Lost to the ages, the original...
Lost to the ages, the original 426 Hemi was MIA. Gary had to hunt down a correct date-coded replacement to fit the number's matching condition of this gorgeously restored Challenger. Getting it running was a different story. It took two builders three different times to get the elephant back on its feet.
The restoration began with a rotisserie job that would be done in sections by Tom Brooks of Brooks Auto Restoration in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from April 1993 until June 2000. The body was sandblasted in the engine bay and trunk area, and everywhere else was media blasted. The undercoat was removed with a propane torch and wire wheel, with a DA sander used to smooth it all out. There was more than just restoring that needed to be done. During one of Russell's drag racing outings, it was necessary to get to an exhaust bolt fast, so a hole was cut in the front shock mount on the passenger side for easier access. This was repaired along with the original K-frame that bared some non-factory, poorly welded engine mounting accommodations for a small-block. The typical areas around the front window were also repaired. The next phase was the roof and doors, followed by quarters and decklid. The undercarriage was smoothed out and prepped for paint. Finally, the fenders were completed along with the hood, and the entire body was covered in primer. The trunk floor was in great shape except for the holes punched in it to mount the battery. A correct date code Hemi engine was then purchased from a collector. The motor would sit in the den of my house as an end table and conversation piece for five years before being rebuilt and installed in the car in 2002. The motor ran for almost an entire hour before it was sent back to Michigan for a second rebuild. Even after getting the motor back a second time, it never seemed to run like it should, so in February 2005, I had the motor out one more time and sent to Ray Barton Racing for a complete rebuild. The motor was rebuilt as close as possible to factory specifications and ran on the dyno at an astounding 590 hp at 6,300 rpm.
A part of the E-Body's allure...
A part of the E-Body's allure is the Rim-Blo steering wheel. This one is the factory's original.
During the course of the restoration, several calls were made to Dennis, Russell, and Tom to make certain I did not miss any details. In 2004, my son suggested I ask the previous owners if any of them knew of the original transmission. I called Russell, and he informed me that Tom Lillis could still have the original transmission. After several phone calls, Tom confirmed the numbers on the transmission were right. A deal was struck, and Tom agreed to drop off the transmission personally so he could see the car once again. It was two weeks before Carlisle Chrysler Nationals in 2005, and we had just gotten the engine back from Ray Barton Racing. In a week's time, my sons, Stephen and David, worked around the clock cleaning and repainting parts before we could install the engine and transmission. On Friday, July 1, 2005, we put the motor in the car with everything freshly repainted. Everyone helped, including my wife Pam, who operated the cherry picker as we carefully lowered the elephant on the mounts without a scratch. We continued to work in the engine bay until Sunday, and then put the transmission in. It would take us until Wednesday before everything was assembled. Our initial attempt to fire the engine failed, and time was running short if we were to get the car to Carlisle on Thursday. We finally discovered a simple ignition timing error. We also found that we needed to resolve a power steering fluid leak and transmission fluid leak before we could go. we finished the car at 4:30 a.m., just in time to take the car to Carlisle.
The Challenger took first place in the Stock E-Body Hemi Class. In addition, we were chosen for a Celebrity award. All the long nights and non-stop hard work had paid off.