Paul Emiro's '69 Plymouth Sport Satellite convertible is built to cruise, with a 340-inch
Mention the name "Frankenstein" and most people either think of Mary Shelley's classic novel or the 1931 feature film version of it that made Boris Karloff a big star or Mel Brooks' 1975 parody, Young Frankenstein. But mention that name to Lutz, Florida's Paul Emiro, and he'll show you a Mopar that doesn't look freakish, doesn't sound (too) brutish, and is a very comfortable in-town and long-distance cruiser.
Paul's "Project Frankenstein" started with one of the rarest '69 Plymouths ever made, per Galen Govier. But it's not one of the sixteen 426 Hemi-powered '69 GTX convertibles or twelve '69 Road Runner drop-tops built with the Hemi. Instead, Paul's project began life as a Sport Satellite convertible, with a two-barrel-equipped 318 under the hood and a three-on-the-tree manual transmission. Galen says that just 14 Sport Satellite convertibles rolled out of St. Louis Assembly so equipped, but Paul says that he doesn't know if his car was ordered that way by its first owner, or was a "Sales Bank" car that resulted from an order-computer hiccup that also gave the world some '69 Chrysler New Yorkers with three-on-the-tree and CHP steering and brakes (i.e., nonpower) that year.
Listed for sale on eBay, the Sport Satellite had about 133,000 original miles on it when Paul found it in a barn in Lynchburg, Virginia. The rarity of this model/option/body style combo didn't stop Paul from wanting to build something out of it. But instead of going the GTX or Road Runner clone/tribute route, he kept it a Sport Satellite-one keeping true to its regular-gas-fueled roots. "It was in planning for about a year, and then it took about a year and a half to get everything found so we could go on the '06 Hot Rod Power Tour," Paul says. "The car's still got little 'funnies' and things, so we're still trying to get them worked out."
Back in 1969, the Sport Satellite was the top trim level among Plymouth's non-high-performance B-Bodies, with a four-door sedan joining the hardtop, convertible, and wagon that year. In the sales brochure, a two-page spread featured a Sport Satellite hardtop parked next to a vintage gas pump-a vintage regular gas pump, emphasizing the line's style-to-fit-your-budget nature.
This 340 Magnum was done "the hard way," starting with an '00 5.2L Magnum block and cam. T
That combination of style and performance on regular gas eventually came together for Paul, but not until the as-found car was first taken apart down to its original unibody. Larry Sampson at Tampa, Florida's Zambito Auto Body handled the bodywork, and also added structural mods and upgrades, such as subframe connectors, new seat mounts on the floors, and a new transmission tunnel and crossmember. Sampson also sprayed on the Silver Frost paint (a recent Lincoln hue), while the Bumper Boyz restored the front and rear bumpers before replating them. The hood is a fiberglass repop of the "flat" non-GTX/Road Runner '68-'69 Belvedere/Satellite hood by AAR Fiberglass-in fact, this is the first one of its kind made by AAR.
Under that hood is a 340 Magnum that Paul says was "done the hard way"-and is a work of mechanical art, one with 10:1 compression. "The fellow who's built all my engines for the past 40 years and I spent a year designing this engine," says Paul.
Starting with an '00 5.2L Magnum block and camshaft, Paul increased its displacement. He says, "It's bored out to 3.925 inches, which is actually the same bore size as Pontiac's 326, and aftermarket Manley 6-inch connecting rods with 2-inch rod journals." With those additions, the Magnum's displacement came out to just about 340 ci.
The '65-vintage V-8 fender badges are the only side trim bits on Paul's Sport Satellite.
Further additions revolved around an ACCEL electronic fuel-injection system, which uses '96 Neon 24 lb/hr injectors with prototype fuel rails from Ross Machine Engineering. "I worked with them because there's a fundamental flaw with the original [Magnum] fuel system," Paul says. "Chrysler feeds the driver-side bank of injectors from the fuel pump in the tank, and then they use a very skinny hose to go between the fuel rail on the driver's side to the one on the passenger side. So when you fire up the engine, cylinder numbers five and seven fire. When they fire, the whole pressure in the rail drops momentarily, and then they want to fire cylinder number two, which is as far away as you can get from that spot. So the fuel pressure drops over there, and that cylinder always ends up lean." The fuel rails, prototyped on Paul's Sport Satellite, cured the number two cylinder starvation problem.
Paul has plenty of good words for ACCEL's tech staff, who's been most helpful on this project. "We've worked with them for two years, and we're still working with them and learning from each other. Most of the time people put those systems in, and they're trying to make power. This was the first time that someone was absolutely serious about improving fuel mileage and drivability first." Paul also notes that because ACCEL didn't make a wiring harness for fuel-injected Mopars, he adapted (with a lot of work) one of their universal harnesses to fit his 340 Magnum.
The 340 Magnum/Richmond gear five-speed powertrain are best appreciated in motion. There's
Downstream, there's a RAM clutch assembly, a Hurst-shifted Richmond Gear five-speed, and a 2.94-geared, Sure Grip-equipped "742" rearend.
The chassis got the combination resto/modification treatment, with an eye toward shaving off weight wherever possible. That meant Wilwood discs replaced the heavy 11-inch iron drum brakes at all four corners, Magnum Force tubular control arms on the front suspension, and OEM-style torsion bars and leaf springs. Steering is done with a rebuilt non-power-assisted original steering box.
