When you attend the NHRA's California Hot Rod Reunion (CHRR) each October, you're stepping back in time--and into a place where you can turn back time. Not only have the vintage racers thrilled the crowds, they've inspired more than a few to build something that would have looked at home at a Bakersfield Fuel and Gas Championship race way back when.
That includes Littleton, Colorado's Mike Erickson.
Back in 1999, he and some of his Denver-area buddies traveled to the CHRR, where the bug to have one of Ma Mopar's '65 A990 Super Stocks bit Mike hard. "On the plane back to Denver, I decided that I really wanted to have one," Mike recalls. "At the time, I didn't realize just how rare they were." Only 102 Plymouth Belvederes and 99 Dodge Coronets got the A990 Race Hemi package in 1965.
A few months later, he heard from one of the guys he'd attended the CHRR with. "Greg Lane called and said there was a '65 Dodge Coronet for sale in Greeley," says Mike. "So, we drove up to look at the car." Rob Crouse had bought the white, base-model '65 Coronet two-door sedan from its 80-plus-year-old original owner, with the plans to turn into an A990 clone. Unfortunately, money troubles had forced him to sell it before any work was actually done to it.
Mike originally wanted to build an A990 Belvedere, but instead decided to buy the Dodge, as it had what he called a "tougher" look than its Plymouth sibling. The deal was made, and Mike drove it home, smiling all the way. Yes, you heard correctly, he drove it home.
Ray Barton–built 528 cubic-inch...
Ray Barton–built 528 cubic-inch Race Hemi wears an original 1965 magnesium cross-ram intake, and makes nearly 700 hp on pump gas.
Family-friendly cabin in Mike's...
Family-friendly cabin in Mike's Race Hemi-powered '65 features N.O.S. upholstery from SMS on the stock front and rear bench seats, which Mike used instead of the Dodge A100 front bucket seats that factory A990s had.
Before any work started, Mike needed to gather the parts to turn this Coronet from a grocery-getter into a Stock-class stormer. A meeting with legendary Mopar doorslammer racer Al Corda produced an OEM '65 Race Hemi K-member, and Mike's search for other rare A990 hardware led him online. "eBay was a great source for original '65 Race Hemi parts," he says of the site where he found a pair of aluminum "K" cylinder heads and chrome valve covers, a magnesium cross-ram intake manifold, and an aluminum water pump housing and water neck. Ray Barton worked those into the build of a 528-inch race Hemi for Mike, one good for nearly 700 horsepower on pump gasoline.
But it takes more than just the right parts to turn a base-level B-Body into an A990. Mike had Rob Crouse (yep, the previous owner still got to play with the car), work the right front shock tower into a correct (inverted) A990 one, so the Hemi's right side valve cover could be removed with the engine in the car.
Other fabrication and conversion included an A990 hoodscoop, an original, steel early B-Body four-speed floor hump, and a two-headlight A990 grille replacing the stock four-headlight grille.
Mike took the '65 to Mopar A990 and A/FX builder/restorer Bob Mosher, who Mike says called his Coronet "the cleanest '65 Dodge he had ever seen." "I didn't want the elephant motor to twist apart my newly restored car, so Bob put me in touch with Joe McCarron to reinforce things." That led to subframe connectors, rear mini-tubs, and TriCity Competition rear leaf springs going in.
Also helping during the Coronet's construction: Greg Lane (of www.racehemi.maxwedge.com), whose A990 knowledge was instrumental to Mike throughout the build.
Inside, instead of A100 van buckets and no back seat, Mike has the Coronet's stock front and rear benches, covered in N.O.S. 1965 Dodge cloth and vinyl sourced from SMS. Mike says there's a reason why the back seat stayed in. "I have kids, I wanted to keep the rear bench so we could cruise to Sonic for ice cream."