When you first see Jarrod Slate’s ’66 Dodge hardtop, your first impression is that it’s one of Ma Mopar's dream cars whose appearance at auto shows was used by product planners to gauge public reaction to new features -- and possible new models.
It doesn’t look like the low-end hardtop that he started with. “I wanted a Charger when I was looking for that car,” he recalls, “but I couldn’t find one I could afford that was in decent enough shape.”
He sought a project car that he could also drive regularly, so the ’66 Coronet 440 that he found advertised for sale near Atlanta, Georgia, filled the bill. Named Grace by the family of its original owner, Jarrod says it was in “average Mopar condition,” with some rust along the lower edges of the doors and rear quarters. Also, a leaky battery had corroded structural steel under the hood, as well as the front floorpan.
I wanted a Charger, but I couldn’t find one I could afford that was in decent enough shape. -- Jarrod Slate
Once Jarrod got it home, it was time to start remaking it. “I wanted a custom, but I wanted it to look factory at the same time,” he says.
That meant more than swapping the Coronet’s grille for the Charger’s. “A lot of thought went into it and trying to get the center console to go in there,” says Jarrod, “because I had to fabricate the brackets and cut the original Coronet back seat apart to accept the console. That was tricky, because you have to build up the one side of the seat that’s resting against the console.” Once done, the rear seat, plus a pair of ’66 Charger front buckets and the door and side panels, were treated to Italian leather. The stock headliner came out, replaced by a custom-fabricated fiberglass one, painted and upholstered to match the rest of the cabin.
By then, Jarrod was working at Realistic Auto Restorations in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he shaved off the stock side trim, repaired the metal damage, smoothed out the body, and sprayed it in epoxy primer and urethane sealer before the final colors (PPG Deltron Iridium Silver over Electric Blue two-stage urethane) went on.
It was through a shop customer that Jarrod found the engine that now powers his B-Body. “It belonged to one of our customers. As he recalls, “We put a Hemi in his ’71 Challenger, and the engine that came out was a fairly fresh, but an older rebuilt engine that was at a good price at the right time. “I’d wanted a big-block, and I had a couple, but you can’t build one for what you can buy one new-in-the-crate for these days,” says Jarrod. “That small-block was a pretty good deal, so I couldn’t turn that down.”
Jarrod also turned his attention to the Coronet’s chassis. “It has big-block rear springs, and I put sway bars and tubular front control arms on it,” he says of the upgrades he added. “Just basic upgrades, nothing real fancy.”
The custom cabin features ’66 Charger front buckets, and the stock Coronet rear seat was r
Thought this was a wedge-back Charger’s front cabin, didn’t you? Budnik steering wheel and
402-inch stroker small-block came from a customer’s Challenger that Jarrod’s shop swapped
That also describes how he fit wide rims and rubber inside the rear quarters without tubbing it. Says Jarrod, “I wanted to get the tire in the car without cutting, simply because I didn’t want to butcher it.” He adds, “That body style is not easy to put a big tire under, at all. So that took a little work.” With the help of a two-inch-narrower A-Body 83⁄4 rear end and some spacers, the big BFG-shod Torq Thrusts went right on.
It took nearly seven years for Jarrod to turn the worn WM23 into an eye-grabber that’s as good a driver as it is a looker. “It actually handles pretty well,” says Jarrod. “The 3.73 gears make it a little bit stout on the Interstate, but I don’t get on the Interstate too much.”
Jarrod had plenty of help: Jana Samuals, Jim Peters, Brian Morse, and Charlie Beville of Realistic Auto Restorations; and Scott Schlemer and Tom Lovingood, who helped with parts and services. The greatest thanks of all goes to Jarrod’s wife Sonia and his family for their patience, understanding, and encouragement.
If you’re considering your own project, Jarrod says preplanning it is important. “I’m in the business and I do this professionally. We see a lot of cars that come through our shop that people just throw together.
“Put a little bit of thought into it, think about what parts you’re buying and how it’s going to look when it’s done.”
’66 Dodge Coronet 440 Hardtop
St. Petersburg, Florida
|Engine: Modified LA small-block (318 bored/stroked to 402 inches) includes an Edelbrock carburetor/intake combo, a March Performance serpentine pulley system, Doug’s Headers, and Flowmaster mufflers.
|Transmission: Rebuilt 904 Torqueflite with an OEM ’66 Charger console shifter.
|Rear: An A-Body 83⁄4 rear was chosen for tire clearance, filled with a 3.73-geared Sure Grip, then bolted in.
|Suspension: Built for handling and cruising: (Front) HD torsion bars, KYB gas shocks, stainless steel strut rods, tubular upper control arms, polyurethane bushings, and a 1-inch-diameter sway bar. (Rear) De-arched leaf springs with offset shackles, KYB gas shocks, polyurethane bushings, and a 1-inch-diameter sway bar.
|Brakes: Wilwood discs at each corner give this vintage B-Body 21st Century stopping power.
|Wheels/Tires: American Racing Torq Thrust II’s (18x8-inch front, 18x9½-inch rear) wear BFGoodrich G-Force Sport tires, 245/40R18 front, 275/40R18 rear).
|Paint/Body: Original ’66 Coronet hardtop unibody smoothed (and ’66 Charger grille/headlights added) before Jarrod shot the two-stage PPG Deltron Iridium Silver over Electric Blue urethane onto it.
|Interior: Jarrod and Jim Peters customized the Coronet’s cabin with a pair of ’66 Charger front bucket seats, a custom rear seat made from the Coronet’s factory one, headliner and full-length console, and upgraded the dash with a ’66 Charger electroluminescent gauge cluster. Custom-sewn carpet is from Bill Hirsch (custom sewn in-house) and custom mocha Garrett Italian leather upholstery covers the seats, door/side panels, and headliner.