When people think about restoring vintage race cars, the goal is usually to try to make them exactly like they were. However, when 33-year-old Lou Sgro bought this old Kenney Goodell '71 Challenger funny car, he decided to take that one step further by creating his own history. Now, numerous hours and thousands of dollars later, Sgro and his family-based crew have indeed come up with a combination joining the best of the past and the present.
"I love Challengers," says the mechanical contractor from North Brunswick, New Jersey. "The car was rough when we found it, but I had to have it. It's a great deal."
Goodell was a popular northwest racer based out of Tigard, Oregon. The Challenger had been built by the legendary Woody Gilmore for the '70 season, using then-state-of-the-art chassis design and components. Goodell raced the car, then known as the "Wynn's Stormer," for three seasons, ending that effort in 1972. In the course of that time, the car became the first to exceed 200 mph in that region of the country.
Sgro had already owned one funny car when the chance to buy the Challenger from another New Jersey collector came up. That had been the former "High Anxiety" Plymouth Arrow from 1978. He had also had a front-engined dragster using a 440ci engine for motivation as well as a number of street cars and race doorslammers. He had also crewed full-time for NHRA Funny Car Champion Frank Manzo in 1997 and 1998. The Challenger offered an opportunity to stay with classic Mopar muscle car styling while still running fast enough for thrills.
The chassis itself was checked out for structural rigidity and a six-point cage was installed in place of the old four-point cage. In keeping with the era, however, the front spindles still hold only the Halibrand rims and M&H Racemaster tires. Braking is handled by a set of heavy-duty Airheart discs in the rear and a pair of Simpson parachutes. The wider Halibrand mags in the back make use of Mickey Thompson drag slicks. For suspension, the car uses a set of Koni coilover shocks in the front, but the rear is solidly mounted. In other words, when Lou is putting the car through its paces, he experiences almost exactly what Goodell felt in 1971!
The body itself is the original Fiberglass Trends shell made for the car in 1970. After doing some repairs to it, Lou gave it to Sano's Custom Paint in Dayton, New Jersey, who resprayed it using the original colors that Goodell had used-Passion Purple, Tangerine, and Gunmetal Blue. Using information that Goodell supplied, decals were put back into their correct location. Then Glen Designs in Edison, New Jersey, relettered the car for Sgro in the same type face that Goodell had used. Other than the name change, it is identical to the way the body looked in 1971.
For power, Lou himself built the motor around a 452ci Keith Black block. This was filled with BME rods, Arias pistons, and a big .750-inch lift Comp Cams roller cam. Manley and Crower parts round out the valvetrain, which regulates fuel going through the Brad Anderson heads. Hamburger supplied the oil pan and Lou fabricated a set of custom Zoomie headers for the car. Though it was not dyno tested, Lou figures the motor is pumping someplace in the area of 1800 horses with a load of methanol, the Challenger's normal fuel. As proof, the engine-which was intended as a Top Alcohol Dragster unit that had never been put together when Lou bought it-propels the car to 7.40s at 190-plus mph in exhibition runs.
Of course, funny cars need blowers, and this uses a modern 14-71 Kuhl unit topped off with a vintage Enderle injector. Lighting off the mixture crammed into the cylinders is a Mallory magneto, Mallory wires, and eight Champion plugs.
Out back is a three-speed Lenco and a 4.30:1 Dana rearend. Lou has chosen to use a push-button Lenco air shifter with the car so he's not grabbing levers while trying to keep the car on the straight and narrow. An AFT clutch helps regulate the power