The slogan What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas doesn't apply here because what happens in Vegas every year at the Moparty at the Strip show must be shared. From the terrific racing action, to the enormous swap meet, vendor village, Hotchkis autocross, and car show--this event has it all. It also happens to be the event we choose to host our Mopar Muscle True Street Challenge.
Each year we make small changes or adjustments to the way we operate and/or score the True Street Challenge. This year, we made a few alterations to the scoring system that would place more importance on the track passes made by the competitors, and we would average the scores accrued in the categories of Show, Street, and Road worthiness. This made the scoring system fairer, in our minds, and added balance to the scoring and we’re happy with the results.
As with every year, we had some terrific cars apply for the True Street Challenge. We chose the cars that we felt embodied the closest interpretation of the ultimate street cars. Once selected, they were requested to meet with us at our True Street Challenge parking area near the main gate. As the cars staggered in, we knew it was going to be a competitive field since each one stood out in their own way.
After two days of judging and scoring, the clear winner ended up being Dennis Knox with his '71 Dart Swinger. What's more impressive is that there were three competitors just shy of his lead, and their scores could have gone in their favor with a slightly quicker pass or slightly better on-road manners.
Congratulations to Dennis and to the rest of our competitors who braved rain and snow--yes, snow--to be in our Challenge. We hope to see you all next year at the Moparty at the Strip event!
1 Dennis Knox
'71 Dodge Dart Swinger
Dennis Knox's Swinger is a real head-turner. Dennis and his father Mark performed all the bodywork--much of it custom--themselves. A '09 Dodge Challenger hood was hacked up and modified to fit onto the original Swinger hood--keep in mind the new Challenger hood is aluminum and the Dart's hood is steel. Once they were happy with the way it turned out, they modified the doors to use '70 Challenger door handles and wedged a set of '70 Road Runner taillights into the bumper. After the bodywork was completed, Dennis took the car to his friend Chris at Elite Automotive Finishes in Mesa, Arizona, where it was painted two-tone bright silver on the bottom and burgundy with red pearl on top.
To further enhance the Dart's visual appeal, a set of 18x7-inch front and 18x8-inch rear American Racing wheels were slapped on to shroud a set of Dart front disc brakes and 10x2.5 rear drums. Inside, Tim at Classic American Rides in Gilbert, Arizona, performed all the work on the interior upholstery--recovering the SRT-4 seats in black suede and fabricating a new center console.
The original Slant-Six was cleared out to make room for the new-to-Dennis 440. Inside the big-block is an impressive rotating assembly consisting of Keith Black forged pistons, forged rods, and a Chrysler steel crank. A custom set of aluminum 440 Source heads were modified by Howards. A FAST EZ EFI system mounted to an Edelbrock Single Plane intake manifold round out the engine combination. For the exhaust, Dennis went with a 3-inch center-exit exhaust--a la SRT8 Cherokee--with tti headers and Hooker mufflers. The distributor is an MSD Billet and the oiling system is from Mopar Performance. Ed Little from Chandler, Arizona, rebuilt the 727 to handle the power and is shifted by a B&M Stealth Ratchet. The transmission uses a 3,000-stall Rev Max Billet torque converter with an anti-ballooning plate built by Tom Hauser in Phoenix. Dennis tells us that he's gone a best of 11.71 seconds at 118.24 mph, but, as you see, he didn't quite reach that elapsed time with the Vegas air. It didn't matter. The combination of excellent looks, terrific road manors, and impressive track times were enough to take home the victory.
2 Matt Morrison
'69 Plymouth Roadrunner
The Saddle Bronze paint on Matt’s Road Runner was looking clean, and it featured a tan top that we don’t commonly see. Matt tells us that the paint job was a little over 10 years old, and for its age, it was extremely impressive. This helped it receive high marks for its paint and trim. Matt also did a terrific job of restoring the interior to original by using a headliner from YearOne, a restored dash from Just Dashes, and Legendary Auto Interiors for the seats and carpeting.
