"I saw these cars back in the '60s, and the reason I looked far and wide for a car was to basically have my passion come true. It has tremendous horsepower and terrific eye appeal." -John Mai
What one man builds when not working on the Space Station
Precision. The owner of this impressive '64 Belvedere knows something about it. John Mai's company, Midway Machine and Instrument Company in south Houston, Texas, has manufactured parts that were used on the space station. Before that, John worked for Grumman Corporation as a machinist working on the LTA8 LEM trainer that helped the astronauts train for landing on the moon. Later, Mai was involved with wind tunnel testing the F14 fighter. Really impressive credentials if you ask us.
Back in his early twenties, John was working at a Dodge dealership and watching Chrysler's lightweight cars scream down the track whenever he could. Of course he wanted one, but they were rare and expensive even back then so the dream had to wait until much later in life.
Well, much later didn't make it any easier to obtain his dream car. It might be easier to fund your own space mission than to acquire and restore an original A864. Besides, John wanted to enjoy driving the car he had waited so long for, so he decided to build a sleeper with the lightweight look on the outside and packed with a lot of modern technology.
An internet search led him to Muscle Car Restorations in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, where owner John Balow and the rest of the MCR staff helped Mai put together a plan to finally give birth to his lifelong dream car.
Perhaps the wait was a good thing, because the huge advances in automotive technology since his youth will now allow John to not just go fast but also be comfortable while he's doing it.
Sure the car has to look the part with the Hemi hoodscoop, the single headlight grille, and the dog dish caps on steel wheels, but let's toss the van buckets in favor of a pair of Corbeau Moab seats with lumbar support and a Simpson harness. While we're at it, what's wrong with some Vintage Air A/C, a one-off custom Budnik steering wheel designed by Allan himself, a pushbutton for starting the car, and molding the tachometer and shift light into the dash? While you're modernizing, you might as well round out the interior with an overhead console for mounting the Clarion stereo system controls for the trunk installed system. And yes, the back seat has to go and the full cage needs a swing-out/removable driver's bar.
Naturally there is a Hemi, but this one's got an extra hundred inches over stock. The correct cross-ram intake is a must, but who says you can't run internal injectors and hide a pair of FAST throttle bodies under the stock air cleaner? Mai did the machine work to the intake and custom-built the fuel rails that were necessary to fit the injectors inside the manifold. Power steering and hydro-boosted Wilwood four-wheel disc brakes are just as much safety items as they are luxury options with a car like this.
John did elect to run a TorqueFlite with a manual valvebody and a 10-inch converter. But keeping with his memories, the '64 is still shifted with the original pushbuttons on the dash. It would be difficult to second guess the 3.73 geared Dana 60 out back and mini-tubs that allow John to sneak 295/65R15 Mickey Thompson drag radials on 15x10-inch steels inside the stock fenders.
Just to add a little bling, John EDM machined his own "Belvedere" scripts for both of the front fenders, the taillight panel, and the glovebox door. And under the hood, he asked MCR to use some stainless steel bolts that he manufactured himself. They have two sets of six flats with one rotated 30 degrees from the other so the heads will accept both six and twelve point sockets.
Sure, the original dream has been modified over time, but a lot of what John has been able to realize couldn't have been imagined back then. This car may not be just what he was longing for in his youth but you can rest assured that John has precisely what he wants today. mm
'64 Plymouth Belvedere
Owned by John Mai, South Houston, Texas
- Engine: A 528 crate Hemi was installed just as it came from Mopar except for the cross-ram intake and a FAST XFI fuel injection system. Fuel injection doesn't really improve the max power output but really makes a big difference in the drivability of an eight-barrel Hemi. In order to retain more of the stock appearance, though, the injectors were hidden inside the intake.
- Transmission: John chose a 727 and a 10-inch converter for a good balance between the track and the boulevard. He also went with a manual valve body in this pushbutton car so he must have a tough left thumb.
- Rearend: Dana 60 with 3.73 gears. Set it up and forget about it.
- Horsepower and performance: HiTech Motorsport in Elk River, Minnesota, did the dyno work and tuning of the FAST XFI system, and managed to find 619 horsepower and 648 lb-ft of torque-about what the original lightweights produced back in their day. John's Belvedere was still too new when we photographed it to have been to the track yet but it will perform respectfully no matter what John decides to do with it.
- Body: Completely restored to look like a lightweight including a steel reproduction Hemi scoop and a single headlight grille. Mini-tubs easily allow for the 295 Mickey drag radials.
- Paint: PPG Deltron Dark Gray Poly. This thing will attract more than enough attention without being painted red.
- Interior: The Auto Top Shop, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, did all of the stitching inside the car. This is one area where John departed from the original (which had nothing to do with comfort) with full custom seats, door panels, and even a custom case for the removable part of the rollbar. Rich carpet covers the whole interior and the fully upholstered trunk. Dynamat sound deadener helps keep the road, exhaust, and engine noise in check. The dash is a mix of old and new with a molded in tach and shift light, built-in gauges, and A/C vents.
- Suspension: .960-inch torsion bars work the front with Super Stock 456/457 springs in the rear.
- Brakes: These cars were never known for their stopping ability. Wilwood discs all the way around plus a hydroboost system bring some balance to the Hemi under the hood.
- Wheels: Stock steel with dog dish caps. Well, they look stock. The rears are now 15x10 inches.
- Rubber: Coker Classic 235/75R15s look like original bias-plies but bring modern radial performance. The Mickey Thompson 295/65R15 drag radials are just legal enough to cruise with.
If you’re going to customize...
If you’re going to customize an interior, putting the stereo controls in a custom overhead console definitely works.
From a distance, something...
From a distance, something looks strange...
...upon further inspection,...
...upon further inspection, you’ll notice those are not carburetors. They’re throttle bodies for the fuel injection.
Rounding off the modern touches...
Rounding off the modern touches is a set of brakes from Wilwood and the hydroboost brake booster. A 528 Hemi probably doesn’t make much vacuum, so the hydroboost comes in handy.
In 1964, a lightweight race...
In 1964, a lightweight race car would have had minimal accoutrements. Who says that has to be the case today?
Just like in 1964, real race...
Just like in 1964, real race cars didn’t come with back seats. John’s car, however, does have a little more material covering the metal.
Since modernization is the...
Since modernization is the word of the day, boys and girls, an ISIS Multiplex wiring system was used. The main control “"module" is mounted behind the glovebox door.