Behind the scenes, Graeme Cowin is one of the godfathers of the car community; an extremely influential figure in the sports of drag racing and sprint karts. So, it's no surprise his King Kong Cuda is a big deal a very big deal.
Graeme Cowin is the owner and founder of Rocket Industries, the parts warehouse that distributes some of the biggest brands in the aftermarket automotive sector over 250 world-renowned brands in total and whose name is synonymous with high performance.
"We started Rocket Industries to fund our love of drag racing. We started in the late '70s and our complete commitment to the business, our love of the sport, and the help of some great staff has been the key to growing," Graeme explains. "We poured everything back into the business to ensure its success and enable it to sustain our drag racing goals."
The Plymouth Barracuda, in all its glory, serves as Rocket Industries' promotional vehicle, paraded at events around the nation.
"It showcases what we have available to build; everything from race cars to street machines and Hot Rods," says Graeme. "We drive it all the time at events, promo stuff, even for the occasional wedding!"
While watching an episode of the American TV series Rides, where they built a 1970 Barracuda for Joe Rogan (commentator for the Ultimate Fighting Championship) Graeme and his wife Wendy both fell in love with it and were inspired to build a similar car for themselves.
The original plan was to build a 'street-able' Hemi-powered version but as the build unfolded, the car required some serious surgery to achieve the desired finish. So, what was supposed to take a year to complete blew out to five years and six times the budget.
"The car took control and we had to feed it. It consumed people's lives and we all wanted to quit multiple times. Believe me, if I had known what it was going to take, I would've never started. But I guess it was something we had committed to and I like to finish what I start," Graeme muses. "But in the end, the car surpassed all expectations and we are proud of what a great team of people has achieved as it represents Rocket Industries and our level of commitment to our industry."
Graeme learned that car builders in Australia needed greater access to accessories for these types of builds. As such, Rocket Industries tailored its business to enable Aussies access to all the latest performance parts from around the world.
"The amount of great products becoming available is really mixing the lines between Hot Rods, street machines and imports, and as the bar gets raised at every show, I'm sure the best is yet to come," Graeme says. "There are a lot of guys out there building some really nice cars and as a hobby, I would love to see it grow even more."
When it came to building the Cuda, owning Rocket Industries was somewhat of a double-edged sword for Graeme: "We had access to the best of everything but because the build took so long, we would add new components as they came to market, which meant that we had to redo lots of things we had already completed."
There were plenty of people that offered Graeme and his crew support throughout the Cuda build but the greatest encouragement came from his wife Wendy.
"She is 'Miss 50%' and she owns the car as much as I do. She kept signing the cheques and listening to me every time there was a problem," he says. "In the end, she finally saw the car and was amazed at what we had created."
In fact, most who've seen the Plymouth are gobsmacked. "The reaction from people when they see the car cruising around is great. They get very excited," Graeme notes proudly. "I'm glad they like it as much as we do."
The Cuda has won a string of awards. In 2010, readers of Street Machine magazine voted it 'Street Machine of the Year'. It was also a massive hit on debut at Summernats 2011, winning 'People's Choice' and 'Top Judged'.
"We were worried about how the car was going to be received. We rushed it a bit in the end and had no time to debug it. After entering two Summernats but not actually making it there, I'd be damned if I was going to wait any longer," Graeme laughs. "Luckily, the punters loved the finished product as much as we did and the car won a host of awards that reflected the amountof work that everybody had put into the build. To win People's Choice was the best; it was unexpected, actually. I had never been to a Summernats and it was a real eye-opener."
The Cuda's 'King Kong' theme harks back to drag racing of yesteryear when the 426 Hemi engine was known as an 'elephant motor'. When you got bored and stroked one out, though, it was then referred to as a 'King Kong Hemi'. Despite the chest-thumping engine, the Barracuda has never been on a race track: "It would never get grip, so what's the use?" Graeme muses. "We have serious race cars for that."
"We make sure we support motor racing as best and fairly as we can by sponsoring race events and national championships through our All-Stars program. At the moment, we run a Top Fuel team, for which my son Andrew is the driver, and a Sprint Car team managed by driver Matt Young," explains Graeme. "It's great to see the Rocket logo out on the track. I really enjoy getting out to the races with my family and crew, enjoying our sport together. Rocket Industries is all about racing; we love to compete and ensure our sport stays healthy."
Custom independent front suspension; four-bar rear; Air Ride Technologies ShockWave airbags
Baer six-spot callipers and rotors
Billet Specialties Stiletto wheels (18x7-inch front and 20x10-inch rear); Pirelli P Zero tyres
PAINT & BODY
House of Kolor Metallic Silver and Charcoal; billet 'King Kong Cuda' badges
Leather and suede re-trim; Mercedes Roadster front seats; custom-made rear seats; metal interior panels; custom billet dash panel; Auto Meter C2 gauges; B&M shifter; Pioneer sound system with DVD and reverse camera; Vintage Air air con system
The car is a credit to everyone that worked on it and there are a lot of people that put in a big effort. Some (but not all) of them include: John Kuiper for assembling the engine; Vince Rigoli for tuning the engine; Al's Race Glides for manualising the transmission; Con and the boys at Diff Technics for assembling the diff; Rod City Repros; Daniel and Adam Cassar at Fast Lane Speed Shop for the fabrication; Baer Brakes; Justin and his team at Hills and Co. Customs for all the body prep and paint; Nick and the boys at Turbosmart for the billet King Kong Cuda badges; Trick Trim; and Dragway Wheels.