What sparked my interest in cars? It goes back to when I was 15 years old and driving my brother's Nova at 110 mph, and I didn't have a license. My first musclecar was a '69 Chevelle SS convertible with a 350-horse 396. I owned it about 6 years, and did a partial restoration on it. I was able to work with the body shop at obtaining all the replacement/restoration parts myself. That experience kind of whet my appetite.
While I was happy with the Chevelle, I could not justify doing a total restoration on the car. I was ready for a challenging project. I asked my longtime friend and mentor Ron Martin if he thought I could handle a project of this magnitude. He believed I could. So in 2000, the Chevelle went up for sale.
The search for the right project took me to the Mopar Nats and Chryslers at Carlisle for 3-plus years. I had narrowed my search to an E-Body. In my opinion, E-Bodies look somewhat feminine and not as squared-up and masculine as B-Bodies. after being disappointed at what I saw for sale at Carlisle and the Nats, I just kept looking. I was advised that above all else, do not compromise on the body. I had to hold out for a rust-free car. Finally, I found a car for sale on eBay, (a lot of the parts also came from there). The car was in Los Angeles, California, and had not run in several years. It looked restorable, and the deal was made. The car was owned by Sage Stallone. (yes, Sylvester's son who used it as a loaner car for movie set employees.) The car didn't run and was missing valve covers and some other accessories. It was a 318 car with A/C and was originally dark tan metallic with a vinyl roof and tan interior. All I cared about was that the body had no rust. It certainly did have its share of dents, but the body was good enough to work with. I had full intentions of replacing the interior and engine anyway.
The car was transported from Los Angeles and arrived August 20, 2000. I couldn't wait to take it apart! I started on it the day it arrived, and had it completely disassembled by the end of October by working weekends at Jerry's Custom Cars in Clearwater, Florida. Here I was, putting who knows how much money into this car, and I had never even driven it yet. The only thing that worked on the car were the lights. As the car was taken apart, I labeled and bagged everything and placed them in storage containers. Jerry's shop quickly became my second home. I photographed everything (or drew pictures on note pads) from the interior disassembly to the bumpers brackets for reference when it came time to put it back together. That was one of the best things I ever did. The last thing to be removed from the car before it went to the body shop was the front and back glass, engine, and transmission-all of which were going to be replaced.
The car was sent to Superior Auto Body in Pinellas Park, Florida, in early 2001. It was bead blasted inside and out prior to priming and block sanding. I did have to replace one front fender and the hood. I ordered a fender from Jackie Stephens at Stephens Performance, and the hood came from Goodmark. All the suspension was removed, and the parts were either replaced or rebuilt, then refinished. Year One was my major supplier and labeled me Ms. Hemi. Ron Vallario at Superior Auto Body did a fantastic job with the paint and body. The depth and finish of the paint are incredible. I took the side-window glass home, polished it, and cleaned all the mechanisms. Ron helped me locate a N.O.S. tinted back glass from Muscle City Glass. We had searched for over two and a half years for that glass.
The car was trailered back to Jerry's, so I could start reassembly in July 2001. That is when it really got to be fun. I personally replaced each and every part I could by myself before I would ask for any assistance. I also had to not be intimidated in a garage where I was the only female. That at times was tough, but also a blessing. Where else can a girl get at least six opinions on any given day about how she should do something?
How'd she mount the A/C under...
How'd she mount the A/C under the hood? A bracket from XtremeBillet.com, that's how. The brackets mount the A/C compressor under the alternator.
Originally, this Challenger...
Originally, this Challenger came with a 318 engine. Cheryll upgraded to a Mopar Performance crate Hemi, and added air conditioning.
Cheryll tells us this was...
Cheryll tells us this was probably the most exciting day in her life. It may not look like much in the picture, but the finished results are astounding.
The next item on the agenda was to obtain a new crate motor from Koller Dodge in Naperville, Illinois. The new 426 Hemi came with chrome valve covers that were replaced with correct '70s black wrinkle finish pieces. The engine sat in the crate for the next two years before it was ready to be installed. I sent the steering gearbox to Steer & Gear to be built into a close-ratio unit. I also sent the wiper motor and the matched set of Hemi carbs that I bought from G & D Muscle Car Parts to Jerry at Concourse Creations for refinishing. I sent all the stainless trim to Gale McFarland in Seminole, Florida, for polishing, and the dash pad went to Just Dashes in California. The grille and aluminum trim went to Alltrin in Portland, Oregon, who did a fantastic job. The chrome was redone by Classic Chrome in Clearwater, Florida. The 8 3/4 rearend was delivered to Alan's Gear works in Clearwater, Florida, to be rebuilt with 3.91 gears and a Sure Grip center section. I ordered the transmission-a Pro Street version for a big-block with a 10-inch converter with a 3,400 stall-from Paul Forte of Turbo Action in Jacksonville, Florida. the bucket seats were changed out to a bench setup and A.J. at Street Seats in Hudson, Florida, reupholstered them in leather with the Hemi logo that I had digitized and monogrammed.
I am proud to say that I did not have any paint chip mishaps in the restoration process. First, I started with the rear taillights, wiring, and so on, and moved forward to the firewall wiring and wiper motor. From there, I worked my way to the interior dash frame/harness and glove box. I then installed the dash pad and instrumentation. Jerry Douglas from Jerry's Custom Cars in Clearwater handled the Vintage Air Super Cooler A/C system. he and Ron converted the factory vacuum controls to electrical, which was something I insisted on. I wanted the car to have a stock appearance. Since Hemi cars were never optioned with A/C, I enlisted the help of Bob Rodgers and Ron Martin at Xtreme Billet to fabricate a billet mounting bracket, spacers, and adjusters needed to accommodate the air compressor and locate it under the alternator. This addition required no other modification than two pulleys from March Performance. A/C is an absolute must when living in Florida. Xtreme Billet also tooled a billet speaker grille for the dash, as I was unable to find one that was not cracked or warped, and when painted, it looks just like an original. Jerry also handled installing my power brakes, brake lines, and fuel lines for me. I then worked on the exterior trim pieces, tires, grille, headlights, and insulated the floor and interior panels prior to installing the carpet. I used Rallye wheels from Year One. the dual exhaust system is from tti and installed by David Ogle of A- I Exhaust in Seminole, Florida.
The restoration took 3 years and 53 days. the goal was to be ready for the annual Mopar show at Garlits in Ocala in 2003. We fired the car for the first time on October 22, 2003. We made it to Ocala and I placed second in my class. I am proud of that, and I have to say it is the most significant, labor-intensive accomplishment of my life. One of the main reasons I did this project was to show that a professional woman could do such a thing and still be a "lady." I also love a challenge. The car turned out to be just what I wanted it to be. Most people have no idea just how much is involved in doing a total restoration. It's like a big jigsaw puzzle with the pleasure of finding all the right components, not just getting to the finish. I have learned some really neat tricks from the best of the best. I'd love to build another one. I also have to thank so many special people for helping me along the way. Now I am going to enjoy having it in my garage and driving it occasionally to a car show.