With all of the high-octane, supercharged, turbocharged, nitrous-fogged, multi-port fuel injected, and methanol-fed project vehicles here at powerTV, there is little to appeal to the bare bones, keep-it-simple-stupid bad ass muscle car enthusiasts. No line-locks, trans brakes, or electronic rev limiters. Just a heavy breathin’ carburetor or two topping a big cube plant with a lumpy solid mechanical-lifter cam, a hard-snapping automatic, and backed with a stout no-nonsense low-gear rear.
We love these muscle cars. These were the cars that got us into street machines. You know, that one clean-lookin’ 10-second street car that drives itself to the burger stand as much as the drags. A real driver. Gloriously low-tech. Old school. Simple good ol’ fashioned muscle. These cars didn’t need all that stuff when they were shattering records 40 years ago, why should they now?
For 2011, we wanted something simple. Something unapologetic. Something brutish. Something raw. And most importantly, something that wasn’t a Camaro, Nova or Mustang.
Arguably, there is no car more recognized, more iconic and more stylistically representative of the muscle car era than the 1969 Dodge Charger. In fact, the second generation Charger – second only to the original Ford Mustang – is the automobile most identified as being a “muscle car” in broad polling. You read that right, even more so than the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. Suck on that, Bowtie guys.
This example of iconic Detroit muscle, Street Legal TV’s 2011 project 1969 Dodge Charger – titled Killer Kong – will join the ranks of Project Swinger, our LSA-powered Pro Touring ’71 Nova, which is still “under construction.”
Yet, unlike Swinger, ‘Kong is nearly already done, meaning we can jump right into getting this Charger on the road while retroactively going back and showing you all the work that went into the metal work, fabrication, paint and body while simultaneously dropping in the motor and finishing the interior; because who wants to wait around for paint to dry?
Killer Kong’s mission is to not only show how building something a little more ”exotic” can be done affordably and cool, but to run all the stuff that made Mopars legendary; namely a fire-breathing 650-plus-horsepower dual-quad HEMI, a 727 TorqueFlite transmission, and a stout Dana 60 and run it all on the street.
This Charger will answer whether a ’69 HEMI Charger running on pump gas 91-octane can be driven in Southern California traffic – or back-and-forth to Vegas – all with a full interior and make regular 10-second passes while driving back-and-forth from the track.
And since the majority of you, our readers, typically don’t have access to fancy lifts or rotisseries, we’ll be using work benches, jack stands, and hand-tools for the bulk of our tech, because we’re aiming at making this a budget-friendly build. A budget HEMI Charger? Yeah, it sounds a little crazy to us too.
Believe it or not, finding a good project Mopar doesn’t have to cost a mint. This Charger was landed for $2,000 and in pretty complete condition.
Built in late 1969 at the Hamtramck, Michigan plant, this Charger came with lots of show and very little go, equipped with a vinyl top, bucket seats, air conditioning, power steering, the premium interior light package, power brakes and a console-mounted floor shifter all propelled by an underwhelming two-barrel 383 making 290 horsepower, a smooth-shifting 727 TorqueFlite and a peg-leg 8 3/4 rear spinning very mild 3.23 gears.
With not enough oomph to make it an R/T and not enough doodads to qualify as an “SE” (Special Edition), this T7 Tuscan Bronze Charger was as middle-of-the-road as they got. Damaged in a front-end collision with a motorcycle in the late 1980’s, the car needed plenty of work. The grille plastic was past salvaging, the fenders and hood had been replaced, and to our best assessment, there wasn’t a square foot of straight sheetmetal on the car.
We’ve been slowly tinkering with the car for the past 8 years, stripping it down to bare metal, replacing the rusty trunk pan and Dutchman panel and coating it in thick Rustoleum red primer. Before prepping the Charger for paint, we installed the Competition Engineering 6-point cage, sub-frames and torque boxes.
Ultimately, the overlying theme is to make a strong street Charger that looks pretty stock from a few feet away. Clean and subdued are key words here.
Wait, what? Believe it.
Until recently, Chrysler was incredibly selective about licensing authentic Mopar restoration products. Today, Fiat has opened the floodgates, issuing licensing to over 100 aftermarket manufacturers, making nearly everything imaginable available for a ’69 Charger, or any classic Mopar for that matter.
Cosmetically, Killer Kong doesn’t need much else. Legendary Auto Interiors, Trim Parts, and Classic Industries will help with the completion of the cabin and external trim, including converting this once sedate A/C car to a non-A/C, radio-delete lightweight stripper and recovering a 6-way adjustable driver’s bucket seat from a ’69 Daytona, all of which we’ll cover in future articles throughout the year.
While we can’t lay out all the details, we can tell you that we’ll be replacing the 8 3/4 open differential with a hefty Currie-built Dana 60 fitted with a Detroit Locker and Motive Gear 4.56 gears spinning 35-spline axles, while TCI Automotive will be showing how to convert our loose and lazy TorqueFlite into a neck-snapping manually-shifted 727 that will help spit this big ol’ beast out of the hole like a scalded dog.
But we all know the hardest part of building any HEMI car is the motor itself.
Gone is the original 383; we didn’t need it anyway. Our plans for the legendary hemispherical plant – and the sole inspiration for Killer Kong’s namesake – revolve around the gnarly combination of big cubic inches and stratosphere-reaching rpms. There’s two things that HEMIs love best, high compression and lots and lot of revolutions. Since we’re wanting to keep this elephant running on 91-octane out of the pump, big compression is out of the question, but wringing it out isn’t.
Starting with an iron HEMI block, we’ll be going with a swingin’ 4.500-inch stroke crank, lightweight H-beam rods and street-friendly compression aluminum slugs. We’ll be messing with a couple of camshaft grinds, but are looking at running a genuine – and some would say ancient – Mopar Performance Purple cam. Y’know, the same camshaft legends like Dick Landy and Ronny Sox regularly ran. Expect a pair of big breathing aluminum heads and a pair of Holleys to top off the plant.
We’ve got some finer details that we’re keeping close to the vest for now, but trust us, this HEMI will be worthy of the 47 years of hype from the Mopar guys.
Ending Killer Kong’s build, we’ll drive to Fontana and make a couple 10-second passes. Next, ‘Kong will be publicly presented at the monthly Bob’s Big Boy Friday night Car Cruise and Shine in Los Angeles, CA. Then, it’s planned to drive all the way to the 2011 SEMA to be on display and attend the following Mopars at the Strip.
Ultimately, we’re not building a Dodge just for the sake of building a Dodge. It’s about Street Legal TV’s commitment to muscle car diversity and building true street-driven machines that everyone can do. Killer Kong is going to be one awesome project and we’re excited to welcome you to following this build all the way to end. It’ll be a hell of ride!