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Art Of Drive: Artist Aaron Beck And His Plymouth KUDA Custom

Art Of Drive: Artist Aaron Beck And His Plymouth KUDA Custom

Our Art of Drive series interviews artists, designers and photographers to find out what inspires them.

Who and what do you cite as influences and motivations for your work?

My name's Aaron Beck, I'm from Wellington, New Zealand. My work has always been an amalgamation and personal expression of the various things that inspire and fascinate me from nature, natural history and science, to technology, science fiction, martial arts, mechanical design, and much more. My favorite artists, those that have inspired and motivated me, have generally been those that have similar motivations behind their works. Artists like Masamune Shirow and Wayne Barlowe whose incredible work speaks to a deep understanding of the world around us and an ability to build on that knowledge to create unique, iconic, and believable work. I love the idea of cross pollination where influences from one area of exploration or research, blend into another to create something fresh and interesting. 

What’s your background and training?

I’ve always drawn and designed things ever since I could hold a pencil. And I’ve always drawn the things I love like cars, robots, creatures and characters. I obtained a Bachelor of Design from a university in Wellington, New Zealand, but I feel that a lifetime of thinking about and designing the things I love was more important to what I do now than any past schooling.

What are you currently working on?

As a conceptual designer I’m currently working on several freelance projects, primarily large videogame properties, as well as a wide variety of personal projects from car related stuff to toys, books, and moving image works.

What equipment do you work with for your designs, and why does it suit you best?

I love mixing and matching techniques when working, from drawing on paper to computer aided design, digital painting, photo manipulation, 3D modeling and sculpting, photography, motion graphics, and video work. At times this lack of one clear path or technique leaves you feeling lost at the start of a project, but the flip side is a constant evolution of one’s personal style, and it helps stave off stagnation or boredom. Lately I have been using more 3D modeling in my work flow, and there are some wonderful rendering programs available today that help create very high-end looking work that is a nice contrast to my dirtier and rougher conceptual work for film, where the goal is to get an idea in front of the client as quickly and efficiently as possible, not to create a highly polished illustration.

How do you feel your design style has changed and evolved over your career so far?

I have a lot of hobbies and passions in many different fields, and have always enjoyed the organic flow that naturally happens as you go from one passion of the moment to the next. I often find that something that at the time seems like a potential waste of time or energy, becomes a viable business avenue in the future, or something that opens doors and unlocks new opportunities.  

Tell us about some of your favourite projects that you have worked on.

As far as my film work goes, highlights would have to be working on Avatar and Elysium. Both were exciting and epic projects to be involved with, and great learning experiences. The first six months or so of pre-production design on Elysium was especially rewarding. The design briefs and the world we had to develop and explore was the perfect outlet for years of my own personal passions and research. Things like advanced military robotics, bioengineering and genetically altered soldiers, weaponry, and unique vehicles. The brief for one week was even sexy robotic lingerie models!

'KUDA'

What is this project and how did it start?

The ‘Kuda’ is my 1973 Plymouth Barracuda project, my first car build. In fact it’s my first car! I have always loved cars, especially race cars and muscle cars, and have always dreamed of owning a high performance, highly modified machine. As I got older and was focused more on my career I thought that when I eventually did get a car, I would do the design work and get professionals to carry the actual work out as I really didn’t have any experience working seriously on cars. When I did get the ‘Cuda though, and got my first bill from a shop for repairing a dodgy shifter and clutch, I realised I wasn’t going to be able to afford to get professionals to do the kind of extensive work I dreamed of. So I bought a factory manual for the car, a jack and axle stands and a socket set. It’s been a steep learning curve since, but a hugely rewarding and enjoyable one. Although I certainly now understand the love-hate relationship that often accompanies projects of this scope. I’ve owned the car for eight years. I drove the wheels of it for about three years, including epic road trips to the most remote parts of New Zealand, and I’ve been in the process of rebuilding it for the last four and half years or so. 

What was your vision for the project at the beginning?

For years I had dreamed of a highly modified, modern pro-touring style muscle car build. However, the more I drove the rattly old beast the more I fell in love with the ‘old school’ appeal that it had. So as the rebuild progressed I decided I wanted the car to stay true to it’s old school muscle car roots, while modifying and updating everything to create a machine that handled well and went hard. The Hotchkis E-Max Challenger was a great inspiration, as they had developed factory style replacement parts that transformed the wallowing E body into a legitimate corner carver and autocross weapon. The independent reviews of that car often mentioned that it had magical steering and felt like a big go-cart, and that was something I wanted out of my build. I wanted to build the most fun car to drive, something that recent road tests of the car have me thinking I have achieved!

