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."
The first project Von tackled was the front-end during the winter of 2001. "It was very cold," he recalls. "I pulled the K-member (replaced it) and the rest of the frontend off the car and replaced everything with polygraphite components from PST." With the car back on the ground, the fresh motor and rebuilt tranny went in. Then Von put some parts of the old interior in the car. "I had been driving the car half-finished for a while," he says, "and at about 1,000 miles the rebuilt 727 toasted the clutches. The numbers-matching tranny was too shot to rebuild, so I got another from a friend and rebuilt it using the B&M TransKit to their street/strip specs. I [also] put a B&M Holeshot 2400 stall converter in it, this time with a SuperCooler."
With the running gear and body finally meeting Von's approval, his attention turned to the interior. Since he wasn't overly fond of the stock green, Von sent the dash to Just Dashes to be recovered in black and did some swapping and scavenging in order to get the seating just right.
"I didn't like the looks of the stock front seats, so I used a pair of '72 Dart seats that I had collected for a future Challenger project. I recovered them in black and got them ready to go in. I also changed the pattern of the back seat to a '71 Challenger."
So far, so good. Unfortunately, a minor hiccup was encountered when it came time to change the wheels.
"I decided it was time for some wheels that fit my taste," says Von, "so off came the 14-inch Magnums. I sold my dirt bike and bought 17-inch Eagle Alloy Style 212. The back wheels are 9.5 inches wide with 5.5-inch backspacing, and the fronts are 8 inches wide with 4.5-inch back-spacing. I chose Nitto tires because of their availability of sizes and settled on 275/50 and 225/50s, respectively. Despite our homework with a square and tape measure, the rear wheels ended up being too wide to fit in the wheelwell, so I converted to an early B-Body housing (1.5 inches narrower than stock E-Body). This required me to move the front spring hangers inward. I also inverted them to lower the car body over the tires. I made some offset shackles for the rear, but later decided to purchase a set from Mopar Performance." For Von's next project, he rebuilt an Auburn Sure Grip, then assembled it in the B-Body housing.
With all of the work and fresh parts that went into this project, one has to wonder how an enterprising high school student can generate the coin needed to fulfill a buildup such as this. Von told us, "I have worked at the local golf course seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. until at least 3:30 p.m. for the past two summers, and used my birthday and Christmas money to pay for the biggest portion of this car."
That's dedication, but ambition and lofty goals also played a part in the bigger scheme of things. "In late 1999," says Von, "I set two goals for myself: to successfully drive my car to the Mopar Nationals in Columbus, Ohio (2,000-mile round-trip), and to rebuild it well enough to get in Mopar Muscle magazine. I am pleased to say I have achieved both of these goals."
The project was a wonderful experience for Von. In addition to mechanics, he says he's learned about patience, discipline, money management, and the rewards of determination and perseverance. "I would like to thank Mopar Muscle for the Young Guns program," says Von. "It gives the younger generation a special venue to showcase their cars and craftsmanship. Most of all, I want to thank my family, especially my dad, for his interest and support. He has a sharp, one-owner '74 Challenger, and if it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be doing this. Dale Larson has also supplied many hard-to-find parts for this operation and saved me a lot of money." Von also credits his supportive friends and girlfriend, Sara, for their encouragement.