Infamous Blood Money ‘Cuda the ‘1971 Hemicuda involved in a medicaid blood scam. Photos by: Tim Costello… Story by: Randy Holden… Photographed @ MCACn Rosemond, IL…
Perhaps the most anticipated car at the 2017 MCACN (Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals) in Chicago last year was the highly publicized “Blood Money” 1971 Hemicuda now owned by collector, police chief, and all-around nice guy, Rich Buzby. Rich doesn’t have anything to do with how the ‘Cuda got its somewhat sinister nickname, on the contrary, he’s definitely done everything in his power to clean up the car’s act and the entire environment around the car. If you follow the interweb at all, back in September 2014, the U.S.
Marshal’s Department held a public auction in Lodi, New Jersey to dispose of a collection of muscle cars that had been seized from a shady guy named David Nicholl. Nicholl was arrested and convicted, of embezzling some $33 million dollars in a really weird scheme. As strange as this sounds, Nicholls was successful in bribing a number of doctors in and around New Jersey to order unnecessary blood tests and other lab work from their patients, all of which went to his former company, Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services.
According the government, old David spent some $5 million of that money buying muscle cars and was living pretty high on the hog until somebody finally blew the whistle and ended this downright sick (literally) way of scamming the government and insurance companies, not to mention actually sucking blood out of sick people without any reason other than making a buck. So, David isn’t a very good human being, nor are the doctors who were playing along with this scam, so David is now in prison and his car collection was seized and went up for grabs in 2014. Almost overnight, the whole collection was dubbed “The Blood Money Collection,” and the tale of the cars and their subsequent sale was such an odd story that it made national news on CNN, Fox, and virtually every other major news outlet, as well as a host of websites. The collection boasted some heavy hitters, including a Boss 429 Mustang, a Yenko Nova, a ’1970 SS-454 Chevelle convert, a Hemi four-speed Superbird, and a disassembled ’1971 Hemicuda, among others. Honestly, Rich had gone to the sale interested in the Superbird, but fate and his wife, Nancy, had something else in mind.
Rich isn’t a typical muscle car collector, in fact, the whole field of collecting vintage muscle cars began somewhat innocently. A police chief in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, it was about half a dozen years ago when his oldest son, Lucas, spied a ’1972 Ford Gran Torino with a 351 Cleveland in it while they were on vacation in Pennsylvania. His son was fascinated by the car, the price was right, and so it was that this vacation turned out to be a major pivot point in the entire life history of the Buzby family. Once the Torino was home, all three of his boys, Lucas, Liam, and Logan, became engrossed in studying the car and cars in general, and Rich took notice of something very quickly; the world of electronics and video games stopped and his boys were actually reading and studying about cars and wanting him to share more stories about the big ’1968 Fury convertible he’d had in high school and had used quite vigorously as a rolling party barge. The Torino proved that these mechanical beasties were a physical link to disconnecting the boys from the world of cell phones and putting them back into doing things with their hands and actually engaging in conversation and learning. So, when Liam found a ’70 Charger R/T he wanted in North Carolina not long after that, the family ponied up some funds to combine with his and then they had two cars in the fleet. On the way back, however, they stopped at Richard Petty’s museum, by pure chance got to meet with Richard Petty who was there just hanging out, and Rich Buzby became fascinated with Petty’s Superbird and tales of the glory years of the winged cars. That led to a rather quick search for a ’70 Superbird, and Rich hit a homerun by nailing down an original Hemi Superbird at quite a good price. Then, like every good Mopar guy, Rich wanted more. In the ensuing years, he bought a ’69 Road Runner convertible and slapped a Hemi in it for cruising around and having fun, then he scored a Plum Crazy Six Pack ’70 Super Bee, which he also uses as a regular cruiser when the weather’s decent. And, being in New Jersey, the whole family became active with the local clubs, and Rich and the boys became regular features at the longstanding Mopars at Englishtown event, which is where our old comrade, Steve Magnante, enters the picture.
