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.
It takes a set of special front fenders to complement the relocated front wheels. Rich has handled this many ways on the seven Match Bashers he's done so far. If he wants to spend the time and has them available, he'll take a set of standard steel fenders and move the wheel openings ahead, then weld in carefully formed steel patch panels. It's time consuming, but yields mirror-smooth results.
If he wants the car to be a little more authentic (read: rough), he'll score a set of reproduction fiberglass A/FX fenders from an outfit like Fiberglass Plus. They already have the altered wheelbase, but require some finessing for good door gap and hood fit.
There's a third option that Rich hasn't selected . . . yet. It's a super-butch move where the stock wheel opening is left where it is, but the leading section that would come down and interfere with the tires is simply sliced off horizontally. This treatment yields a rude WWII army Jeep vibe, but was seen on the funny-fied '65 A990 of Texan Ted Detar back in the day, so there's a valid historical precedent that makes it OK by Rich.
The whole issue of what is and is not correct or appropriate for today's Match Bash builder is a hotly debated topic. Rich says he'll try anything as long as he can find one or more photographs of the detail in question published in a drag racing magazine dated 1967 or earlier. Trends, techniques, and parts newer than the '67 racing season are shunned. We're cool with that since it keeps the Match Bash theme untainted by modern touches that can quickly ruin the buzz.
One big exception that Match Bash builders such as Richard happily embrace is modern electronic fuel injection, as long as it is subtle and hides in plain sight. Old Hilborn IR (individual runner) injection intake manifolds are a key touch on Match Bash creations with their forest of ram tubes sticking through the hood like porcupine quills. In fact, the only other "correct" choices are Holleys on a factory-style cross-ram (to replicate early stage, NHRA-obedient, legal '65 FX cars) or a 6-71 supercharger (used later on the all-out "run-what-ya-brung" '66-'67 match-racing circuit). But the old mechanical pump, barrel-valve technology sucks on the street.
There are several companies, such as BDS and PTR Injection, that specialize in EFI conversion work, or you can even buy a new Hemi intake with integrally cast EFI bungs from Hilborn, Crower, Kinsler, and others.
There are two schools of thought for today's altered-wheelbase Match Bash tribute car builder. One camp follows the lead of those who restore real Max Wedge and A990 factory Super Stockers to give the cars a stone-stock appearance with factory paintwork and no lettering. It is sanitary, but perhaps a bit boring. The other camp says these modern-era altered-wheelbase monsters go several steps beyond the factory Super Stockers and should look it. After all, you've got to remember the vast majority of those original factory built Super Stockers (and FX cars) were given custom paint jobs, lettered-up, and raced within weeks of delivery. The added flash was all about recognition so it would be easier to build a fan base and book more paying match races every week. The lettering also thanked the vital participation of sponsors. This "war paint" was the rule rather than the exception.
After our initial photo shoot, Mister Rich decided to have Bob Thompson of Team Thompson in Pomona, California, apply some period-correct, '60s-style lettering to the Gold Rush Dodge. Notice the lettering isn't a simple rip-off of a famous paint scheme. Rich says there's been too much of that lately, and it insults the legacy of the original cars. he says, "Make the car your own. Allow yourself to pretend its 1966, and ask yourself what you'd like your match racer to look like. Then grab some old issues of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated for inspiration and do it."
Fast Facts: '65 Coronet
Rich LeFebvre * Seattle, Wa
Engine: If you're going to build an A/FX-style car, you better be ready to build the "Big Dog" engine-nothing but a Hemi will do. Making sure his ride ran as strong as it looks, Rich took a 426 block and filled it with a Velasco crankshaft and Ross pistons to yield a street-friendly 10.5:1 compression. Up top, the Hilborn injection has been modified to modern fuel injection. The 511 Hemi gives a rich 600 hp at 6,800 rpm. Not bad for a street ride.
