When it comes to Interstate road-tripping, nothing quite matches the fun and feel of a vintage V8 performance car. For long hauls involving serious luggage and more than two passengers, however, 60s-era musclecars tend to strain the comfort and utility threshold. Trucks, SUVs, and minvans are, perhaps, the more practical solution to cross-country touring, but where's the fun?
Today more and more classic car enthusiasts are realizing that they can have their cake and eat it, too. Just ask Doug Miller of Williamsburg, Ontario. This hard-core Mopar-head and transmission shop owner knows the value of heavy-pounding V8 muscle wrapped in vintage iron. He's also one of the growing number who appreciates the practicality, potential, and oddity of early station wagons. Doug has always been a wagon fan, and given his passion for performance, it's no surprise that eventually the twain should meet.
Doug purchased this '64 Belvedere wagon in 1988. It was a Florida car, but, as he puts it, "needed a restoration pretty badly." Over the next couple of years the body was tended to by Doug's stepson, Scott Douglas. In 1990, Scott cleaned up the sheetmetal and applied a fresh coat of the original white. Doug then dropped in a 383 and set the wagon back on the road. But things didn't work out too well with that particular mill. Looking for a significant power boost, Doug decided that a Hemi would be a much better choice. He located a stock rebuilt version and dropped it under the hood in 1995 in place of the 383. A trip to Carlisle the next summer changed the course of the project yet again.
"We went to Carlisle in 1996," says Doug. "It was about 110 degrees, so I said, 'Enough of this. I want air.'"
The wagon had originally come with a factory A/C system, but Doug had yanked that setup early in the ball game. This time around he selected a Vintage Air system to replace the original, retaining the factory ducts to maintain the original look, and he hid the controls inside the glove box.
All was well for a short time, but the stock Hemi configuration coupled with the new A/C system didn't quite work out. Too much compression and the difficulty of obtaining the right kind of fuel to keep things going underscored the need for some modifications.
Once again Doug pulled the engine from his wagon. This time around Doug handed the work to Don MacCallum, who completely stripped the 11-year-old Hemi and started from scratch. The block was bored and stroked to raise the displacement to 456 cubic inches. This, coupled with Mopar Performance rods, Venolia pistons, and Mopar Performance aluminum heads, brought the compression down to 9.5:1. Don then added a mild Lunati cam to actuate hydraulic lifters and the stock valvetrain so that the Hemi would be more compatible with the A/C unit and 91 octane fuel. The engine work was completed with the installation of dual Carters on the stock intake, and the addition of a Mopar Performance ignition and distributor. Placed on a dyno, the Hemi delivered 515hp at 5,700 rpm. Now the wagon had a bit more purpose to its walk, but the fun wasn't over just yet.
Doug says that "driving 70 mph at 3,200 rpm wasn't too enjoyable," so the following year saw some "minor" adjustments to the automatic tranny. An 11-inch Dynamic lock-up torque converter was put in front of a modern 360 trans case, to which Doug added 47R4 V10-style diesel overdrive internals to drop the highway rpm. Understandably, this took a lot of work to modify for the wagon application, but with some trick fabricating to the crossmember and floor, plus his own adapter plate to mount the small-block case to the big block, the mission was accomplished. He even managed to retain the pushbutton selection.