The clincher came in 1970. Mike Lacroix, an automotive designer now living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, was attending a drag race with his father and some of the elder Lacroix's buddies, when a '70 440 Six-Barrel Shaker 'Cuda edged up to the tree. The clean E-Body lines, pounding V-8, and ominous scooped intake set young Mike's heart on fire. Unfortunately (well, depending on how you look at it), Mike's dream of owning a similar musclecar would take a back seat to the responsibilities of career and family for a while. OK, 27 years to be exact. But when he decided the time was right to make up for it, Mike did so in grand style.
In September 1996, Mike began to plot his move. At that time, his sights were set on purchasing a '70 'Cuda with a big-block and a Shaker hood. He poured long and hard over classified ads in print and on the Internet. Several prospects arose, but Mike quickly learned the cruel fact of classic-car buying-be first or forget it. Then, late in February 1997 while on his lunch break, Mike hit the Web and came across a '71 Challenger R/T for sale (his earlier frustrations had led him to expand his search to include both '70-'71 Challengers and 'Cudas).
The car was in need of a restoration, yet it came with plenty of desirables. There wasn't a big-block under the hood, but the 340 did sport the requisite factory Shaker hood options. Other features included a Dark Green Metallic topcoat, power steering, a 3.23:1 Sure Grip, a Rallye cluster, and an A-727 auto trans (another of Mike's requirements).
"The car was in Farmington, Michigan," Mike says. "I called the owner, Jim Maiani, on Monday, and drove from Ottawa (where I was living at the time) to Detroit that Friday, and took the car home on Saturday."
Interestingly, in spite of being a life-long gearhead and having a career in the automotive industry, Mike had yet to perform his first restoration. The Challenger would prove to be a trial by fire.
"When I got the car home, it didn't run very well," he says. "I got it running for the summer and, in October 1997, I began my first restoration."
The first three months of the project were consumed by the teardown. Mike stripped everything off the R/T, with the exception of the suspension.
"The body was good, but it required repair in the lower rear quarters," he says. "Only the rusted areas were cut, and repair pieces were butt-welded with a MIG. The whole car was rustproofed, then painted GF7 Dark Green Metallic with a Centari basecoat/clearcoat. The body was then sanded and buffed for a clear, smooth finish." With the bodywork out of the way, Mike set his hand to rebuilding the 340 to its stock configuration.
The motor received a new camshaft, timing chain, and valvesprings. Then it was reassembled. The transmission was overhauled and a valvebody kit was put in. A new 2,500-rpm stall converter completed the transmission work. The driveshaft was rebuilt and balanced, and the rear axle bearings were replaced. A 3.23:1 Sure Grip was located to complete the driveline. The car was then put back together and running in April 1998.
"I did nearly all the work myself," Mike says, "with the exception of the bodywork, paint, and transmission overhaul. Terry McCann provided information and parts throughout the restoration."
In spite of the top-quality job Mike managed on his debut restoration, this is one Mopar that will not be called a "trailer queen." "I moved to Windsor, Ontario, in February 1999 to work as an automotive designer," Mike says. "One of the benefits of this move was the incredible cruising action around Detroit. Any time I wanted to cruise, there were always several cruises on any night of the week."
Mike tells us he's been on the Woodward Dream Cruise two years in a row, and last summer he made the trek to the Mopar Nationals. "It was fun cruising at 75 mph. The car drove beautifully and I averaged nearly 20 mpg. The car is primarily for cruising and attending a few car shows each year. I average 2,500 to 3,000 miles each year, and the current mileage is 71,500. Plans are to test the car down a dragstrip once I get my ThermoQuad tuning skills honed." Naturally, now that Mike has started the ball rolling, the restore-it/build-it itch must be continually scratched.
"I haven't forgotten my dream of owning a '70 'Cuda," Mike says. "I'm currently working on a '70 'Cuda clone. This custom-built car will be loaded with lots of options like A/C, cruise, and power seats and windows. And, yes, it will have a Shaker hood!"