Richard "Mister Rich" LeFebvre is a Seattle, Washington, Mopar maven who likes his cars a little rough around the edges. He says, "Most of the guys who build these things today make them too pretty. The real ones were actually very crude. Like fighter planes, they'd go up, get shot at, land, get patched, then go back up again. They were dangerous and should look that way." So as you scope out the pictures of Mister Rich's latest Match Bash creation, you'll notice the interior is gutted, the rare zero-offset 15x4 magnesium American Torq-Thrusts aren't polished, and very little effort has been spent on hiding the surgery scars. Rich says it's all part of the plan to "do 'em the way they were."
Rich, a former Seattle scene punk-rock record producer and real estate magnate, has his roots firmly in the punk do-it-yourself aesthetic, and that attitude lives in all his creations-musical and automotive. We think it's a breath of fresh air for the maybe-too-resto-fixated Mopar hobby.
Richard and his nasty, but cool, '65 Coronet are also part of the growing movement known as Match Bash. Match Bashers are essentially Hemi Super Stock clone cars that have been roughed up, and then sent to the funny farm for altered-wheelbase surgery. They're streetable, but pack serious Hemi power and are loaded with period-correct details. They're not clones, copies, counterfeits, or moldy nostalgia acts. They're simply respectful tributes to early factory and independent funny car match race heroes from every camp-Ronnie Sox, Doc Burgess, Melvin Yow, Dick Landy, Lee Smith, Cecil Yother, Dick Brannan, Don Nicholson, Russell James Liberman, Pete Seaton, and countless others who introduced drag race spectators to the wild (and sometimes tragic) spectacle of "ordinary" family cars packing insane power in an escalating arms race that culminated in the modern, four-second, Top Fuel funny car (still Hemi-powered, we might add).
Richard was among the first to discover that four-door sedans and hardtops can easily be converted into two-door sedans, and then into Match Bashers with less effort than you might expect. Especially important since the supply of once-worthless '65 two-door donor sedans has all but dried up. All it takes is a two-door hardtop donor (production outnumber sedans by something like 10-to-1 so they're still fairly easy to buy), readily available aftermarket fiberglass sedan doors, and a fair dose of basic hot-rodding ingenuity. If you can tub a Duster, you can handle this. Richard has converted several otherwise unwanted '65 Dodge Coronet and Plymouth Belvedere four-doors into nasty Hemi-powered Match Bashers, and this is one of them.
Yes, this wicked gold Match Bash beastie was a clapped-out, $700, Slant Six, four-door sedan a mere few years ago. The junk-to-jewel conversion involved mounting the stripped shell on a rigid fixture to maintain dimensions and prevent the roof from buckling as the four-door center pillars and rear quarter-panels were sliced out. Then the corresponding parts from the two-door hardtop were transferred to the four-door with actions taken to move the rear-wheel openings forward 15 inches to get the altered-wheelbase effect. it is easiest to retain as much factory sheetmetal as possible and treat the operation like a giant move-and-patch jigsaw puzzle. After all, that's how the factory boys at the top-secret AmbleWagon A/FX conversion shop did the real ones back in 1965 before their revolutionary Beeline Dragway debut party. Of course, those lucky butchers started with real A990 Super Stockers, unthinkable today unless you're Howard Hughes-and he's dead.
Up front, there are two period-correct ways to get the 10-inch forward push dialed into the suspension: torsion bars or a straight axle. Extra-long torsion bars and relocated K-members and control arms were part of the factory '65 A/FX hardtop recipe, though in 1964, Dodge released a factory bulletin detailing the installation of narrowed Dodge A100 van axles for NHRA acceptance in Factory Experimental. The conversion of Dick Landy's '64 Hemi sedan to a straight axle was documented in several high-profile buff books of the day, and the restored car still exists, beam axle and all, in the collection of noted Mopar collector Pete Haldiman.
For this Dodge, Rich found one of those magazine how-to stories in the April '65 issue of Drag Racing magazine, and took the A100 route to shed 38 pounds over the stock suspension. He has also built altered-wheelbase cars with factory T-bar stuff, and says it's a little more effort to retain proper geometry but very doable. Starting with a salvage-yard A100 axle, he performed the factory suggested 2-inch chop-and-weld procedure to keep the tires from sticking out too far and looking ugly. With careful alignment and welding, it's no big deal.
The front subframe modification for leaf-spring mounting is basic treehouse engineering, but in rectangular steel tubing. Just remember to keep everything square and make good welds for safe handling and steering. A simple fabricated steel crossmember replaces the K-member and takes the motor mounts, while a steel tab welded to the driver-side frame extension locates the familiar aluminum Mopar manual steering box.