I spent the next hour and a half carefully checking every detail on the car. Finally, Paul got bored and headed into his office. I poured over the books and magazines as I inspected the car to make sure I hadn't overlooked anything. The VIN number and all the date codes checked out. The torque boxes, snubber reinforcement plate, skidplate, and everything else looked like original parts, except for the aftermarket distributor. After an hour of negotiating, interspersed with a lot of conversation and storytelling, we shook hands. His secretary typed a bill of sale, and I left a deposit and headed for the airport.
A couple of months later the car was home. The first thing I did was put some shiny chrome valve covers on it. I also rebuilt the brake system and carburetors, and I buffed the paint and cleaned it up. It was time to see what it would do.
I'll never forget the first time I went through the gears wide open. At 6,000 rpm it was still pulling like crazy! I couldn't shift fast enough into Second and Third gears. Other big-block cars I've owned always started to lay down around 5,000 to 6,000 rpm, but not the Hemi.
Through summer 1999 I drove it around and went to a few shows. I did find a small crack on the outside of the block that was seeping a little bit of coolant. Not enough to drip on the floor, but enough to leave residue on the block. I ground it out, added some J-B Weld, and it was fine. I also noticed that it had a big appetite for oil. I never saw any smoke coming from the tailpipes, but it took a quart every couple hundred miles.
I wasn't happy with the way the exterior looked, and I figured it had been stripped and repainted. It was an older paint job, but I thought it would shine up nice. I found out later that they hadn't removed any of the chrome trim, emblems, door handles, and so on when they painted it. I put on new door handles, rechromed the B-pillar moldings, buffed out the stainless trim, and put on a new grille emblem. I touched up all the nicks and scratches and buffed and waxed the whole thing. The front-seat foam was crumbling, so I bought new foam from Legendary Auto Interiors and had B&K Auto Trim in St. Paul, Minnesota, install it. Then they reinstalled the original upholstery. During summer 2000 I drove it to work, went to car cruises, shows, and so on. I had the tach rebuilt, and I discovered that the advance curve in the distributor was allowing over 40 degrees of centrifugal advance. Lets see, 12 degrees initial plus 40 degrees centrifugal . . . ouch! No wonder it was so hard to keep it from pinging. I found a correct distributor for the car and rebuilt it. That solved the pinging problem and reduced the oil consumption.
In September I decided to try it out at the strip. My first pass was a 14.01. I figured out that the secondary air valve on the rear carb wasn't opening. I got that fixed and ran a 13.60 at 104 mph. Then I started having problems. The clutch pedal stuck to the floor when I shifted, and the clutch seemed to slip off the line. The motor seemed to run rich, and since I didn't have any jets or metering rods, that was it for the day.
For the next trip, I mounted a set of small slicks and put exhaust cutouts on the exhaust pipes. I also adjusted the clutch for .050 maximum separation and trimmed the gasket in the carb that was keeping the secondary air valve from opening. I lowered the float level to lean it out a little and put lighter springs in the distributor. The next time out, it ran a best of 12.75 at 108 mph on slicks with the cutouts open. The clutch still slipped badly off the line, so my 60-foot times were in the 2.0 range. At least the clutch adjustment kept the pedal from staying on the floor. Back at home I checked the lash on the valves and discovered that some of the valve tips were worn down and that the rocker arm was rubbing the keepers.