When we heard that local Mopar...
When we heard that local Mopar enthusiast, Amy Coleman, wanted to build a car to bracket race on a budget, we knew this project was right up our alley, so we volunteered to pitch in and help. Follow along as we transform her rusty, beat-up '67 Cuda into a safe, reliable, and fast race car.
The Car Here she is-the latest...
Here she is-the latest Mopar Muscle project car. The A-body is an ideal choice when building a race car because it is lightweight and easy to convert to big-block power. This example has rust in places that would make a restoration expensive so it's a great choice for a race car build. We won't be "hacking up" a car that should be restored, rather saving a cool car from the scrap yard.
Even with a rusty cowl, beat-up...
Even with a rusty cowl, beat-up fenders, and a broken windshield, our '67 Barracuda is an ideal candidate for a bracket racer. It was too beat-up and rusty to restore, so we scored a sweet deal on this car, initially investing only $225.
Though the passenger compartment...
Though the passenger compartment floors are all but gone due to rust, the rear sheetmetal is in amazingly good condition with only the typical spare tire well rust.
One of the nice things about the hobby we share is that there are many great ways to enjoy your classic Mopar. Spending the day at a car show can be a relaxing break from the routine of everyday work. Taking your car for a drive through the country is also a good reminder of why we love our cars so much. To this author, there is no more enjoyable way to have fun with a Mopar than spending a day, evening, or weekend racing at the dragstrip.
When it comes to racing cars, however, most enthusiasts cringe at the thought of big budgets, high maintenance, and broken parts, which make drag racing a seemingly expensive way to have fun. we're going to change that misconception by showing that a fast, safe, and competitive race car can be built for far less than you may think. We'll show you where to concentrate your spending, and where you can save money by utilizing original factory equipment or used parts.
This will not be a project on how fast you can go for a ridiculously low budget. It doesn't take much creativity to hack the fenders out of an A-body for big tires and put in a junkyard 440 with a bunch of nitrous to run a number once or twice at the dragstrip. This project is going to be a real-world build of a cool car that will be legal, certified, consistent, safe, and can be raced for multiple seasons with very little maintenance. The sweet part is we'll do it for less money than it takes to restore a '67 Valiant!
Lakeland, Florida, resident Amy Coleman has been into Mopars since before she started driving. Like many enthusiasts, she inherited her love of Chrysler products from her father, who has never owned anything else. After getting her drivers license, Amy's first vehicle was the family farm truck equipped with a 360 engine, four-barrel Thermoquad carburetor, and headers. With her heavy right foot, she found this truck could easily handle the Firebirds and Camaros in her high school parking lot-embarrassing the guys and cementing her already devout affection for Mopar iron. While she was in college, she dated a guy who owned a '68 Road Runner, which further reinforced her opinion that Mopars were the cars to beat at the dragstrip and on the streets. He would take her to Mucie Dragway on the weekends, open the headers, change the rear tires to slicks, and run quicker than any of the other cars that were driven to the track.
Since then, Amy has owned several Mopar street cars, even occasionally bracket racing them, but has never had a purpose-built race machine. She knew building a car herself would be beyond her mechanical skills, and that paying others to do it could lead to being ripped off (unfortunately, that still happens to women in this industry), so she enlisted our help through a mutual friend. As we are always eager to see more Mopars at the track competing with the abundance of Chevelles, Camaros, and Mustangs, we were happy to help. Amy will be contributing both money and labor to the effort, and is eager to hone her mechanical skills as we work on the project.
Here's the donor engine for...
Here's the donor engine for our bracket car. Using this mid-'70s 400 block combined with a forged 440 crankshaft will net us a 451ci low-deck engine that will make killer torque and good power at a reasonable rpm.
We're leaning toward a set...
We're leaning toward a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM cylinder heads like these to top this engine. These heads perform well right out of the box and will shave 40 pounds from our front heavy A-body. Our hope is to save money by finding a deal on a used set.
We'll stiffen up our Barracudas...