The key to Matt’s success with the car is its combination. Starting with the suspension, he used Competition Engineering adjustable front shocks, and rear Mopar 50/50 shocks with Super Stock springs and an adjustable pinion snubber. This allows Matt to dial in the weight transfer onto the massive 325/50R15 BFG Drag Radials. The unassuming car also wears a set of custom Magnum 500 wheels that measure 15x7 inches up front and 15x10 out back. They deliver an authentic look with all the grip the B-Body needs to sling it down the track. The Runner also features the factory 8-3/4 rear that houses a set of 3.91 gears and front disc brakes.
For his powerplant, Matt chose a low-buck 400 block that he pushed to over 500 cubic inches, thanks to a 4.240-inch steel Mopar stroker crank. Forged CP pistons and H-beam rods, while a 302/310-duration Crane roller cam spins inside. On the top of the motor is a Holley 850 bolted to a Mopar M1 intake manifold ported to match the Edelbrock aluminum heads. The engine was converted to a Pertronix electronic ignition system and uses a Mopar Performance oiling system. Ollie Hellert in Van Nuys, California, used the 2-inch primary tti headers to make a custom exhaust. Starting at the 3-1/2-inch collector, the pipes were brought down to 3-inches before flowing through a set of Dynomax mufflers. Leon’s Transmission in Reseda, California, rebuilt the automatic and installed a 3,400-stall TCI StreetFighter converter. Matt’s Road Runner was on point and running just shy of his personal best of 12.13 at 112.2. Proving it doesn’t require an expensive engine to run a solid number in a street car.
Matt Morrison braved the passing of his mother just a week before the event to make it out to the show. We hope the weekend lifted his spirits and we’re happy he made it out. He would like to dedicate his car to his mother, Dorothy Krutz.
3 Randy Ives
'70 Plymouth 'Cuda
When Randy and his friend Reno rolled up to the TSC parking area, they definitely announced themselves. Randy got together with Reno to figure out how to bring the car to the level of impact it has now and Reno knew just the guy: a California native by the name of Dave Lovely. "He turned almost every nut and bolt on this restoration, and he's damn good," says Reno. Shawn Kenny out of Redding, California, restored the interior to like new condition by using parts from Legendary Auto Interiors. On the outside, the 'Cuda's shape was accentuated by a flawless application of B5 blue paint that was so fresh it was almost dripping wet. A man by the name of "Long Hair" Bill Brown out of Mt. Shasta, California, was the suspect involved in spraying the car.
Underneath, the E-Body was freshened up with new bushings, a Firm Feel steering box, and A-arms. A set of factory-style steel wheels were widened in the rear to a 16x10 inches with 16x7 wheels up front.
The original 440 was great but not what Randy had in mind. "We decided to put the motor aside in favor of an all aluminum 528 with an EFI-injected billet Six-Pack throttle body from F&B. The engine was built at Ray Barton's shop, and inside are eight forged Diamond pistons with H-beam rods and a steel Mopar crankshaft. Ray spec'd a custom cam for the engine with a top-secret cam card. The most impressive part of the combination is perhaps the experimental raised port heads developed by Ray. The engine is lubricated with an external system and the exhaust is a custom combination from tti with 2-inch primary tube headers spilling into 3-1/2-inch collectors then into 3-inch pipes and Magnaflow mufflers. The engine combo was put on the engine dyno and achieved an impressive 674 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque.
This car was fresh and Randy and Reno still insisted on entering the Challenge with it, knowing it would be put through its paces. This didn't deter Reno, who Randy chose as his driver. It did quite well on the street and when it came time for the track, Reno used a simple technique of launching off idle to be as easy on the car as possible. Still, the bulbs lit up showing a mid 13-second pass at just over 100 mph on a pure street tire.
4 James Zimmerman
'70 Dodge Challenger
Unlike the other cars in this competition, James' Challenger was his daily driver. As an aircraft engine mechanic at Edwards Air Force Base, he felt right at home under the airborne splendor brought to us by the neighboring Nellis Air Force Base. He's owned the car since he was 16 and now, at the age of 24, the Challenger has gone from a $2,000 rust bucket to a proud GoMango show-stopper. Thanks to James' discipline, he was able to rebuild the car as he worked through high school. "Instead of your average gifts, I would receive sheetmetal for my birthday and Christmas," he tells us. For his graduation gift, his father had the car painted.
