There's only one cure for a 42-year-old pharmacist who longs to bring back the horsepower-hungry days of his teenage years. Fortunately, Rod Nelms of Orlando, Florida, found just the right prescription.
After experimenting with a Challenger R/T 440 Six Pack, Rod came across the car of his dreams-this Plum Crazy '70 Challenger R/T convertible. After a three-year restoration process, much of which he handled himself, this 383hp big-block is satisfying his itch for Mopar muscle.
Rod had only been searching for one week when he followed a tip about a yellow 440 R/T convertible for sale on the Internet. It turned out the car had been posted by mistake, but the owner, Don Millington of Garnett, Kansas, allowed him to choose between that car and the Plum Crazy '70. "I got the feeling he wanted me to pick the yellow one. But I went with the 383 car because I wanted one with the original block," Rod says.
Five years ago, Nelms started Blast Off, Inc., a plastic media-blasting company. So when he got the car back to Orlando, he began the painstaking process of restoring every single part. "It started out as a hobby," Rod says of the blasting business. "But I was getting more and more requests to do it, and I started getting better equipment. Now I divide my time about 50/50 between that and pharmacy work."
Rod discovered the car had been garaged from around 1975 to 1990 because it was thought to have a blown engine. He later found out there was an obstruction holding the camshaft, and that was easily fixed. The years of sitting idle took their toll on the car's exterior. The original trunk pan had holes in it, and a previous owner had just dumped a new one on top of it. The driver's floor pan was poorly patched, and a fresh layer of Plum Crazy was needed. "All the body really needed was minor resto and a paint job," Rod says. "Most of the car was pretty solid, and more importantly, it was all there. I have definitely seen cars in rougher shape."
After blasting and priming the body with Sikkens EP primer, Rod sent it to Michael's Auto Body in Winter Haven, Florida, for the FC7 Plum Crazy base/clear finish. The gas tank, rearend, K-frame, dash frame, air cleaner, and all suspension parts and engine brackets were powder-coated by Central Florida Powder Coating in Orlando. There, he drew on the vast resources of Tom Smith, whom Rod refers to as Mr. Mopar. "This guy knows everything," Rod says. "He's been into Mopars since the '50s and raced them in the '60s. Plus, he is a former service manager for Dodge, so he knew all the tricks."
Getting the engine to perform to its potential was a trick. Rod said when he first drove the car it was sluggish. It seems the engine had been rebuilt once, but the compression ratio was less than 8:1, and the cam was stock. Shall we say, it lacked pep- the kind he experienced as a 16-year-old, when he and his brother dropped a 440 engine into his '73 Cuda.
Rod had the block bored .030 inches over and installed K/B hypereutectic pistons with 915 heads from Aerohead Racing. They installed 1.81/2.14-inch stainless steel valves with a three-angle valve job. Rod also used Total Seal rings, Comp Cam's XE268h cam and lifters, and Crane roller-tip rockers. He had 0.010 inch removed from the deck to yield a final compression ratio of 9.3:1. The transmission was rebuilt by Ken's Performance in Orlando and given a shift-improver kit and a deeper pan.
After all that, Nelms now has 389 hp under the hood and the pep he desires. As often as possible, he puts the top down and takes the Challenger for weekend drives. He even drives it to shows. Recently, it took First Place in the E-Body class at the Mopars with Big Daddy show and won a Dealer's Choice award at the Moparty in Orlando. "It went through a 10-year stretch when it was only driven a total of 300 miles, and now I drive it as much as possible," Rod says. "Everyone says I am crazy."
The estimated 2,500 hours of work Rod poured into this '70 Challenger are enough to drive a man plum crazy. The seats were stripped to the frames, blasted, and sprayed with POR-15 before new foam and white vinyl skins were applied. The grill and trim pieces had to be straightened, deanodized, polished, bright-dipped, and reanodized. The mirrors, bumpers, taillight, and marker-light bezels were all rechromed. Even the nuts and bolts were replated with black zinc, clear zinc, phosphating, or cad plating to look as original as possible.
The most visual component of the car that is not stock is the Sandin A/C compressor Rod installed from Classic Auto Air in Tampa. After all, this Challenger does reside in Florida. But Rod is not one who appreciates only the perfectly-restored.
"I'm not locked into [the realm of] pure resto," Rod says. "I enjoy all cars. In fact, I was looking for a convertible to modify before I found this one. I knew when I started this project I would be over-restoring it, but I take pride in having done [most of it] myself. I've already had offers, but now I don't see how I could part with it."