A Hellcat Swap The Whole Family Can Enjoy – John Gaddy’s ’69 Coronet

It has been said, if one is good, then two is better. Well, some people take that mantra to the extreme. John Gaddy is one of those people. He’s built, not one, but two of the cleanest Hellcat-swapped classic Mopars we’ve seen to date.

John Gaddy’s 1969 Coronet 500 Wagon set itself apart from the crowd at Moparty 2021.

John is an automotive restoration enthusiast from Kenosha, Wisconsin. We ran into him at none other than, Holley’s Moparty at Beech Bend Raceway Park. The show has quickly become a must-attend event from the house of modification that is Holley. Building on the strength of the famously popular LS Fest and Intergalactic Ford Fest, Holley launched Moparty in 2020, but since 2020 was rife with reasons for people to “stay-at-home”, we weren’t able to attend. However, in its sophomore year, Moparty 2021 had thousands in attendance, and we count ourselves lucky to have been among them. You can read all about it in our show recap, here.

As we perused all of the cars in attendance, as always, a few caught our eye. John’s 1969 Dodge Coronet 500 nine-passenger station wagon was among them.

Something Different – Even For A Wagon

Now, we’ll admit, unlike most other muscle-loving gearheads around the office, the team at Street Muscle aren’t as wagon-crazy as everyone else. So, it takes something really special for a wagon to jump out at us. Combining a faithful restoration with modern performance is one way to do that.

John’s wagon is set apart from the crowd for a number of reasons – the main one being, it is a full rotisserie restoration. For most Mopar lovers, it would be sacrilege to go to those lengths and put in all that work, only to swap out the drivetrain for modern components. However, this could be the “new-normal”, even for fans of the Pentastar. We saw plenty of late-model Dodge’s and classics sporting the latest in Hemi engineering, but none of them done quite like John’s.

Fun for the whole family.

John’s Coronet 500 is set apart even further when we examine the great lengths he took to make the swap look as close to factory as possible. Well, as close as one can look for being a 2020 engine in a 1969 car.

Mopar fanatics might ask why John would ditch the non-original 440ci lump the car came with, in favor of a late-model Hellcat drivetrain in the first place – you know, aside from overall performance, fuel mileage, and reliability, of course.

Well, as we mentioned, John had already done it with a ’68 Plymouth GTX he owns, so he figured, why not build a similar car the whole family can enjoy. He wanted a car that was capable of making a comfortable cross-country trip with his wife and daughters but also had no problem shredding the tires at a blip of the throttle. When we asked John about. the inspiration for this build, he broke it down for us.

“Well, I also have a 1968 Plymouth GTX that I did a Hellcat swap in – that was in 2018. I went to go on a road trip with that car with my wife and two girls and found out that the car is actually a little bit too small. So, I started the hunt for a station wagon. Of course, that had to be Hellcat swapped too. Nothing else was going to do, and I came across this car [pictured], and the rest is history.”

A swap so clean, it almost looks factory...well, sorta.

All weekend, people kept stopping by to compliment John on the excellent work he’d done on the Coronet, each one sharing childhood memories of their father’s threats to “turn this car around if they don’t knockoff the rough-housing.” It seemed like everyone had memories, good and bad, of wagons just like John’s. Well, not exactly just like his…

Resto-Whatever

We asked John to run down the specs of his build and he quickly launched into some of the finer points.

“I bought it [Coronet] in April of 2019, and the restoration was actually started when Covid first hit in about April of 2020. That’s when I launched into the whole project and the swap. It’s a total nut and bolt rotisserie type resto-if you want to call it a restoration. I did it in just over 11 months.”

HEMI WGN says it all.

After beginning the resto-whatever-you-wanna-call-it, John spent 11 months of meticulous work completing the build. That includes his working a full-time job and making time for his familial duties. It was a challenge to balance everything, but the result is spectacular.

When we asked John about the condition of the car when he’d first got it, he explained that the car looks much like you see today.  John went on, “it looks largely stock on the outside. It’s an original red and wood grain car with a luggage rack. Nobody had ever taken the car apart with the exception of the swapped 440ci engine and automatic transmission.”

“It ran and drove – I drove the car around for a couple of months but at that point I knew I was going to do a Hellcat swap, so I sold the complete driveline out of it.”

Not just another family hauler.

As for the overall condition of the body and what he had to start with, John told us, “the car was basically rust-free. It’s a southern car, so I didn’t really have to do any rust repair on the car, which always make a project like this easier.”

With the body work and interior resto underway, that left the new powertrain to be dealt with. Fortunately for John, he had a plan. Underneath, he took care of things with a Dodge Challenger Hellcat Swap. John touched on where he sourced the engine, “I actually had the engine before I bought the car. It was a 2019 engine out of a wrecked Challenger. I knew I would be Hellcat swapping something, so I sourced a low mileage used engine and it just happened to be out of a Challenger.”

John’s Coronet also sports a Jake’s Performance Stage 3 4L80E transmission and uses a Compushift controller. The supercharged HEMI and performance auto are mated to a Moser 60 rear end with 3.73:1 gears. Of course, all of that tire-twisting power could create a monster of a car – one unfit to transport children in, but John was careful to include some of the modern amenities that make for a tame beast.

It's all in the details...

As far as those creature comforts go, Mr.Gaddy explained, “It now has A/C and cruise control. The car probably gets 18/19 miles per gallon on cruise control at 70 miles an hour on the highway. The interior is really close to factory stock. The only thing I changed is I added Dakota Digital gauges – the RTX series. It’s also a nine-passenger car, so I changed the front from a bench seat to buckets. The only reason I did that is because I like the armrest – it makes it more comfortable to drive.”

Easy access for your kids on the way to soccer practice or for your drunk friends after a night on the town. Ha!

“The second-row seating is a bench, but it also folds down – you could haul plywood in this car if you wanted to.” John also showed us one of the unique and functional features at the back of the car, and that was the tailgate/rear door. It folds down and swings out, so if the kids need to jump in the back, they can do that, or if you need to haul some lumber, PVC pipe, or a comedically long ladder, it folds down to do that too.

Hey, your wheels are dragging!

As we moved along and examined the rest of the Coronet, John showed us one of the even more unique parts –the wheels – specifically the front wheels. John told us, “Those are actually reproductions of a 1969 Dodge and Plymouth A12 promotional discs. They put these on those cars and basically, they were a promotional ad for those special cars they built. What these do is, they bolt to the spindle and they remain stationary as you’re going down the road. So, at 50mph, it stays still and looks just like you see while it’s sitting still. I constantly have people doing double-takes and telling me my wheels are dragging.”

Timeless Looks Meets Modern Performance

Finally, when we asked John what the most challenging part of the swap and project overall was, he replied, “I think the most challenging part was trying to install everything while still making it look like a factory-type installation – where it wasn’t just thrown in with wires and everything hanging there, but make it to where it’s very presentable – a very. clean install.

Will Hellcat swaps ever be as common as LS swaps?

“The most rewarding part of the build has to be people’s faces when they see the car. The best thing is watching somebody walk by the car and do a double-take when they see what’s underneath the hood. And then you get the stories from everybody. Everybody has a station wagon memory or a story from their childhood. So, I think that’s what makes this car so special – it brings it out in people. It reminds them of memories and things that have happened in the past.”

With that, we couldn’t say it any better than the man himself. Until next time…

About the author

Vinny Costa

Fast cars, motorcycles, and loud music are what get Vinny’s blood pumping. Catch him behind the wheel of his ’68 Firebird. Chances are, Black Sabbath will be playing in the background.
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