In the 1960s and ’70s, many manufacturers researched and succeeded in various ways to save money building cars. One way they did this was to make parts and wiring harnesses interchangeable for every model so that upgrades could be done much easier. If a car was to get air conditioning or additional instrumentation, for instance, it was a simple upgrade to accomplish without changing major components or wiring harnesses. These options were the unrealized “plug and play” features of the day: the new components simply plugged into the existing harness.
Another unique feature about many full-size four-door sedans back in the day was that they, too, had a lot of interchange going on with their two-door counterparts. Some of these cars shared suspension and interior components, front and rear sheet metal, and even some of the glass is interchangeable. Additionally, some of these cars also shared wheelbases, and Marc Viau of Viau Motorsports in Lake Elsinore, California, has been taking advantage of that commonality for some time now with the classic Mopar musclecars that he builds.
You see, much like many other manufacturers, there are certain models that retain a higher value than others, and for 1960’s Mopars that model is the two-door sedan. Fortunately for the 1962-1965 Mopar B-bodies like the Coronet, Belvedere, and Savoy, the two-door and four-door sedans shared many similar body features as well.
With the two-door sedan commanding a much higher price than it’s seemingly larger sibling, Viau found that it was sometimes easier to find a four-door sedan in quite decent shape for a much better price. With that, he brings the donor four-door into his restoration and performance shop and begins the transformation of removing the rear doors and converting the car to a two-door model.
Being an honest builder, which is sometimes rare these days, Viau does inform his customers that the vehicle they’re buying began life as a four-door. But the coolest part about this conversion is that often times the registration didn’t state the number of doors, it simply stated whether it was the hardtop, or the more desirable sedan.
If the name Viau Motorsports sounds vaguely familiar, and you’ve attended Mopars At The Strip (MATS) for the past few years, chances are you’ve seen one of Viau’s award winning customs there. For instance, in 2011 he took the First Place bling home for 1962-65 modified; or you might have seen his 1972 Dodge Demon, which won MoPar Muscle Magazine’s True Street Challenge in 2010. If you’re into drag racing, you might have caught him tripping the lights in his 10-second 1974 Plymouth Duster. Whether it’s a restoration, a restified, restomod, or race car, there’s one thing for sure: Mopar is in his blood.
The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing
Within the musclecar world, there are very few performance four-doors out there that don’t scream “family car”. Cruise through a car show or cruise night, or almost any online performance forum, and you’ll notice the general consensus is that musclecars have two doors.
It may or may not be entirely true, depending on whom you’re talking to, but there’s no denying that the two-door hardtop can fetch more than twice what the four-door sells for.
This transformation wasn’t invented by Viau Motorsports; it’s been done for years. But to say that it was anything less than perfected by their shop would be a disservice, because when the car is completed you would be very hard pressed to tell the difference.
Once the donor car is found, like the 1964 Plymouth Belvedere featured here, the transformation begins and the car is stripped of everything until the restoration specialist, Aaron Bourdage, is left with a shell of a car. From there, the car is placed on a rotisserie and into the capable hands of Leo Martinez to repair any damage to the chassis, including floor and sheet metal replacement, and to begin converting the rear doors to quarter panels.
The front doors are typically donated from a two-door car that might have met its untimely death and became non-repairable. Viau says, “The cool part about this is that the doors all share the same body lines, no matter which car it comes from. The fenders and rear quarter panels are different, but the doors are all the same.”
The cool part about this is that the doors all share the same body lines, no matter which car it comes from.
This little bit of Mopar ingenuity – or sheer luck, depending on how you spin it – plays an important role because there’s a body crease along the upper third of the door that doesn’t have to be moved, modified or finessed.
The center pillar is removed to accommodate the new, longer front door, and a donor front-quarter panel from a two-door sedan is attached to the existing quarter panel. Inside the car, the new inner quarter sheet metal is welded into place and the rocker and inner roof rails are filled in and smoothed over.
The front-quarter panel is then trimmed and fit into place and what was once a sheepishly looking four-door sedan slowly transforms into the wolf-like two-door. When the transformation is completed, it’s undetectable.
As Martinez finishes up all the body panels and welds up the final transformation, the sound-deadening finish is applied inside the doors, quarter panels and underside of the car. This is where the rotisserie truly comes in handy, if you’ve ever tried to spray up you usually only do that once and learn the hard way.
While Martinez was finishing up the body, Bourdage was busy with the interior components, like restoring the instrument panel and rewiring the harness to replace any questionable wires or connectors, and the suspension gets new bushings. The front and rear suspension receives no less attention than the rest of the car, as parts are disassembled, media blasted, and refinished to make them look the way they did when the car rolled off the assembly line, actually a little better most of the time.
With the bodywork completed and the shell ready for paint, Martinez applies the final paint to the body, and finishes inside the trunk with splatter paint to give it that very cool musclecar look. With the body on rollers and the car ready for assembly, the crew begins the long process of putting everything back together as they put their own assembly-line to work creating another masterpiece that sometimes ends up across the pond on another continent.
With body, paint, suspension and electrical getting completed by the restoration specialists, the interior and mechanical are undergoing their own transformations. Many times, Viau builds the engine to suit customer desires and while the engine may look like the stock mill that the car originally came with, this sheep in wolf’s clothing truly huffs and puffs to a different tune.
The Huffing and the Puffing
The Mopar big-block sees some internal modifications prior to getting the factory appearing top coat to the engine assembly. In the case of this Belvedere, the 440 cubic inch mill was bored 0.030-inches over stock, and blueprinted. All machine work is completed by Greg Luneak of Tri City Competition in Vista, California, and the completed engine is sent to Steve Brule at Westech Performance to get some dyno figures. Typically, these big blocks are pushing 460+ crank horsepower and can run on 91 octane pump gas.
Transferring those ponies to the 3.55 Suregrip rearend is a built 1965 push-button A-727 transmission with Munsinger Converter, built by Butch Lightfeldt in San Jacinto, California. With all that go, the whoa needs to be up to the task of stopping the car when it gets moving, so an 11.75-inch disc brake upgrade up front and heavy-duty drums are added in the rear for a little peace of mind when the binders need to be put to task.
Inside the car, the upholstery is treated to nothing less than the rest of the car, and SMS Auto Fabrics was called on for the seat covers and trim panels, while Henry Torres of The Upholsterers in Riverside, California, handled the stitching that needed to be done.
With the added power, the new outlook on life, and shedding a couple of unwanted door shells, the Belvedere wouldn’t quite pull off the look that Viau Motorsports had in mind until the rear wheels were stretched a little to 15×8 to accommodate the wider tires out back.
The crew reinstalled all of the polished and anodized trim to the exterior, and all lights and emblems were attached to the car so that the engine and front K-member could be assembled, and the completed car lowered into place.
From there, the final hoses, belts and components are installed, and the car is ready to be fired up and sent off to its new home, with only the new owner and Viau Motorsports aware that there was once a sheep underneath this wolf.
Be sure to check out the rest of the gallery below to see this awesome build, and see if you can tell that it was once a four-door sedan. If you’re interested in having your Mopar restified like this Belvedere, be sure to check out the Viau Motorsports web site – and let them know you found them here on Street Legal TV.