Remember asking your father about getting your first car? Now try to imagine that conversation in 1995-a time when vehicle brand loyalty seemed irrelevant to most teenagers and "What's it got in it?" referred only to a whopping sound system that could easily shatter the windows. Having your child express a desire for a vintage four-speed Challenger would make any car-guy proud (financially beaten, but proud). Such a desire, especially in a thirteen-year-old daughter, has to be nurtured. In the Henry household, the result of just such a conversation is Shelby's matching-numbers, 340 four-speed, Plum Crazy '71 Challenger.
After a three-year search with her father, a car was found, and the ground rules were laid down. Rule 1: Shelby had to work on the car to "earn the keys." Rule 2: her school grades, band, and orchestra had priority. If any school activities suffered, the project would go on hold. Rule 3: Decisions on modifying the car would solely be hers. With the rules agreed upon, the car was loaded on the trailer and taken home in July 1998. the father-daughter bonding project had begun.
Some short cuts were necessary if the Challenger was to be ready by the spring of 1999 in time for Shelby to drive it to school. Since it arrived as an empty shell full of pieces, painting and assembly would be the priorities. Fortunately, the body needed only minor repair, panel alignment, and painting. In the spirit of the project, Shelby experienced body filler dust and wet-sanding. Other than needing a new carburetor, distributor, flywheel, and clutch, the Challenger was mechanically sound. The engine compartment and underbody detailing would be left until the following winter.
A visit to the Mopar Nationals inspired the idea of deleting the '71 quarter-panel scoops and adding a gloss black '70 rear stripe. The original PC7 Plum Crazy coloring was done using Deltron 2000 paint. when the Challenger rolled out of the paint booth and into the sun, the color "just came alive." Chrome Magnum wheels were added, with the apertures painted Plum Crazy, and chrome pentastars were added to the center caps.
Assembly consumed the next ten months and was much like working on a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box, and even some pieces missing. Parts came from friends, swap meets, and a host of mail order catalogs. A chance phone call resulted in a mint A/C instrument panel, and triggered the idea of adding air to the originally non-A/C-equipped car. Vintage Air's Super Cooler compressor and brackets fit the 340 engine perfectly, and the evaporator/heater took less space under the dash than the stock heater box. With a little "imagineering," only two holes needed to be drilled to complete the entire installation, and all the original defroster ducts were used.
On the morning of May 22, 1999, the Challenger rolled out of the garage for the very first time and, with a now fully licensed sixteen-year-old Shelby at the wheel, headed right for the Goodguys Motor City Nationals. Even with some missing trim, unrestored bumpers, and unfinished detailing, Shelby's enthusiasm and hard work earned the Goodguys Staff Pick award.
Although the Challenger turned out too nice to risk in a high school parking lot, it made enough extracurricular trips to establish a solid rep. After taking a fifth in class at Detroit's Autorama, Shelby's Challenger went back in the garage for engine removal and compartment detailing.
While out of the car, the engine received the full treatment of Mopar Performance engine paint, chrome, an electronic ignition, viscous fan, and other detail touches. Power is transmitted through a Mopar Performance flywheel and 11-inch clutch to a massaged A833 four-speed. Shelby carefully adjusted the torsion bars to give her car the right stance, and the addition of MP gas shocks and a production rear sway bar gets the Challenger around corners nicely. A TTI 2-inch exhaust with stainless tips was installed, and Borla mufflers provide the perfect sound to meet her well-nurtured attitude of wanting to be "heard before I'm seen."