I saw my first '67 GTX when I was 20 years old. It was turquoise with a black vinyl top and had a Six Pack on the 440. This was in 1979, and the $1,700 asking price was out of reach for me. I never forgot that car, and about ten years later I saw one with a 426 Hemi engine for sale in a magazine. It was red with Magnum 500s and chrome valve covers. That really renewed my interest in '67 GTXs, so I started looking in Hemming's Motor News and our local papers. It wasn't too often that I would find one for sale with a Hemi. When I did see one for sale, it was always more than I could afford, too far away, in bad condition, or all three!
I almost gave up my search, and in January 1999 I flew to Phoenix for a roofer's convention. While there, I picked up a local Auto Trader to check out the going rate for cars in Arizona. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw an ad for a '67 Hemi GTX four-speed with 28,000 miles. The ad said, "must sell." I called the owner and, yes, he still had it and, yes, it was rust free and, oh yeah, it was an original Hemi car. He wanted to dump it. He said he would sell it for a lot less than his asking price but also that I couldn't come and see it at that time. Seems he was busy and didn't have time to show it until next week. Next week? I'd be freezing my butt off in Minnesota the next week!
After explaining my situation, I finally got an appointment to see it in two days-four hours before my flight home. That gave me two days to do research. I went to buy a Hemming's Motor News for some comparables. What else did I find? A current issue of a Mopar magazine sitting on the shelf had an article about how to determine if a Hemi B-Body is real or bogus. What timing! I called my wife to run the purchase by her, expecting a big "no" and a hundred reasons why we couldn't afford it. But when she spoke I couldn't believe my ears. All she said was, "Go ahead if you want it. Just make sure you're home on time and I get to drive it." She continued, "Oh, by the way, your attorney called. It seems the deadbeat who stiffed you out of all that money last year finally paid. The funds will be in an escrow account when you get back."
This couldn't be happening. "OK, Joel," I told myself, "calm down. You haven't even seen the car yet. It's probably a pile of junk. Why else would it still be for sale?"
So, I skipped all the roofing seminars one day to circle the owner's business, hoping to get a glimpse of the car. No luck. A trip to the Plymouth dealer for a copy of the Dodge and Plymouth Musclecar Red Book seemed like a good idea. I picked one up and read the chapter about '67 GTXs at least 50 times.
The next 24 hours crawled by. Finally it was almost the appointed meeting time, and I decided to show up an hour early to see if any last-minute hanky-panky was going on before the sucker (maybe me) would show up. Nope, Paul was at his desk running his business. He apologized for not having time to clean up the car or get it out of the garage. As we walked toward the garage, my stomach was in knots. Paul was talking, but I didn't hear him. The anticipation was too great. As he opened the overhead door, the garage was flooded with sunlight. There it was-a real '67 Hemi GTX-and it was beautiful. As Paul fired it up and pulled it out of the garage and into the parking lot, I felt relieved. "If this thing checks out, it's mine," I thought.
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.
In February 2001 I finally got around to pulling the heads. When I had the heads off, I could see that the tops of the pistons were so eroded around the perimeter that I could see the rings (probably from detonation due to the old distributor). I called Chuck Lofgren of Lofgren Auto Specialties in Cedar, Minnesota, to see if he was interested in fooling around with a Hemi. We did a basic rebuild, with Glenn Knowlton porting and rebuilding the heads, Chuck machining the block, and myself assembling it. I put in a slightly hotter cam and a few other miscellaneous improvements. While the motor was out, I painted and detailed the engine compartment.
I decided to rebuild the tranny and sent some of the gears to Liberty Transmissions to have new teeth put on them because they were rounded off. Six weeks later I had it all back together and made it to the strip for practice. I went to the Pure Stock Musclecar Drag race in Stanton, Michigan, in September 2001 and qualified Sixth with a 12.62 at 114 mph.
I raced a few more times before winter and got it to run a 12.45 in the fall air. Remember that little crack in the block? Over the summer it grew to about five inches long. In December 2001 I stumbled across a '66 Hemi block, so I pulled the motor out of the car and decided to switch to that block. I put the original block on the shelf for future repair when the car enters the full restoration phase. About that time, the factory-appearing drags idea started, and Dave Dudek and Mike Wowk were looking for possible contestants. I said I would run and changed my plans for the motor. I built the short-block to 484 cubes, put in a roller cam, and put on my original heads and manifolds. Chuck Lofgren did the machine work, and I put it together . . . again. I also built my own custom stock-appearing oil pan that holds 8 quarts and added a Dr. Gas X pipe to the exhaust.
I have done almost all work on the car myself, and that's how I like it. It just goes to show, when you're looking for a car you think you'll never find, when you least expect it, expect it.