He did all the interior work himself. The seats were recovered with Legendary Auto Interiors covers, the new carpet and a headliner came from YearOne, and the dash was refurbished by Ultimate Rides in Texas. For the chassis, James put his mechanic skills to the test installing a set of SSBC Force 10 front brakes with slotted rotors and tubular upper and lower control arms from Firm Feel and Cap Auto, respectively. Edelbrock Performer IAS shocks dampen road imperfections to an impressive level while Summit Racing 1-inch drop rear leaf springs help deliver the stance he was looking for. To achieve the look, a set of American Racing Torq Thrust II wheels measuring 17x7 inches front and 17x9.5 were mounted. They're wrapped in BFGoodrich KDW 225/45R17 and 275/40R17 modern rubber. The bodywork and paint were done by Phoenix Automotive in California City, California.
A 318 originally found haven under the hood but, rather than spend his time and money building the smaller motor, he stepped up to a 360. "I chose the 360 because of the amount of torque they can produce and because you find more of them lying around than a 340," he says. Inside the 360 is a set of Speed Pro pistons, factory rods, and a factory crankshaft that were put together by Adams Metalizing in Lancaster, California. A Comp Cams .525/.525, 231/237 camshaft on a 110 LSA was slid inside and utilizes the better flow of the Edelbrock aluminum heads. An Edelbrock Performer RPM Air Gap intake and Holley 670 Street Avenger carburetor make up the intake side of the engine. For the exhaust, tti 15/8-inch small-block headers and a 3-inch Flowmaster exhaust evacuate the fumes. The car was converted to an MSD 6AL and uses a Super SS Coil and Pro Billet distributor. The oiling system is stock. Mike's Transmissions out of Palmdale, California, built James a 727 transmission with a 3,000-stall B&M converter.
When we discovered that James drove the car every day, we wanted to give him extra points! This car had some terrific paint and its on-road manners were smooth. At the track, his mid 13-second run kept him competitive with the top of the field.
5 Dan and Connie Campbell
'71 Plymouth 'Cuda
The car you see today is very different from the car that Dan remembers purchasing in 1993. According to Dan, he owned a 'Cuda back in high school but sold it in 1984 when he started his family. "I found [this one] at a car show as a stripped down racer with its original engine and transmission sitting beside it. Once I saw it, I knew I had to have it and couldn't resist." Dan made the deal and took the car home to begin the long restoration process back into a street car.
Gabe's Restoration in his hometown did the paint and bodywork to make its racing roots a thing of the past. Underneath, the car reverted stock with all new bushings and stock front and rear shocks. The steel wheels covering the front discs and rear drums wear 215/70R15 and 255/60R15 BFGoodrich radials. Revamping the interior, Upholstery in Motion, based in Redlands, California, started with a beaten racer and revived it using parts form Legendary and restored various pieces to like-new.
Johnson's Machine, also in Yucaipa, rebuilt the original 340 with Keith Black pistons and stock rods, crankshaft and stock cam. A set of aluminum Edelbrock heads and carburetor were thrown on to shave some weight from the nose and add a little more power. Dan then ordered a full tti exhaust system with 2-1/2-inch tubing and sent the automatic off to BodTrans in Redlanda, California, to be rebuilt. The ignition and oiling system are stock.
6 Mike Mars
'66 Plymouth Belvedere
Mike's '66 Belvedere was in contention to be the quickest car in the group and it's surprising how close some of these cars were running with each other with radically different setups. The black Belvedere came into the hands of Mike by luck. His friend, Patrick Butler, purchased it for $1,200 as a 318 car with around 200,000 miles on it. It had rusted quarters and a three-on-the-tree. Patrick eventually bought a Duster from Mike's brother and offered the Belvedere to him for $600.
The story with the car is filled with attrition. His first engine bent a rod and cracked the block. From there, he built a 340 for use with spray, and melted six pistons not too long after. Bob Baldwin rebuilt the 340 and it lasted for 20 years before needing to be rebuilt and that lasted for six years before the crankshaft broke. The frustration got the best of Mike and he decided to get a fresh start with a 415 small-block from Indy that he would run with the bottle.
