January 27, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

The Super Cuda at Detroit Dragway

Larry Arnold and the Super Cuda

Larry Arnold and the Super Cuda.

Update: Since originally publishing this post, David Rubenstein has offered a detailed history of the Super Cuda. The story is full of twists and turns and is well worth your time if you are interested in the formative years of the match racing funny cars. You can view the new Super Cuda post here.

How difficult is it to tease out the history of drag racing before 1980? The chronicle of the Super Cuda funny car demonstrates the challenges involved. The car’s history includes multiple owners, a host of drivers, and even a possible name change.

The Super Cuda

This photo was taken at Detroit Dragway, and if you can trust the lettering on the car’s flanks, Larry Arnold was in the driver’s seat. Arnold is somewhat underestimated as a funny car driver, having shoed some of the best cars in the business. He didn’t win many major titles, but he wasn’t involved in any extreme wrecks either. He was a solid match racer, getting it done week in and week out.

This version of the Super Cuda is an upgrade from the original, which was created by Pat Collins in ’68. Collins aligned himself with Coleman and Taylor (of transmission fame) to campaign the first Super Cuda. Several drivers were employed including Larry Reyes, Sydney Foster, and Larry Arnold.

Although all of the drivers enjoyed success, it was Reyes who put the Super Cuda on the map. In addition to myriad match race victories, Reyes piloted the Cuda to victory at the `68 Super Stock Nationals, which was THE event for full-body cars in that era. A few weeks later I was at Detroit Dragway for the Super Stock Magazine Midwest Funny Car Championships. That title is a mouthful, but the event included a field of the toughest touring floppers in the nation. Reyes and the Super Cuda were in contention to the end. In the final round, Reyes singled for the win when Roger Lindamood broke a transmission.

Reyes also won the ’68 AHRA Drag World Finals in the car. There were plenty of strong-running cars along the ’68 match race trail, but the Super Cuda was a serious threat wherever it appeared.

Here’s where the tale of the Super Cuda gets murky

At the end of the year, Coleman and Taylor sold the car to T. B. Smallwood. Arnold was installed as driver for at least part of the ’69 season. It is problematic to figure out what happened to the car after that.

UPDATE: David Rubenstein has informed me that this information, obtained from the Draglist website is incorrect. The Super Cuda was sold to John Hutchinson, father of Mark Hutchinson. See the update post for the full story of the Super Cuda.

The appearance of the car definitely looked different. Did Smallwood build a new car? Or was the ’69 car updated with new paint? Were there two different machines?

So many questions.

For 1970 the car was apparently sold again, this time to Mark Hutchinson, who retained Arnold as the wheelman. In the photo, you can see Hutchinson’s name on the roof of the car. Draglist also includes Royce Hutchinson and Pat Collins as owners. Did they come along later? Was Collins always involved with the car? Why does the lettering only show Mark Hutchinson as the owner?

Arnold would field his own King Fish ‘Cuda for ’71. He won the NHRA Supernationals in this car, and racked up numerous match race victories. He then moved on to the Mickey Thompson US Marines car for a spell before climbing into the seat of Rolond Leong’s Hawaiian. Somewhere in there he also took a turn driving Coleman’s Super Ford Torino.

Reyes meanwhile took over the Kingfish and made his presence known everywhere until a blown tire caused the wreck that ended his driving career.

Arnold and Reyes: two of a kind

And that wraps up a quick look at the Super Cuda and the men who drove it. It is amazing to note the similarities in the careers of Larry Arnold and Larry Reyes. Both men drove the Super Cuda, the Hawaiian and the Kingfish. That and the long list of owners makes the Super Cuda story the stuff of legends.

Tom Bonner