"Both," says Phil, "were able to put the desired results in their computer systems and come up with the perfect match that would make all of the pieces work well together. That is the beautiful thing about using an updated drivetrain. Most of the needed pieces have all been designed to work great together in the Dodge pickup line. And to top it all off, Brian Hileman, the Mopar Performance specialist at Earnhardt Dodge in Gilbert, Arizona, was able to get a custom-programmed Mopar Performance computer built to my specific needs."
Next, the Fastway boys fabricated custom brackets for the A/C, and worked hard to fit the truck gauge cluster in the Challenger dash.
"The gauge cluster was chosen so that the A/C switches could be used out of the '96 truck."
Phil then turned his attention to the handling and rolling stock, selecting a Firm Feel #2 steering box to complement the front and rear sway bars. As for wheels and tires, Phil let whiz Shawn Dickinson of Big O Tire Store in Las Vegas make the call. Shawn argued for Budnick wheels due to their numerous fitment options. The Mercury 5 model was chosen in a 17x8-inch configuration up front and 17x11 in back-both dressed in BFGoodrich rubber.
By now it was June, and Phil had decided to set the feisty Challenger on a leg of the Hot Rod Power Tour.
"The car got so many compliments on the Power Tour," says Phil, "that I started to get a big head and thought it was time to go further with the project."
Interestingly, Phil took on this project with an understanding with his wife that "One: It wouldn't go to any car shows. Two: It would never go on a trailer. And three: I wouldn't go psycho and make it too nice to drive." By late June, Phil decided to break one of those promises by entering the car in the 2000 Mopar Nationals. His wife thought it was a good idea, but there was a problem.
A nasty vibration had developed when the Challenger decelerated above 70 mph. Nearly everyone who had been involved with the project up to this point tried to find a cure, including swapping the tranny bushing a couple of times and replacing the torque converter. "Outsiders" were brought in on about six different occasions to see if a fresh set of eyes could uncover the problem. Nothing.
"This was the middle of July," recalls Phil. "If I was going to get the car repainted for the Nationals...I was growing very thin on time and patience."
Giving it one last shot, Phil put the car on a hoist and discovered that a self-tapping screw had protruded through the transmission tunnel and was rubbing against the transmission linkage. That was corrected, and the vibration changed, but didn't go away. Next, the tranny was shimmed upward to adjust the driveshaft working angle. Again, the vibration changed, but was still there. But Phil was onto something big, he felt, yet the tranny shimming created another problem.
"I was out of room underneath. It was determined that the tailshaft of the transmission would have to be removed, and the only way to fix the problem was to beat the crossmember torsion-bar support flat, starting in the middle and feathering the metal out from the center to the outside edges. This process took a total of eight hours to complete. Imagine the joy of swinging a five-pound sledgehammer reversed and upward, hitting a six-inch diameter punch to flatten the factory bend in the tunnel. This took three guys to do. One to swing the hammer (that's me), one to run the cutting torch to keep the metal hot, and one to sit in the car with a spray bottle of water to make sure we didn't start the whole thing on fire. When we had feathered the metal as flat as it would go, we reassembled everything and re-shimmed the transmission another half-inch. I had to send my nephew Roger to drive the car because by now it had ticked me off to the point where I couldn't stand to even look at it. It was now midnight, and when he arrived back at the dealership he informed me that the problem had been corrected."