When Englishtown was wrapping up for 2014, Rich was loading his Superbird onto his trailer for the journey home when Steve Magnante walked up and started talking to him about his Hemi ‘Bird. Then he said something to the effect of, “Well, since you’re a Mopar guy, I guess you’re going to the big marshal’s sale in Lodi come September.” That was the first time Rich had heard of the upcoming auction or the cars in it. Steve told him there was another Hemi Superbird in the collection, and a disassembled Hemicuda, gave him what information he had, and that’s what set the wheels in motion. Being a police chief, Rich got what information he could from the U.S. Marshal’s office, but honestly, they had no idea what they actually had since this was such an unusual occurrence.
Primarily interested in the Superbird, with the ‘Cuda a back-burner thought as well, Rich made the trip over to Lodi to have a look at the cars and liked what he saw – the Superbird looked really nice and the ‘Cuda was completely taken apart, but looked like all the pieces were still there.
Admittedly not knowing much about Hemicudas, a friend recommended he contact Frank Badalson about the car to verify as much as he could. Looking it over again with Frank on the phone with him, Frank told him every possible thing to look for, both on the car and on the motor and tranny, which were sitting on a nearby pallet. The original fender tag was still there, as were two original broadcast sheets, so Frank became very interested upon discovering it was a mid-year production car that had come with factory billboard decals, as the majority of ’1971 Hemicudas were delivered without them. Of the 107 Hemicuda hardtops built in 1971, most of them came without the big decals.
Still, the viewing time on the cars was very limited, so, there really wasn’t time to lock down all the data on the ‘Cuda, especially since Rich had his eyes on the Superbird. Then came auction day in September, and the major collectors showed up in force! The Hemi Superbird gaveled down for an astonishing $575,000 (still a record price for one of those as far as we know), and obviously, Rich dropped out of the bidding long before that. The next car up was the Hemicuda, and the bidding started off slow, which got his usually passive wife, Nancy, very into the car.
Rich also speculates that seeing how much the Superbird fetched, she realized what a bargain they’d gotten on the one sitting in the garage back home! The bidding on the ‘Cuda staggered up to just over $200K, and Rich bowed out because he thought that was a lot of money for a disassembled car. But, Nancy wasn’t happy about that! She strongly urged him to keep going, so, he bid again, and again, and again, as Nancy was standing right there, smiling, nodding at her nervous husband and encouraging him to keep after it! Her persistence won out, the hammer fell at $347,500, and Rich tells us he wasn’t sure if he’d gotten a bargain or if he’d just made the biggest mistake of his life! Bringing his car hauler back shortly after the sale, he picked up the body and no fewer than twenty-one pallets of parts that were spread all over the warehouse!
Wanting some peace of mind, Rich asked Frank Badalson if he’d mind looking it all over while everything was still loaded up, so he headed west towards Frank’s place in Virginia, and then everybody was soon over at nearby Stuart Jackson’s Restorations, where the real initial investigation into the pile of parts began. After a day of looking at what Rich had acquired, everybody was excited, as the car seemed to be amazingly rust-free, the initial impressions on everything looked good, a lot of the original parts were still there, and the paperwork and tags seemed to bear out the car was exactly what it looked like – a few accessories had been added to the pile during the car’s initial takedown and resto work which was being done at a Ford shop for David Nicholl, but thankfully, nothing they’d done thus far couldn’t be undone and they hadn’t stuck a lot of equipment on the car that it hadn’t been born with – yet. For the sake of the car, it was a good thing David Nicholl got arrested when he did!
Knowing how rare and unique this one was, they all agreed Frank Badalson was the man to put things right again, and, pretty much right from the start, they knew they wanted as many NOS original parts for the resto as humanly possible, instead of simply picking up repro items. So, the ‘Cuda and the massive quantities of parts were left in Virginia and Rich went back to New Jersey, where he and his boys began hunting parts from all over the world – literally.
