"We usually take it on a week-long summer vacation every year. Last year it went out to the Smoky Mountains, Atlanta, and all over that part of the country. This year we drove it down to Texas. It's out pretty much from Easter until Thanksgiving, and then it gets put away for the winter. But for the eight months it's out, we drive it every week." So says Gerry Spray about the annual mileage his '71 Challenger racks up. A drop-top E-Body-what better way to see the country?
Gerry bought the car about six years ago, and set about doing a complete restoration. While most would jump at the chance to own a convertible Challenger, we're fairly certain the majority of enthusiasts wouldn't have jumped at the chance to retain this car's original driveline. In a "bigger's always better" hobby, a 318/904 powertrain combo usually isn't held as the object of desire for performance enthusiasts. But Gerry's version of "performance" differs from most, and we'd have to say we like it.
"It's not much of a quarter-mile machine," Gerry says. "It's more a highway cruiser than a race car, that's for sure. I'm not sure what the rear gear ratio is-it's got to be in the 2s-but it idles along real nice at 100 mph on the toll road, and it gets 16.5 miles per gallon."
He sent the original 318 to the machine shop, where it received a .040-inch overbore, a "mild" Edelbrock cam, intake and carb, an electronic ignition, and not much more in the way of hot rod performance. Backing up the mild-mannered engine is a stock rebuilt 904 with a Slap Stick shifter and the mystery-geared 831/44. The stock standard suspension ("That's why it's got all that body roll to it!") was retained along with the manual drum brakes on all four corners, and power steering rounds out the mechanicals.
The car was sent to the bodyshop where it was taken down to bare metal and massaged back into shape, with any rust cut out and patched before the car was resprayed in B-5 Blue. The interior was also attended to with new covers, door panels, and back panels, and after a year the car was ready to be put back on the road for 26,000 miles of fun and good times to date, including autocrossing it when the opportunity arises, as seen here at the Mopar Super Weekend in Topeka last year.
"A lot of people get on me about driving a fairly rare car so hard. But if I break it, I can fix it." Gerry says. "People with cars sitting in their garage under a car cover drive me nuts! The worst you can do is break them, and if worse comes to worse, if nobody got hurt, it was just a car-start over again. If they break it, then they can push it back into the garage, throw the cover back on it, and they'll have the same thing they started with-a useless car that just sits in their garage under a cover. But they'll at least have had some fun with it. And besides, you can fix just about anything today."