Restoring or modifying a vintage car can be a daunting task for most enthusiasts. It's an even bigger nut to crack if you've never done it before. Factor in youth, and a complete rebuild project can seem an insurmountable hurdle. But 17-year-old Von Felton of Elk City, Oklahoma, didn't even flinch when the opportunity to build his own version of Mopar muscle presented itself. In fact, he couldn't wait to get started.
You've got to give a lot of credit to Von's parents, Dan and Vernetta Felton. During the summer of 1999, then 14-year-old Von was in North Carolina visiting his cousin when his parents got wind of a '73 Challenger for sale in Amarillo, Texas.
"[Mom and Dad] arrived before the owner did and had decided that the car's condition and price was satisfactory," says Von. "They were trying to decide the best way to get it onto the trailer when the [owner] drives up and asks if [Dad] wanted to hear it run. My parents couldn't believe it ran. They [then] went for a drive and got it up to 45 mph. The engine was tired (73,000 miles), but my dad was royally satisfied. They continued by driving it onto the trailer and bringing it home. The deal included an extra engine (318 with 360 police heads), extra front quarters, extra valances, and a lot of other good stuff."
The '74 Challenger was Von's first car, so his exuberance was understandable.
"To my surprise it was sitting in the shop when I got home," says Von. "They handed me the keys and said, 'There ya go,' and that is where the obsession started."
Given the condition of the car, and Von's desire to put his own stamp on the beast, the Challenger required a complete teardown. Starting with the interior and working his way outward, Von stripped the car and sent it to Gary's Custom Auto Body in Canute, Oklahoma. There the rear quarters were replaced, the frame straightened, and the chassis was sandblasted and painted. Originally the car boasted a Dark Metallic Green topcoat, but Von decided the flashier FJ6 Go Green would be a more appropriate hue.
"I also liked the blacked-out portion of the hood on the earlier models," Von tells us, "so I had one painted on. I didn't want to go with the mess of an adhesive decal. The same paint was used on the rear tail panel, and the taillights are accented in silver."
Although a 318 engine came with the Challenger's purchase, Von decided to stay with the stock 360 and 727 tranny combo. The engine went to Precision Engine in Weatherford, Oklahoma, where it was bored .030 over and Federal Mogul hypereutectic pistons and zero-gap rings were added to deliver a 9.5:1 compression. Von sent the heads to Hughes Engines for the company's Stage One modifications, then the long-block was assembled using a hydraulic Hughes cam. For the top end, Von fitted the M1 dual-plane intake with a 1-inch spacer mounted beneath a Road Demon carb. A high-volume water pump, March pulleys, electric fans, and TTI ceramic-coated headers trailed by two-chamber Flowmaster mufflers round out the major engine mods. To better ignite the air/fuel mixture, Von included a Mopar Performance electronic distributor, orange ECU box, and MSD 8mm plug wires to top off the ignition upgrade.
"After the body shop finished," says Von, "we hauled the car home to begin the rebuilding process." Although he was confident enough at age 17 to rebuild it himself, he admits his friends encouraged him not to. "I have no formal training in mechanics or restoration," he says, "so I relied heavily on Mopar Muscle tech articles and an extensive list of advisors. I learned by doing."