Transmission: The '65 cable-operated, slip-yoke 727 was built by Roy Evers and packs a Hughes 3,500 stall speed torque converter. Shifts are handled via a column shifter.
Rearend: A '65 831/44 with a Sure Grip, filled with 4.56 gears. The custom-length driveshaft measures 4011/42 inches center-to-center.
Horsepower & Performance: 600 hp.
Suspension: Front, the narrowed A100 straight axle has a 6031/44-inch track width and rides on custom leaf springs by Craig Spring of Seattle, Washington.
Rear: 3,800-pound 454/455 Mopar Performance Super Stock leaf springs.
Brakes: Big 11-inch A100 drum brakes are retained, and, according to Rich, are plenty capable of stopping this 3,100-pound rig from 130-mph trap speeds at the strip.
Wheels: fronts are ultra-rare magnesium American five-spokes; rears are widened steelies.
Rubber: Up front, Rich mounted a set of bias-ply 7.75-15 Uniroyals with skinny whitewalls. The whitewalls may look silly to some, but similar tires were used on the altered-wheelbase Hemi match racers of The Ramchargers and Bud Faubel. Proof appears on the cover of the September '65 issue of Super Stockers in action. The rears are modern Mickey Thompson ET streets, measuring really big.
Body: Nothing says "old school" like taking a perfectly good four-door sedan, and turning it into a really cool A/FX car. It takes a lot of cutting and welding to do it, but, wow, what a look.
Paint: The factory '65 gold color was applied by Rich, and the lettering by Bob Thompson of Team Thompson in Pomona, California, (909/987-4424).
Interior: It's street car with a cool race vibe; the interior sports A100 van seats on reproduction Kramer Automotive A990 Super Stock brackets. Richard and friend, Mike Volz, welded the radio hole and glovebox door closed to duplicate the look of a factory-supplied '65 A/FX fiberglass dashboard. That's all there is, there ain't no more.The stock Mopar aluminum steering box mounts to a fabbed steel plate. Note the replacement of the factory K-member and frame extensions with welded square tubing. Simple and sweet.
The gutted interior sports A100 van seats on reproduction Kramer A990 Super Stock brackets. Richard and friend, Mike Volz, welded the radio hole and glovebox door closed to duplicated the look of a factory-supplied '65 A/FX fiberglass dashboard.
The narrowed A100 straight axle has a 6031/44-inch track width and rides on custom leaf springs by Craig Spring of Seattle, Washington.
In true run-what-ya-brung fashion, the Hilborn-injected Hemi looks like a 426, but packs a Velasco stroker crank that delivers 511 cubes. Ross pistons yield a pump-gas friendly 10.5:1 compression ratio and dyno proven 600 hp at 6,800 rpm.
Richard isn't afraid to tell people he sliced a clean Coronet grille to accept this vintage 3-gallon Moon tank. External tanks like this appeared as the factory A/FX teams began playing with nitro mixtures.
Simple sheetmetal panels fill 15-inch gaps in the quarter-panel extensions after surgery.
The temporary tape outline reveals where the stock quarter-panels are cut and moved forward 15-inches from their stock location to get the altered-wheelbase effect. The entire horizontal section, including the wheelhouses, also moves a like amount and is rewelded into position.
Bob Thompson brainstormed with Rich to come up with a tasteful tribute to the circus wagon/storefront advertising font style common to most mid-'60s door-slammer funny cars. Here Bob brushes on the red border for the Gold Rush logos. Airbrush work isn't correct; it didn't hit the funny car scene until the late-'60s.
Compare the lettered Gold Rush with the naked car in the main photos. Rich borrowed elements of the old Doc Burgess/Bill Jenkins Black Arrow Plymouth and the late Les Ritchey's Performance Associates logos for his modern counterpart. All sponsor logos and slogans are hand painted, not decals.
Rich blows minds every time he takes his latest creation out for a drive. Cops don't seem to mind and usually give him a big thumbs-up.
"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."-Richard LeFebvre