To Hollywood, cars used in filming are nothing more than props, much like a six-shooter in a western movie. They look good from a distance, but in a real gunfight, you don't want the prop. The same held true when getting this car ready for the road. A couple thousand miles over mountains and desert in a rattling, wind-leaking, worn-out car just didn't cut it, so the month prior to our trip it received a mechanical and soft-parts makeover. This was with help from our friends at Year One, Firm Feel, Performance Suspension Components, Legendary Interiors, and BFGoodrich. The engine was given a new carb, a tune-up, and Tube Technologies headers/exhaust system, while the trans was fitted with a trick Pistol Grip auto-trans shifter by Gun Slinger Products (very cool; 316 California Ave, PMB 128, Reno, Nevada, 89509 (775) 789-2825, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Obviously, the prep work didn't include fresh paint, or even a good wash. During the rehash, Ted was adamant about one thing-the character of the car's appearance wouldn't be altered. That meant leaving the painted-on movie dirt and not repairing any of the visual battle scars incurred while filming, of which there are many. For instance, in the chase scene through the airplane junkyard, the Challenger comes around a corner and fishtails the rearend, tipping over an old aircraft fuel tank with the driver's side quarter-panel. Though it wasn't called for in the original plan, one of the prop guys thought it would look better on film if something spilled out of the tank when it tipped over, so he filled it with water, unbeknownst to the stunt driver. Water weighs about eight pounds per gallon, times a couple hundred gallons in the tank; well, you do the math. The damage to the car was predictable (to everyone except that prop guy), and the fix was typical Hollywood: whack the quarter back to close enough, slap it with filler, reshoot the paint and keep the film rolling.
Other Hollywood trickery (besides the Hemi and R/T badging) included welding a skid plate on to protect the oil pan (which necessitated the removal of the factory front sway bar and mounts), and securing the front of the hood to the frame with a length of chain. Though this would keep the hood from flying open during stunts, the chain served another purpose: to ensure that the rear edge of the hood didn't go through the windshield and guillotine the stunt driver in case of an accident.
Naturally, there were a few gremlins that popped up during the trip. Deteriorated plenum-box seals allowed ice-cold Rocky Mountain air to shoot up the pants leg of the front-seat passenger, the high-beam lights didn't work (which was a real treat while driving though a blizzard in the mountains with the lights still wearing the painted-on dirt), the brakes were about as affective as the Bendix on an old Schwinn Stinger (also fun during the blizzard), and the trans developed a thirsty leak. But it wouldn't be a true road trip if everything went perfectly.
And in a sick sort of way, sometimes that's part of the fun of owning an old car that's nothing special.