Body

The body has had all the rust repaired, and all the exterior sheetmetal replaced. While it was stripped I stitch-welded all the body seams, added extensive custom bracing, such as through-the-floor subframe connectors and added a whole bunch of other custom touches like a handbrake and mounting points for modular equipment and electronics. Most of this work was done with the chassis on a rotisserie I fabricated, something I highly recommend to anyone undertaking a rebuild of this depth. It makes working on the car super easy. The sandblasters loved it too, and chores like painting and seam sealing the body are much less painful. The front of the car features lightweight fiberglass fenders, hood, and bumper. The hood attaches via an AeroCatch motorsport fastener at each corner, and there are two pins on the roof of the car so the hood can be latched there when you need to access the engine bay. I live in a notoriously windy city and without somewhere secure to put the flimsy hood, it would end up being blown away and smashed.

Paint

I built a spray booth in my garage for the final paint job on the body, and went with a matte PPG product apparently designed for Lamborghinis. As with the rest of the build I wanted to do everything myself to the highest standard, so I could learn as much as possible and make my plans for much more epic future builds a possibility. However learning what you never want to do again is just as beneficial, and at least at this stage I never want to fully repaint a car from bare metal ever again!

Suspension, Wheels & Brakes

The suspension consists of modified and reinforced factory parts like the front crossmember and lower control arms, Hotchkis upper control arms, strut rods, tie rods, leaf springs, and sway bars. There’s also Firm Feel 1.18” torsion bars, Hotchkis tuned Fox adjustable shocks, and the best part of all; a Coleman Racing 1.5:1 steering quickener spliced into the column on custom fabricated brackets. The wheels are wide Chrysler police steel wheels, 8” front and 10” rear with Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R tyres. This will be the street setup and I’m currently planning a track day set of wheels and tyres. The brakes are currently an inbetween setup until I source some NASCAR calipers and two piece rotors. They currently consist of big police rotors on the front with race pads in factory calipers and a Dr Diff rear disc brake package. The car is running a Hydratech hydroboost booster, with a Wilwood proportioning valve, and a KRC racing power steering pump on a custom CNC cut bracket. There’s also a custom handbrake setup I built to get rid of the crappy foot brake these cars came with.

Engine & Drivetrain

The engine is a 440ci big block with heavily worked big valve 915 heads, Edelbrock performer RPM intake, Holley Ultra HP carb, TTI headers, Milodon road race oil pan, Comp Cams Extreme Energy cam, adjustable stainless rockers, MSD distributor, and serpentine accessory pulleys. A nice mix of badass Mopar muscle with some modern performance touches. The transmission is a Chrysler A833 four speed with Hurst shifter, and the diff is an 8.75” Chrysler unit with 3.55:1 gears, a limited slip, and Dr Diff high strength axles. The rear springs have been relocated inboard 1” on modified Dr Diff brackets for increased tyre clearance. The TIG welded 304 stainless mandrel bent exhaust features 3.5” dump pipes into a 3” x-pipe and Magnaflow stainless mufflers. Additional cylindrical Magnaflow mufflers can be easily bolted to the tail pipes for a slightly reduced roar. The sound through the dump pipes with the caps off however is suitably epic.

Interior

The interior currently features a mix of new factory replacement parts like the dash and passenger seat, and raw, exposed elements like the doors, roof and rear of the interior. I love the way it all blends together to create something no-frills and industrial, but with a classy feeling. The floor, top and bottom as well the whole trunk area have been coated with Raptor Liner, a 2-part urethane truck bed liner that has a nice finish and looks fantastic. Behind the seats sit a fire extinguisher and a Pelican case for camera gear on custom fabricated brackets. The trunk area also features another Pelican case for tools and a matching Moroso battery box, again of custom built brackets. The car has been completely rewired from scratch, with Deutsch connectors and bulkhead disconnects and a removable, easily modifiable central panel that houses all the modules like the fan controller and MSD ignition. That sits where the heater box used to be, above the passengers footwell. The driver's seat is a fiberglass Sparco sports seat on custom designed brackets, and there’s a bolt-in six point half cage I fabricated and TIG welded, that ties into the C pillars on either side, and has fully reinforced structures welded to body where it attaches. 

What’s next? What’s left to finish it?

What’s next is to finish the lights and electrical elements, including subtle semi-hidden LED indicators and removable headlight units. I have fallen in love with the look of the car in its current raw state and intent to keep it that way for now whilst incorporating everything it needs for safety. I plan on adding a custom hood tach setup that pokes through the fiberglass hood, lit with the same awesome green tinted lighting that the ‘70s gauge panel has. There’s also a NACA duct to be added to the hood to route air to the power steering cooler in the engine bay. There’s lots of work I could do to the lightweight fiberglass front panels to get them to fit right and have nice edges, but this can wait for now as I just want to enjoy the car after years of building it. Driving the car lately has been a dream come true. It’s incredibly fun to drive, the combination of the sharp steering with the torque of the big block makes for a fantastic machine to hustle around. The handling is very predictable and confidence inspiring, and it does mean-as skids.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 20.

Follow Aaron: @_aaron_beck.

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