When Charles Chesna of Saugus, Massachusetts, had the opportunity to score a '70 SE Challenger for free, it took him a matter of milliseconds to jump at the chance. Though it was an absolute basket case, he thought it would be a good project to work on with his three sons. this was his first foray into musclecar restoration, and the full-time carpenter quickly adapted his skills into rebuilding a classic Mopar. Working with his eldest son, Chuck, they were able to completely rebuild the Sublime E-Body.
During the restoration process of the SE, Charles' second son, Anthony, saw a classified ad listing another '70 Challenger. Curious, Anthony and his father drove to the advertiser's home. Buried beneath the usual garage debris and dust sat a Plum Crazy R/T SE U-Code Dodge. Brandishing his best poker face, Charles hid his excitement and happily exchanged $1,500 for the Challenger. Since young Anthony was still in high school and Charles was up to his waist in Chuck's Sublime SE, the purple R/T was trailered home and put into short-term storage for future wrenching.
Rebuilt from an around-the-town...
Rebuilt from an around-the-town cruiser, the original 340 Six-Pack plant was pulled, freshened with a .040-over bore, new 9.8:1 pistons, and Eagle rods. The cylinder heads received a three-angle valve job and new valves, springs, and rockers. The trio of two-barrel carburetors was jetted per Holley's specs.
While the first restoration was taking place, Charles would occasionally see a Hemi Orange T/A cruising around town. One day, the orange T/A pulled up Charles' driveway, and the owner asked Charles if he would be interested in buying it. Word of his affinity for sporty Mopar ponycars had gotten around, and the T/A's owner thought Charles would be a prime candidate to purchase the car. The Challenger wasn't in pristine condition; it was a daily driver and had been exposed to the rough elements for most of its life, but Charles knew he couldn't afford the price of an original T/A.
Instead, Charles told the would-be seller to place an ad in some national listings and see what the car would bring. As he drove away, Charles bemoaned to his son, "That will be the last time we ever see that car." Yet, several months later, the owner of the T/A called back, insisting that Charles buy the car.
The T/A's owner had been bombarded with phone calls. The callers were asking all sorts of questions he didn't know the answers to and demanding photos, so he felt he was getting nowhere on a sale. He also explained he had quietly observed the work Charles had done on the Sublime car and knew Charles would bring his car back to life. He was afraid to sell it to somebody who would ruin or heavily alter the car since he had owned it since high school. Plus, he liked the notion of being able to visit the car as he lived nearby.
The owner pulled the orange T/A up to Charles' house, opened the door, and hollered, "Let's go." During their short jaunt, the two cut a deal, and the car was backed into Charles' driveway that evening where the keys were officially handed over.
The six-way-adjustable seat...
The six-way-adjustable seat (option code C62) was originally covered in factory black leather. Charles had Legendary Interiors whip up a matching skin for the rear bench when the buckets were recovered.
It wasn't until they started to restore the T/A that Charles realized the car had something special about it. A look at the fender tag revealed the Challenger was a rare V02-optioned car. The two-tone paint scheme distinguished the Challenger from others Charles had previously seen.
An e-mail from the Challenger T/A Registry's curator, Barry Washington, informed him of the Challenger's rarity: of the 1,150 T/A cars presently listed in the registry, the car is one of only two T/A cars registered with the V02 painted top. In addition, it was the only one listed as painted in EV2 Hemi Orange with the TX9 black top. Also, the Challenger would be only one of 949 four-speed T/A's ever built out of the 2,450 total.
The restoration process went smoothly enough once Charles and his youngest, Dave, dove into the required work. The dashpad was sent to Just Dashes; the AM/FM Multiplex radio and its R35 Deluxe radio package were boxed up and replaced with new in-dash speakers, a matching pair of 6x9 Infinity speakers, and an Alpine AM/FM/CD player. Another goodie listed on the factory buildsheet was the inclusion of the HRX9 deluxe leather seat option. This gave the car leather front bucket seats and included the carpeted door panel bottoms with red reflectors. Nothing earth shattering, but adding to its rarity all the same.
