Steve Russell of Sequim, Washington, bought this 1970 Challenger all the way back in 1990. It was a driver at the time, but all of the special T/A stuff had been taken off the car. “I found it in the Little Nickel,” Steve explained. “This was before the internet.”
He was at work when he saw the ad and when he called the guy and found out that it was a T/A, he asked for the rest of the day off, grabbed his son out of school, and went and bought it for the low low price of only $1,500.
Before he bought the car, the girl that was driving it was given the car as a graduation present. “She used to take it to the beach and sunbathe on the roof, so it was pretty dented up,” explained Steve. “She later rear-ended somebody and traded all of the T/A stuff to get her car fixed.”
The body was relatively rust free, except the rear quarter area, but that was likely from the trips to the beach. “I took it apart in 1993, and the big idea was to restore it then,” Steve told us, “but you couldn’t get parts for it.”
He talked to a few people and the consensus was that he was going to have to find donor cars to complete his, since parts were so scarce. “But even donor cars are expensive.” Over the years Steve has ended up buying parts out of the woods and wherever he could find them, taking the best parts for himself, and selling off the rest.
The car came with a running 318 cubic-inch motor, but it was not correct to the car. The T/A came with a special 340 cubic-inch six-pack engine that is different from the standard 340 cubic-incher in high performance ways. According to Steve, it’s also even rarer than the 426 cubic-inch Hemi motor. So wanting to go back to original, Steve sought out the correct engine.
In 1994 Steve heard there was a guy in Oregon with an engine like what he was looking for. “I called the guy and he hemmed and hawed,” Steve said, “but about six-months later he called and said he was ready to sell.”
Steve grabbed a buddy and they went down to look at it. “The guy had a T/A that he had bought a bunch of NOS parts to rebuild it, but he was keeping it in a boat shop that ended up burning to the ground with the car inside,” Steve explained. “I paid $4,000 for all the parts including a bunch of the NOS stuff that I could use for my car, including the motor.”
Steve had to pick the motor up from Keith Black, the guy that did the work on it for the other guy Steve bought all the parts from. “I had to give him $500 to get the motor since that is what was still owed on the work,” Steve said. “Keith Black is also the name of the guy that designed the motor for Chrysler originally, but I don’t know if it was the same Keith Black or not.”
Over the years, Steve has accumulated quite the collection of parts. It takes some real wheeling-and-dealing to put a project like this together. “It’s the twenty-five years of time and patience that is making it not cost as much,” Steve detailed. “It’s waiting and finding the part and trading and getting it done that way. I have to trade rare parts that I have duplicates of to get the rare parts that I don’t have.”
About two years ago Steve had to make the choice: “I decided that I needed to build it, or sell it,” he said. “And I wasn’t about the get rid of it.” He got to work and has things pretty much ready to go. He just has to put things back together.
When he bought the motor it also came with the correct automatic transmission, but Steve decided that he wanted to go with a manual, like what was in his first Challenger back in the day. He bought a 4-speed out of Canada last August. He thought that it was just a standard manual transmission, but when he checked the gear ratio, just by pure luck it turned out to be the close-ratio 4-speed like what he is looking for.
What are the odds of that? It doesn’t have any numbers on it, so it’s what’s called a “warranty transmission,” meaning that it didn’t come in a car, but was made by Dodge as a warranty replacement for someone that had their transmission fail.
Steve is thinking the car will be done around sometime between June and September, and it has been a long time coming. “The timeline really depends on how much money I want to throw at it and how quickly,” he explained. This car is going to be the culmination of twenty-five years’ worth of deals, sweat equity, and patience. When it’s done though, it’ll be more than worth it.
Upon completion, it will feature the 340 cubic-inch six pack engine with three, 2-barrel Holly carburetors and the close-ratio 4-speed manual transmission. “The engine is special too,” Steve explained, “They were made for the 1970 SCCA races and there had to be a certain number produced for Dodge to use them in the race.”
We can’t wait to see the finished product, and you better believe we are going to keep an eye on this car. A car this rare and this well put together is definitely going to stay on our radar. And of course, the question had to be asked, is he going to drive it. “This car is not going to be trailered,” Steve explained. “I am going to drive it to shows. It was meant to be driven and I want to enjoy my car.”
That’s what this hobby is all about: building a car to drive, and if you’ve been slaving away at your project, why not help others get motivated and share it? Send us an email and yours could be the next project featured in “What Are You Working On?”.