe shocks
Steering: RHD conversion, rack-and-pinion, power steering
Brakes: Wilwood discs (f), Plymouth drums (r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood
Rims: American Racing VN507 Rodder 18×8 (f & r)
Rubber: Yokohama; 225/50/18 (f), 255/55/18 (r)

Auto Transformers; Carofano Motor Trimmers; Justin at Ring 911 Auto Installs; Drive Smart Driving School for helping to get the ergonomics right for the hand controls