Kevin Hart Accident Update: ’Cuda Was Converted to a Two-Seater
What exactly happened?
The recent Kevin Hart car accident involving a SpeedKore-built 1970 Plymouth 'Cuda known as "Menace" has the car-curious world asking, "What happened?" While we don't know the specifics of how Kevin Hart's irreplaceable SpeedKore 'Cuda met its demise, our inside knowledge of the car and its Hellcat Hemi crate engine powertrain may shed some light on what may have happened and can provide a learning opportunity. It's a fact that most accidents are rarely the result of a single failure, but rather the combination of two or more factors. As people look for answers, here are a few things that aren't widely reported or even known by entertainment-industry news outlets like TMZ. (Check out their report here.)
The most glaring thing missed is that this particular 1970 Plymouth was converted from a four-seat configuration to a two-seater long before comedian Kevin Hart owned it. SpeedKore, the builder of the car, gave us extensive access to the car during its initial reveal after the 2016 SEMA show, and you can clearly see that the back seats are gone. Non-automotive news outlets all report the third passenger—Rebecca Broxterman, the driver's reported fiancée—was riding in the back seat, but the car does not have a rear seat, only two small storage compartments, as seen in the photo below. Even in the best of circumstances, riding in the rear of a car that has no seat for a passenger is exceedingly dangerous for obvious reasons: There are no provisions for occupant protection and no safety belt or harness.
What is not so obvious but comes to light with a little digging is that the Hellcat Hemi that was swapped into the car (after it was widely published in the enthusiast media with a less powerful engine) was actually a much more rare, modified Dodge Demon engine with 840 horsepower on tap. (Among other things, the Demon blower/intake manifold assembly had been lowered to fit beneath the low hood). That isn't the issue, though, but one thing is related: The car was most likely not modified to take full advantage of the powertrain's sophisticated stability-control system.
In an interview with Mike Copeland of Diversified Creations of Brighton, Michigan—Copeland is likely the world's most knowledgeable expert on Hellcat engine swaps, but has no affiliation with this car—we discovered that making the Hellcat conversion with full implementation of the stability-control system requires special vehicle-speed and yaw sensors that are not supported in the aftermarket. This fact was later verified by a person close to the Menace build who wants to remain anonymous. GM speed sensors, which are widely used for these types of conversions, cannot be adapted for use in this Chrysler powertrain due to their incompatible output pulses, and must be fabricated from scratch. In all the Hellcat swaps Copeland has been involved with (which is most of them), he has gone through the effort just once. Every other conversion we've seen has the traction control and vehicle stability control disabled to simplify the installation of Hellcat and Demon Hemi engines. Anybody who's driven a Hellcat knows how unruly it becomes in tire-liquifying Track mode, which is what the driver of the SpeedKore 'Cuda—Jared Black—would have faced.
Irrespective of the specific facts of the Kevin Hart car accident, we're willing to posit that three critical errors may have occurred, none of which would have required any link to either excessive speed or impaired ability:
- No licensed driver should allow three people to ride in a vehicle designed for two—not on a closed course, and certainly not on a road that is notorious (Mulholland Drive) for its tight turns and frequent deadly accidents. In fact, riding without a seat is illegal in every state, including California, and you'll be written a ticket for it every time if you get caught.
- Witnesses report that prior to the accident, the car was heard to have performed a burnout. (For those not familiar, this is the act of heating up the drive tires with the car held stationary). While not wise, it would have provided the driver the opportunity to become familiar with the car's unruly nature, and even if the car was equipped with stability control, a burnout implies it had been disabled beforehand. It is abundantly clear that by the time of the accident, the driver would have already known the stability control was either not built into the vehicle or was deliberately turned off.
- We can't comment on the ability of the driver in command, but a cursory search through Jared Black's Facebook page shows no history of involvement with extreme performance cars with 800 horsepower, but that aspect aside, even an experienced driver would not allow the unsafe seating configuration on that road in less-than-ideal conditions. For an experienced driver to allow a third passenger to ride with no safety belts, at night, on Mulholland Drive, with the traction and stability control systems disabled in an 800-hp car is a bad idea. For an inexperienced driver to do this with someone riding in what is effectively a storage compartment is a terrible idea, and is likely to be the focus of inquiry by the CHP—not excessive speed or impaired driving, as hinted at by Hollywood news outlets.
A version of this story originally appeared on HOT ROD.