Inside the new 360 block is a set of forged Wiseco pistons attached to Eagle SIR I-beam rods and a cast Eagle 4340 crank. He selected a Comp 254/262 duration .576/.597 lift camshaft. Bob was again elected to take care of the top end and chose aluminum Edelbrock heads that were ported and milled bringing compression to 11:1. Air and fuel is collected by a Demon Six Shooter carburetor and a Mopar Performance Six-Pack intake manifold. The ignition system was swapped to a MSD 6AL using an MSD Pro Billet distributor and the oil pump is from Melling. A set of Flowmaster mufflers and Hooker headers struggle to tame the sound of the big-cube small-block as it screams down the track or rumbles down the street. Gone is the three on the tree in favor of the reliable TCI 727 transmission using a 4,000-stall and a B&M Mega Shifter.
A while back, the bodywork was completed and it was painted Coach Black in his friend’s garage in Aurora. Surprisingly, the suspension is mostly stock, save for the rear Cal-Tracks and a mini-tub. The Plymouth rides on Weld Aluma Stars measuring 15x3-1/2 inches up front with Mickey Thompson front runners and 15x10 out back with 28x13.50 slicks. Inside the car looks extremely clean and fresh, thanks to a pair of low-back racing seats and new, red carpeting from YearOne. "My favorite thing about the car is that some cars can only be driven on the street or at the track and this can do both," he proclaims. He was dead consistent too, with a pair of near 11-second passes under his belt for the TSC passes.
7 Buddy Marshall
'69 Plymouth Road Runner
Buddy almost didn't make it to the competition because the car he originally entered wasn't able to come on the trip to Vegas. Thankfully, he had another trick up his sleeve with this gorgeous '69 Road Runner he just completed. Brian McCain in Delta, Colorado, applied the Sunfire Yellow paint and gave a great attention to detail to make it look as close to showroom stock as possible. Once the paint was dry, Roger Donner restored the interior with Legendary parts, recovered the seats in new white vinyl, and installed new black carpeting.
The chassis is all stock but Buddy wanted to go with a set of early '60s Dragmaster wheels that are staggered 14x8 inches in front and 15x10 in the rear. They wear BFG rubber measuring 235/70R14 front and 245/60R15 rear. The 383 under the hood is also an entirely stock, numbers matching motor that has never been rebuilt. Buddy was worried about thrashing on the car and took it easy down the track. But the bodywork and road manners received some of the top marks.
8 Gary Helwig
’65 Plymouth Belvedere
If there were a category for shock and awe—possibly for next year—there would have been a clear winner with Gary Helwig. His ’65 Belvedere was certainly the talk of the group because of it’s evil cackle coming from the side exhaust, giant wing, outrageous paint job and attention to detail. The car was painted by Thomas Auto Body in Lodi, California, and was then sent to Dan Trick at Air Paint Works to have custom air brushing misted on the car.
Underneath, the car was converted to a tubular K-frame up front and a four-link out back. A Dana 60 stuffed with 4.56 gears was narrowed and the back of the car was fully tubbed to accept the steamroller 33.0x17x15 Mickey Thompson Sportsman tires mounted to 15x17-inch Pro Stars. The fronts are your traditional 15x5-inch Pro Stars with 195/65R15 BFGoodrich radial tires. Gary also tossed the factory brakes for a set of Wilwood binders on all four corners. In the cockpit, Gary filled the dash with the proper gauges to keep him up to date with the engine’s behavior and installed new black carpeting and racing seats from Summit Racing.
The powerplant behind the mad machine was in the car when Gary acquired it, so he’s not exactly sure what’s inside, he just knows it runs strong. He added a Weiand High Rise manifold with a big Dominator carburetor breathing through the large, pro stock scoop. The evil sound is thanks to his custom exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers and a big 3-inch megaphone side-exit tip. Unfortunately for all of us, the car didn’t pass the NHRA tech inspection and wasn’t allowed to make any hits down the track. It scored well in the categories it was judged in but the lack of a track pass gave him a default score in the category.