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 Race Hemi wears an original 1965 magnesium cross-ram intak
Family-friendly cabin in Mike's Race Hemi-powered '65 features N.O.S. upholstery from SMS
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."
Restored dash wears radio/heater deletes, tach and auxiliary gauges, and not much else.
When it was finished, Mike's '65 was true to the inspiration he found at that long-ago California Hot Rod Reunion. "It was important to me to recreate the period-correct appearance of an original A990 car, and not have to worry about driving it," he says. "I accomplished my goal--this car is an absolute beast. I can hammer the Hemi and not have to worry about ruining a piece of drag racing history." He adds, "Nobody in their right mind would drive an original A990 car, because they're too rare and valuable."
This year's NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion is set for October 19-21 at Auto Club Famoso Raceway. It's a weekend filled with racing, show cars, and inspiration--and a swap meet where you might find what you need for your own A990 clone project.
'65 Dodge Coronet two-door sedan (A990 tribute)
Owned by: Mike Erickson, Littleton, Colorado
- Engine: Ray Barton used rare original 1965 parts that Mike located (such as aluminum "K" cylinder heads and chrome valve covers, a magnesium cross-ram intake manifold, an aluminum water pump housing, and aluminum water neck) to build a 528-inch Race Hemi that makes nearly 700 horsepower on pump gas.
- Transmission: Brewer's Performance built the iron case 18-spline A833, with Hurst shifter.
- Rearend: Dana 60 by Strange Engineering with 3.54 rear gears.
- Suspension: (Front) Parallel torsion bars with Competition Engineering adjustable drag shocks (Rear) TriCity Competition rear leaf springs with Rancho adjustable shocks.
- Brakes: Just like in 1965: drum-and-shoe, front and rear.
- Wheels and Tires: Magnesium American Racing Torq Thrusts in front and wide (15x8 inch) steel rear wheels wear BFGs.
- Body: Original '65 Coronet two-door sedan unibody, with an original 426 Race Hemi K-member, inverted right front shock tower, subframe connectors, and rear mini tubs.
- Paint: Two-stage Sherwin-Williams Ultra 7000 White, sprayed on by Mike Johnson at Past Times, Estes Park, Colorado.
- Interior: SMS supplied original '65 Coronet vinyl upholstery, which Autoweave in Lakewood, Colorado, turned into new front and rear bench seat covers.