1970 Plymouth ’Cuda VIN: 1190020
1972 Plymouth Duster VIN: 10016
1967 Dodge D700 “Snake” truck VIN: 1781751293
1967 Dodge D700 “Mongoose” truck VIN: 1781731248
These four lots, the ’70 Barracuda and ’72 Duster drag cars and the two ’67 Dodge D700 ramp trucks, were sold together for $990,000 as lots 5040–5043 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale on January 18, 2014.
Next to Don Garlits in “Swamp Rat,” “TV” Tommy Ivo in his four-engine rail or Wild Willie Borsch one-handing his winged Fuel Altered, for me there’s no more exciting drag-racing history than the epic Don “The Snake” Prudhomme vs. Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen wars of 1970–72.
Sponsored by Hot Wheels, these duels pitted Prudhomme’s Plymouth Barracuda and McEwen’s Plymouth Duster Funny Cars against each other on dragstrips nationwide. They also made hundreds of appearances at toy stores and other retailers. It was a publicity juggernaut previously unheard of in racing.
Prudhomme and McEwen had one Funny Car apiece (with an additional “Snake” ’Cuda built for Plymouth Rapid Transit dealership tours), and each had a crew-cab 1967 Dodge D700 car hauler configured and painted to match. In a time when most cars arrived at the track on flatbed trailers, these transporters were the height of professionalism. That the big Dodges also offered four doors, a sleeper compartment and room for a spare engine, transmission and other essentials was a valuable bonus. Painting one yellow to match Prudhomme’s ’Cuda and the other red to match McEwen’s Duster made the program even more spectacular.
Naturally, Mattel immortalized the cars with die-cast Hot Wheels miniatures for kids to sling along the now-iconic orange track. Unquestionably, “Mongoose & Snake” was sheer marketing brilliance, and for a couple of years the entire product line — including the Funny Cars, fuel dragsters, transporters, track sets and even animated models with sound effects — was among Mattel’s most successful. “There were certainly hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions, of Mongoose and Snake toys made,” said former Mattel executive Tony Miller. “And along the way, Mongoose and Snake helped Hot Wheels become the undisputed most successful boys’ toy of all time, with more than five billion sold to date.”
Lost, found and sold
Once Mattel’s Mongoose & Snake program ended in 1972, the cars and transporters scattered in the winds, with the Dodge trucks sold to other racers and two of the three cars destroyed by other teams. In fact, the yellow Barracuda seen here is not Prudhomme’s actual race car, but Plymouth’s Rapid Transit System tour car, while the red McEwen Duster is a more recently built display car. However, the trucks are real, as Prudhomme located both of them in Southern California, and then bought and restored them over several years. The rigs even retain their old California black-and-yellow plates.
On January 18, at primetime on Saturday at the Barrett-Jackson auction at WestWorld in Scottsdale, AZ, the whole group went under the hammer as one lot (despite being individually cataloged as Lots 5040–43). The reserve for the package was set at a reported $1 million, and it was surprising that bidding didn’t quite get there. After all, at the same auction last year, the original George Barris-built Batmobile fetched $4.62m (ACC# 214858). Granted, way more folks probably know Batman than Mongoose and Snake — but for most car guys, I would wager the twin Funny Cars have more pull.
Nonetheless, no one stepped up to meet the reserve, and as the hammer dropped, the cars and trucks were a no-sale. Afterward, they did sell for $990,000 backstage — a tidy $247,500 each when the total is chunked into four pieces. For the price of one Cobra 427, new owner Rick Hendrick now has enough hardware to fill a drag-racing museum.
Slicing and dicing
This Drag Racer’s combo of one running Funny Car, one static Funny Car and two real transporters is so varied that Barrett-Jackson’s breakout of exactly $247,500 apiece isn’t how anyone would value the individual vehicles. So how would you value them to total $990k? Here’s my assessment:
The Don Prudhomme ’70 ’Cuda Funny Car: $450,000. This is the most valuable piece in the collection because it’s one of the three original Ronnie Scrima-built cars from the Mongoose & Snake program, and as such it has true historical value. Even if it never raced, it was there.
The display Mongoose Funny Car: $90,000. This number is a guesstimate for a tube frame and running gear, a ’glass body, dummy engine and the rest. Absent any historical status, I’d value the Mongoose Duster replica at a bit over the sum of its parts and labor — in short, about one-fifth the value of the period Snake tour car.
The Prudhomme Snake transporter: $240,000. This is Prudhomme’s real-deal truck from back in the day, found and restored by his team. It’s unquestionably authentic, and is also drivable and useful as a car hauler today — as long as you like attracting crowds.
The McEwen Mongoose transporter: $210,000. Nearly the same pedigree here, except that the McEwen and Mongoose names aren’t quite as famous as Prudhomme and Snake.
Considering all that, I think $990k was right on the money for this group in today’s market — especially for a collector who grew up watching the cars race, played with the Hot Wheels set, and simply wanted to collect all four