For the next two years, Frank would tell them what they needed, tell them it would likely be impossible to find said part, and then Rich and his boys would generally end up finding whatever it was fairly quick. Parts came in from as far away as Sweden, a major road trip to Missouri with Lucas netted them an NOS Rimblow wheel and a lot of other goodies, and Gene “Hemi Gene” Lewis got in on the act helping to run down NOS date-coded everything. Of course, Frank Badalson was using up a lot of lifelines as well pulling parts together, so just about everything you see here is actually NOS or amazingly clean original parts instead of being repro pieces. The scarce 15” Hemi steel wheels proved to be a bugger to find, but in the win column, in this day and age, Rich managed to find an NOS console mounted cassette player and microphone that even still had the factory demo cassette with it!
The majority of the work was done over at Stuart Jackson’s Restorations under the watchful eye of Frank Badalson, who acted pretty much as the overall foreman and watchdog on this job along with Dave Inglesby. The original matching numbers engine and tranny were rebuilt to bone stock specs by Charlie Morris, and over at Frank’s place the ‘Cuda was detailed and fawned over to within an inch of its life, working over every square inch of the car inside and out to make it an absolutely flawless OEM type restoration. Frank used Legendary front seat covers, but the back seat is original, and for that matter, the black paint on the Shaker bubble, louvers, and wing is all still the original 1971-applied Organosol black!
Dave Patik supplied the picture-perfect billboards along each flank, and the paint was laid on over at Stuart Jackson’s place. And if you’re curious about the black steel wheels, yes, those are correct. Around February of 1971, Chrysler decided to paint all 15” dog dish wheels black as a cost-saving measure, regardless of the car color.
Which brings us to the car itself. If you know Frank Badalson, you know he’s one of the most knowledgeable people on this planet when it comes to Hemicudas. So, he immediately started running back the history on this unusual car, and that led him all the way out to Nevada. The original owner was an elderly gentleman who ordered the car brand-new in Utah, but passed away not long after acquiring it. The second owners were a husband-and- wife duo in Utah, who bought it off the gent shortly before he died, sometime in 1972 or 1973. They kept the car garaged at their Utah home almost all its life, using it as an occasional hot rod cruiser with a set of mags on it, but otherwise in completely stock condition.
As such, the ‘Cuda only rolled up just over 30,000 miles before being retired from road use in the early eighties, when it was stashed away in their garage – which explains why this one’s completely rust-free. In the early 2000s, collector/trader Pat Goff ended up buying the long dormant ‘Cuda, and he, in turn, sold it to David Nicholl, which is where this whole thing started. So, despite how cool this one is, it never saw much road use.
The restoration was kept under tight security because Bob Ashton at MCACN wanted to have the car’s unveiling happen at the MCACN show in 2017, so Frank treated this one like it was top secret. Even Rich and his family weren’t sent complete overall photos of the car as the restoration neared its finish! The Tuesday before MCACN, Rich arrived in Virginia to pick the ‘Cuda up and bring it to Chicago, and that was the first time he or Nancy had seen it fully assembled and looking like you see it here – needless to say, Rich was aghast and Nancy was all smiles – she knew this one was a diamond in the rough all along. The ‘Cuda was revealed at MCACN to very high acclaim, and it was judged by some of the toughest guys in the muscle car hobby, including Dave Wise, who, we’re told, spent quite a bit of time examining the car inside and out, top and bottom, and finally came over to Rich and asked, “Who did this?” When Rich said “Frank Badalson,” he said Dave smiled and said, “Oh… that explains it.” In a nutshell, the car scored 996 points out of a possible perfect score of 1,000 points. That might just be a record, but we’re not certain, and it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at when a car fresh out of the resto shop scores that well at the toughest judged show in the country!
So, while things were looking bleak for the “Blood Money ‘Cuda” just three years ago, sitting in a U.S. Marshal’s warehouse in Jersey, the future is extremely bright these days. It’s now the crown jewel of Rich and Nancy’s collection, and Rich informs us they’ll likely have it out to a number of major Mopar events next show season.
Since it turned out so amazing, he’s hesitant to drive this one for a while, but as we said earlier, with so many other cars in the driveway, it’s not like he or his sons are hurting for choices come cruise night. So, if you happen to drive by the police station in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, don’t be surprised to see something with really bright paint and stripes sitting out in the parking lot – doesn’t mean anybody’s in trouble, just means that Rich Buzby is on the job.