Though not sure of the Challenger's...
Though not sure of the Challenger's race history, the previous owner used the T/A as a cool cruiser.
When Charles called Legendary for new seat skins, he inquired about having a rear bench cover made from the same material. While the seats were on the workbench, the frames were cleaned and painted, and the six-way-adjustable driver seat frame was rebuilt. The door panels were given a good cleaning, and a new package tray and headliner was all that was needed to finish off the cabin.
The needed bodywork was minimal. The car had no major dents or rust that needed to be mended. it was coated in fresh PPG basecoat/clear paint.
When it came time to get the running gear in top shape, Charles went to Precision Motor Werks in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The 340's cylinders were bored .040-over and filled with new pistons connected to Eagle rods. A Comp Cam XE268H camshaft was chosen. The ground crankshaft was balanced, while the heads received the royal treatment-a three-angle competition valve job. The final result was a nice 9.8:1 compression ratio with a combustion chamber volume of 67 cc. Using the stock cast-iron manifolds, the 340 made an eager 356 hp at 5,800 rpm. The ignition was upgraded to a new Mopar Performance electronic unit.
While the engine was under construction, Charles and Dave went to work replacing all the front-end components, as well as installing all new fuel lines, brake lines, gas tank, and brakes. The Chesna boys sent the manual steering box to Firm Feel, while the rearend and A833 four-speed went off to a local builder to be freshened up. Once returned, the crash box and rear were reinstalled under the E-Body, completing the package.
Finally assembled, Charles handed the keys to his youngest son. Dave's extremely rare T/A is easily one of the greatest examples of being in the right place at the right time (and having the right dad).
Fast Facts: '71 Dodge Challenger T/A
Charles Chesna • Saugus, Ma
Engine: The original 340 was bored .040-over, fitted with 9.8:1 compression pistons, Eagle rods, cut journals, and fully blueprinted. The LA's cylinder heads were given a three-angle valve job and new valve assembly. The original Holleys were rejetted during a dyno session at Precision Motor Werks in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Using the factory iron manifolds, the 340 uses a new electronic ignition from Mopar Performance.
Transmission: The factory A833 four-speed was rebuilt locally; the factory shifter was rebuilt by Hurst.
Rearend: The original 8 3/4 still retains the factory ring-and-pinion and axles, but has new bearings, shims, and fluid. Charles kept the gear ratio a secret.
Horsepower & Performance: The solid little 340 punched out 356 hp at 5,800 rpm.
Suspension: The Challenger T/A and its sister AAR 'Cuda were meant to take on the Trans Am course and their Camaro, Firebird, and Boss Mustang competitors. Charles rebuilt the stout-from-the-factory suspension back to stock specs.
Brakes: The original brakes needed an update badly, so Charles and son replaced the lines, discs, and calipers with rebuilt original units.
Wheels: Wanting to keep the Challenger original, only 15x7 Rallyes were appropriate.
Tires: Charles used BFGoodrich Radial T/As.
Body: Devoid of rust or any major damage, straightening the body required little effort since the previous owner had taken good care of the original T/A Challenger.
Paint: Since the EV2 Hemi Orange and TX9 black top distinguished the Challenger as one of the rarest of T/A E-Bodies, Charles had the '70 recoated in PPG basecoat/clear finish.
Interior: With more codes than a missile launch sequence, this Challenger sported leather-wrapped buckets with the driver enjoying six-way adjustability. New skins came from Legendary with the backseat using the same leather as the front. The door panels-unusual with the bottoms covered in black carpeting and brandishing a red reflector lens-needed only minor cleaning. A new headliner, carpet, and package tray were installed, and the factory deluxe radio and speakers were replaced with modern 6x9 Infiniti speakers and an AM/FM/CD player.