Inside the cabin, the stock split front bench went out, replaced by a pair of heated '96 Chrysler Sebring buckets, with the stock rear bench retained, all upholstered in silver-grey leather by Better Leather in Lutz, Florida. Redline Gauge Works rebuilt the in-dash gauges, while Paul added an oil-pressure gauge on the original column-shifter tab. Interior features include a console with dual cupholders, plus an Alpine AM/FM/XM Satellite receiver with CD player in the dash.
The '96 Sebring buckets fit just right and are ideal for long-distance (e.g., Hot Rod Powe
With all the upgrades, and even with additions like power front windows and the Sebring buckets, Paul's Sport Satellite weighs about 200 pounds less that it did before the project started.
What's it like to drive? Very good, thank you. "I can take it out of first gear, put it into fifth, take my foot off the clutch, and the car will accelerate without complaint, and that's all torque," Paul says. Does it sound like a car built for cruising? You bet! "It was meant to cruise. At that time, I was trying to get 18-20 mpg on the highway and 15 or better in town, and we did better than both of those [targets]," says Paul. "if we had to do it all over again, we would have built the engine just a little differently, and we would get more out of it; there's more left [in it]. We'd actually increase the compression again, ever so slightly, and we'd do a couple more things differently."
"It's not a show car. It's nice, but it's not perfect," Paul adds. "Actually, I drive it to work, to shopping centers, fast-food restaurants-it goes everywhere. It's got regular car insurance on it, not antique."
Does he have any advice for someone looking to make a "Frankenstein-ish" Mopar cruiser like his? "The trick is working the fuel injection, and the guys at ACCEL can help you with that," Paul says. "There are some things in the short-block that we don't give away. there's some 'magic' in the short-block. A lot of people say that you can't find horsepower or performance in the short-block. The reality is, you really can if you look hard enough."
'69 Plymouth Sport Satellite Convertible
One of 14 '69 Sport Satellite convertibles built by Chrysler with 318 and three-speed manual (column-shift) transmission.
- Engine: A 340 Magnum "done the hard way." Based on an '00 Dakota 5.2L Magnum, Paul added mildly ported aluminum Mopar Performance Magnum cylinder heads with stainless steel valves and new springs, an early LA neutral-balance crankshaft with rod journals offset ground to 2.0 inches, Manley 6.0-inch connecting rods attached to cut-down Speed Pro 3.925-inch bore pistons, ACCEL GEN 7 digital fuel-injection system with '96 Neon 24 lb/hr injectors, and Ross Machine Racing prototype aluminum fuel rails. It's cooled by a BeCool aluminum radiator with an electric fan and aluminum overflow tank, and breathes through a Tube Technologies Incorporated (tti) 2.5-inch-diameter exhaust system with headers and x pipe system, DynoMax mufflers, and stainless steel exhaust tips.
- Transmission: Richmond gear five-speed manual with 1:1 top gear. Clutch assembly is all Ram Automotive: a "Cleaning Lady" 18-spline/10.5-inch clutch disc with a 2,600-pound/10.5-inch Borg & Beck-style pressure plate and 18-pound aluminum flywheel-contained in a stock '77 Volare aluminum bellhousing.
- Rearend: 2.94-geared "742"-style rearend with a Sure Grip differential
- Suspension: Front: original-style torsion bars with Magnum Force tubular control arms and OEM anti-sway bar; rear: original-style leaf springs with Just Suspension antisway bar
- Steering: Rebuilt OEM recirculating-ball steering; power assist provided by driver.
- Brakes: Four-wheel Wilwood discs replaced OEM 11-inch drum-and-shoe brakes. Reproduction brake lines by Fine Lines. Roll control by Hurst.
- Wheels & Tires: 15x7-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust D wheels on all corners wear Firestone Indy 500 tires, 225/70R15 in front, 235/70R15 in back.
- Body: Original '69 Plymouth B-Body convertible restored by Larry Sampson at Zambito Auto Body, Tampa, Florida. Structural upgrades fabricated by Sampson include subframe connectors, transmission support/tunnel, front seat floor mounts. Reproduction fiberglass hood by AAR Fiberglass, Cocoa, Florida, (first non-GTX/Road Runner hood that AAR made for Plymouth B-Body cars). Stock bumpers restored and replated by Bumper Boyz.
- Paint: Metallic Silver (from '03 Lincoln Town car color selection), applied by Larry Sampson at Zambito Auto Body, Tampa, Florida.
- Interior: (Front) '96 Chrysler Sebring buckets with console; (rear) Stock Sport Satellite bench-all upholstered in silver-grey leather by Better Leather, Lutz, Florida. Wheelskin cover on stock steering wheel. In-dash gauges (including tachometer) rebuilt by Redline Gauge Works. Oil pressure gauge mounted on original column shifter tab. Front windows: Electric Life power window units; rear windows: OEM Mopar crank-'em-ups. Alpine AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio receiver with CD player replaced OEM in-dash AM/eight-track sound system. Reproduction carpets by Auto Custom Carpets (ACC); reproduction door/side panels by Legendary Auto Interiors.