The Road Trip To Success
Making The Vanishing Point Stunt Car Road Worthy, With A Lot Of Help From Our Friends
From the November, 2010 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Brad Ocock
Photography by Ted Stephens
When making a derelict ready...
When making a derelict ready for the road, the first concern is safety. We began the makeover with a complete front-suspension rebuild kit from PSC, which included new ball joints, tie-rod sleeves and ends, torsion bars, shocks (front and rear), and sway bars.
Out back, the sagging leaf...
Out back, the sagging leaf springs were replaced with a fresh set of Eaton Detroit Spring pieces and new shocks.
Next on the list of safety-related...
Next on the list of safety-related components are brakes. A complete brake job includes the hardware inside the drum (springs, shoes, wheel cylinders) and new rubber hoses, new hard lines throughout, and a new master cylinder. We recommend replacing all of the hard lines because of the rust found on your originals. Rust makes metal thinner, and you dont want to stop your car with thin brake lines. We got the brake components from Hayes and Fine Lines. If youve got a car originally equipped with a single-reservoir master cylinder, dont hit the road without converting to a dual-reservoir master. If you break a line or a wheel cylinder fails, youll have no brakes. Now is also the time to replace your wheel bearings. At the very least inspect them for wear. We finished the suspension with fresh skins from BFGoodrich.
A good exhaust system on a...
A good exhaust system on a car is no joke, especially on long trips. A leaking exhaust or one that doesnt run the full length of the car (many people commonly stop them in front of the axle housing) will dump carbon monoxide into the interior of the car, and the consequences can be lethal. We installed a complete system from Tube Technologies, from headers to exhaust tips. Everything fit perfectly, there were no leaks, and the sound was awesome. (For those keeping score, thats an A-, B-, and E-Body weve installed their headers and full systems on, and theyve all fit perfectly right out of the box.)
A worn steering box isnt...
A worn steering box isnt a deal breakerweve all, unfortunately, driven old cars that tend to wander a bit. The power box on the Challenger was a little loose, so we sent it to Steer & Gear for a rebuild and plumbed it with new lines from Year One. A tight box isnt necessarily noticed, but a real loose one is. The Tube Technologies headers allow ample access for the power-steering box.
At the rear of the car, we...
At the rear of the car, we yanked the gas tank and had it boiled out, and replaced the fuel lines, fuel filters, gas tank sending unit, and fuel filler grommet and seal. Old cruddy fuel lines bite you at the worst times, and old grommets and seals leak when you fill the tank, so youre better off spending a few bucks for replacements now.
We changed the filter in the...
We changed the filter in the trans (that would come back to haunt us) and rather than leaving engine problems to chance, we fixed them before they became an issue. Electrical: New Hayes electronic distributor and box, starter, plugs, and wires. Cooling: Radiator was flushed and pressure tested; water pump and housing replaced; thermostat, hoses and belts replaced; new fan clutch installed. Finally, a new Carter AFB carb was installed, along with all new fuel filters, lines, and trans lines. In the trunk we carried some spare parts, including an alternator and fuel pump.
Nothing says excitement...
Nothing says excitement like your cars wiring harness burning up. Thanks, well pass. We called Year One for new wiring harnesses for the dash, head and taillights, and Bill Evans Custom Wiring kicked in an electronic-engine harness. We didnt think to check the dimmer switch, which turned out to be bad, so we only had the regular low-beams available when we crossed over the Rockies during a snowstorm. It wouldnt have been bad had the headlights not been sprayed with brown movie dirt paint, half covering them. Fresh headlight bulbs (or at least a spare in the trunk) would have been good.
Year One came through in a...
Year One came through in a big way. Among other things, they supplied carpet and all the weather stripping for the car, which kept the elements out. They also supplied sound deadener and the rear seat divider; both of these contributed significantly to less road noise. Other Year One items included a fresh dash pad, carpet, sill plates, kick panels, sound deadener, body plugs, and a lot more. If youre replacing the carpet, you might as well spring for fresh plugs to keep the carpet dry (and fumes out).
We sent the gauge cluster...
We sent the gauge cluster off to Clock Doc for a rebuild, because its nice to know things are getting hot before the blown head gasket or seized engine brings it to your attention. We didnt have either of those problems, but accurate gauges are comforting on the open road. Gun Slingers prototype Pistol Grip auto-trans shifter was installed on the 727 and worked great (hard to believe nobodys done this already). We also installed a decent stereo, but never bothered turning it on during our trip. Legendary supplied fresh seat covers and buns for our buns and a new headliner. The exterior may have been hard on the eyes, but the office was a pleasure to ride in.
