Convertible Hemi cars are among the rarest of the breed when talking classic muscle cars, and that is saying something. In most cases, less than a dozen examples were built in a given model year; in 1968, it is believed that just nine Coronet R/Ts were built with King Kong under the hood. As a result, the idea of building one from scratch even better than new makes sense. After all, nobody would be foolish enough to modify an original now.
For Brenda and Steve Ashby, putting together the car you see here was a labor of love that took three years. It was a big hit at the YearOne Experience last spring, where it debuted just hours after being completed. The car is now a far cry from what it was when it landed in the Ashby garage three years ago.
"Steve's brother's wife was threatening to call the junkyard and send it to the crusher," says Brenda now. "This car was a case of lock jaw waiting to happen; you could put your finger through the metal in just about any location on it. Steve jumped at the chance anyhow, but let's just say I didn't share his vision for it."
Despite the condition of the gold 318 car, it was a convertible Mopar, and Steve already had an idea of what he wanted. This would become a drop-top that could take on anything Detroit had built back in the day, chew it up like gum, and leave it stuck to the pavement wondering what happened, even in the curves. The worn out body was sent to C&T Automotive Restorations in Ringgold, Georgia, where Dirk Carter and Chuck Tinker began working their magic on it.
That magic included both panel replacement and fabrication; for instance, two decklids and two hoods were combined to create the single good versions on the car now. Since the new five-speed transmission is wider than the old 904, a custom tunnel was also fabricated. Suspension upgrades include an AlterKation K-frame with a rack-and-pinion layout up front, and a custom panhard bar and four-link suspension install in the back. Afco shocks rounded it out, and the largest 15-inch Billet Specialties rim that could fit the OE tubs (8-inch width) host BF Goodrich T/A radials. Dynamat and Dynapad sound deadener was added as well, keeping noise while cruising to a minimum.
Getting under the hood, Steve chose an out-of-the-box Mopar Performance crate engine displacing 472 inches. Wanting to retain the factory's single four-barrel intake, C&T selected the latest EFI "psuedo-carb" outfit from Retrotek. They mounted the controller in the console ahead of the shifter, and added a 3/8-inch fuel return-line to maintain proper pressure. Dirk told us it took only about an hour to dial it up after installation. The unit is capable of flowing 1,200 cfm; a change to the internal injector size brought this down to a more manageable 850, still more than enough for this engine. Other custom touches to the engine area are Bouchillon brackets and a late model compressor hooked to the factory A/C unit that was in the car originally. Local fabricator Ronnie Ross was called in to rework the tti-built exhaust using Doug's electric cutouts inside the three-inch pipe, with hidden Cherry Bomb mufflers added. With the cutouts closed, the car sounds stock.
Back in the day, four on the floor was the only choice for gearheads. Today, with the many options available, the crashbox in this Coronet is a full-tilt Tremec TKO 600 five-speed, stirred by a ball-handled Hurst shifter and hung on the back of the mill through a Lakewood safety bellhousing. Since dragstrip abuse was not the sole goal of the package, a 3.55 SureGrip-equipped Dana 60 is now out back.
The final touch was the final body prep and paint, which was ably handled by Extreme Exteriors, also in Ringgold. Laying down silver PPG paint can be tricky, but the body shows no flaws; it is a basecoat/clearcoat process using a custom blend based on the Coronet's factory silver hue. C&T then handled the final assembly, finishing up in time for the car to be at Road Atlanta last May.
Filling the cavernous engine...
Filling the cavernous engine bay is a Mopar Performance 472 Hemi that received some modern touches.
One of those modern touches...
One of those modern touches is EFI, courtesy of Retrotek Speed.
This is about as plush as...
This is about as plush as any Hemi car needs to be.
An AlterKation front suspension...
An AlterKation front suspension updates the front half of the car.
Steve admits he plans to show the car for a while, but that did not preclude him from taking out for some quick parade laps on the road course and even trying his hand at the autocross. While it did not cost as much as a "real" Hemi car might, he did allude to the fact that he was way over budget. Nonetheless, cranking down the front stretch at 100-plus mph, taking home the first place trophy from Horsepower TV, earning the NAPA Sponsors Choice Award for Best Mopar, and knowing Brenda had caught the "vision" makes this Dodge a real gem.
'68 Dodge Coronet R/T Convertible Tribute
Car Owner: Steve and Brenda Ashby, Marietta, GA
Building torque and power came easy; just a check written for a Mopar Performance 472 Hemi. The mild-mannered mid-size lung in the lineup dynoed out at 525 ponies after being equipped with a Retrotek fuel injection outfit, which fits right on the factory-supplied single-four intake. Chuck Tinker and Dirk Carter, who did most of the work on this car, put the EFI together and had it running within an hour after some minor computer tweaks. It's "jetted" via internal injector to flow 850 cfm. Internally, the engine is right out of the crate.Add-ons included a new A/C compressor mounted with Bouchillon brackets, and a full tti exhaust outfitted with a hidden Cherry Bomb muffler inside custom-built Doug's electronic cutouts thanks to Ronnie Ross.
A Hurst shifter mounted in the console stirs through five forward gear clusters in the Tremec TKO 600 box.
SureGrip and Dana 60 pieces will handle whatever traction is available; a 3.55 final cog is for street/strip use.
Horsepower and Performance:
Up on the dyno, the package kicked out 525 ponies; on the racetrack, it sounds like it
It's all 21st Century-AlterKation K-frame, rack and pinion, adjustable shocks were added up front, while C&T fabbed up the rear four-link and custom panhard bar to clear the gas tank.
Front and rear discs, courtesy Wilwood.
15x8 Billet Specialty five-spokes.
255R60-15s up front, 275R60-15 out back, and all compounded to TA Radial formula by BF Goodrich.
Credit for the sheetmetal work again goes to C&T, who created some panels from scratch and made the most of available OEM replacements.
Final paint by Extreme Exteriors and Bill "Junior" Queen, owner.
Mostly OEM, C&T did fabricate new mounting brackets for the console and also did a stealth Kenwood CD/stereo install, with the handheld controller mounted inside the center console hatch.
Best Performance: n/a
Coronet R/T restorers and friends, YearOne, Summit, NOS Mopar, Dante's Mopar Parts, and others.