This is Rodney. He works at...
This is Rodney. He works at Danleys Service Center and did all of the work on the car to get it ready for our trip. He worked for beer and fifteen minutes of fame, and the car wouldnt have made the trip if it werent for him.
Who hasn't thought of just ditching work for a week and driving across the country in an old car? "Nowhere to go and seven days to get there" is how my college buddy and I used to describe it. It's not that you've got anything in particular to see, it's enough that "it" is just out there to be seen.
What is important, however, is that your vehicle is up to the task. Sure, a roadside repair or two isn't that big a deal (and will probably enhance your memories and subsequent storytelling in years to come), but there's nothing romantic about having the car flat-bedded to the next town where Bubba's Garage will charge you $869.50 for a new radiator and head gaskets.
So while aesthetics aren't key to enjoying a good road trip, mechanical reliability, safety, and personal comfort are. These are all things the Vanishing Point Challenger was decidedly lacking when we started planning our trip. (Click Here To Go To The Road Trip Story.) The life of a stunt car isn't soft or pleasant, and treatment of the white Challenger was no exception. The suspension was completely worn out front and rear, the brakes were shot, and the engine and trans were a bit tired. These ailments were directly attributable to the abuse inflicted by the movie-production company, but any car that's 30 years old is also going to need mechanical attention.
As far as creature comforts go, driving down the highways and byways of America with the wind whistling through the dried and cracked weather stripping around the windows is only slightly less annoying than water pouring through them when you hit rain. And if you didn't have a bad back before spending 12 hours a day sitting on ripped vinyl over worn out foam and broken seat springs, you'll have one by the end of the trip.
With these things in mind we contacted the companies listed in the sources below prior to embarking. Performance Suspension Components, Eaton Detroit Spring, Firm Feel, Tube Technologies, and BFGoodrich lent a hand in the safety department by supplying replacement components and tires, ensuring we didn't have any failures causing us to roll down the side of a mountain or something even less fun.
Legendary Interiors sent us a complete set of seat covers and buns for the comfort of our posteriors, and a replacement headliner and insulation to cut down on road noise. For better reliability, we replaced the water pump and housing, thermostat, hoses, belts, spark plugs and wires, the fan clutch, and the starter, and we flushed and pressure tested the radiator. Hayes Chrysler/Plymouth helped out with an electronic-ignition conversion, battery cables, turn signal switch, and other incidentals you don't usually think of until you notice they're broken, while Clock Doc rebuilt the dash cluster so we could keep track of what was overheating or dying.
If you're a regular reader, you'll know why we contacted Fine Lines for a complete set of brake and fuel lines to replace the old crusty ones on the car, and why we boiled out the gas tank. (For those who don't know, just think, "Crud plugging the lines at very inopportune times.")
Year One came through with all the things that turn an otherwise rough ride into one you can live with. They supplied all the weather stripping and firewall gaskets to keep the elements out, a ton of sound deadener, carpet, kick panels, the dash pad, and a whole bunch more that made the car bearable. They also supplied wiring harnesses that not only made all our lights work, but also kept us from worrying about an electrical fire.
With a cozy interior (after duct-taping the door on the plenum box to keep the cold Colorado air out of the pant legs), and the comfort of fresh parts that wouldn't catch fire or break and cause an accident, the trip was nothing but enjoyable. Sure, we could have done without the transmission's slow death, but that was the worst of our problems, and feeding it a steady diet of miracle goo kept us on the road. But considering what this engine and trans went through during filming, we can't complain.
Here are the highlights of what it took to bring the Vanishing Point stunt double back from the brink in time for our trip. It's still ugly, but at least now it's reliable. Mostly.
We highly recommend taking a road trip this summerit's an unforgettable experience. Just make sure it's the good kind of unforgettable!
Bill Evans Custom Wiring
8835 Parson Rd.
Legendary Auto Interiors
121 West Shore Blvd.
115 W. College St.
Performance Suspension Components (PSC)
PO Box 14708
Danleys Service Center
936 N. Military
Steer & Gear
Eaton Detroit Spring
1555 Michigan Ave.
Fine Lines/Quality Reproductions
650 West Smith Rd., #8,
Tube Technologies Inc. (TTI)
719 Pike St.
PO Box 129