We'll stiffen up our Barracudas unibody frame by installing torque boxes and framerail connectors.
These upgrades are mandatory...
These upgrades are mandatory for a hard-launching car to live through the hundreds of passes we plan to put on it at the dragstrip.
We'll strip all the unnecessary...
We'll strip all the unnecessary items from the car to lighten it up and replace the heavy glass windows with Lexan. Our missing hood will also be replaced with a fiberglass unit to save weight from the front of our car.
There are several things to consider when you're contemplating a project such as ours. Building a car that you find appealing is the first step. If you don't like '79 Aspens, then don't build one. You'll quickly lose interest in a project that doesn't appeal to you. The next consideration when building a drag car is power-to-weight ratio. If you want to go fast cheap, it will be a lot easier to accomplish it in a light car than a heavier one. Be careful here, however, as you can quickly negate your savings by trying to shoehorn a 440 into a Dodge Colt, which requires expensive fabrication. We've found second-generation A-bodies to be the most economical platform on which to build a race car because it's fairly easy to get a big motor into one.
Amy's taste in cars led us to a fastback '67 Barracuda, which is an ideal car for this build. The second-generation Barracuda has a larger engine bay than earlier models, making a big-block swap a breeze. Also, the Barracuda fastback has a higher percentage of weight over the back wheels than other A-bodies, which helps with traction and weight transfer. Once you've chosen a body style or model, finding an ideal race car candidate can be a long hard battle that usually involves lots of footwork and looking through the classifieds. We got lucky and found this '67 Barracuda within a month of beginning our search.
Amy gave us some latitude in our search for an A-Body. She preferred early Darts or fastback Barracudas, but would have been satisfied with a '70 or '71 Duster as well. Having a variety of cars to choose from gave us more opportunities to find the right car for her.
We actually stumbled on this car when looking at a '66 Dart that was for sale in a neighboring town. After stopping to look at the Dart and deciding it wasn't what we needed, the owner said, "if it changes anything, this car comes with a '67 Barracuda parts car." He had our interest. Telling us that the Barracuda was missing parts and too rusty to fix, he showed us the gem hidden behind his garage. At first glance, the car did look bad. The passenger compartment floors were rusted away; the firewall and cowl were rusty; the windshield was broken; and the front fenders were completely beat up. The interior was all but missing, along with most of the exterior trim, hood, and rear bumper. Upon closer inspection, however, we discovered this Barracuda could be the ideal platform for a race car project. The missing parts were items that we would strip from the car or replace with fiberglass anyway. The broken windshield would be replaced with Lexan, along with the other windows. While the floorboards were rusty, the frame of the car was intact and rust-free, so the floors would be an easy fix. Even better, someone had converted the front brakes to late-model A-body discs, which is ideal for a race car. Also ideal-this car is equipped with manual brakes and steering. Looking closely at the roof, quarters, and rocker panels, we discovered they were almost rust-free.
Also working to our advantage was the fact that both cars came as a package deal for $600. We bought both, and then sold the Dart on ebay for $375, which left us with our project Barracuda costing the whopping sum of $225.
Before we can begin upgrading...
Before we can begin upgrading our car, we'll need to make some sheetmetal repairs. In our next installment, we'll replace the floors in our Barracuda with new sheetmetal from the Paddock.
As with any build, be it a full on restoration or a race car like ours, a plan must be laid out before the work can begin. By clearly defining our goals, we can ration our budget accordingly and spend money where it is needed and save money where we can get away with it. The car must be able to pass NHRA tech, and we plan to have the chassis certified to run as quick as 8.50 in the quarter, so quality and safety will not be sacrificed. This car may never see 8- or even 9-second timeslips, but building the chassis to those standards gives us the peace of mind that this will be a safe race car.
When selecting an engine for this application, we carefully considered our choices, including the Hemi (we wish) and the small-block, and then made the logical decision of a big-block to power our bracket racer. The big-block has many advantages in this type of car; the first being displacement. Bigger engines just have the potential for more power than small ones, so it's really a no-brainer. The second advantage of a big-block is the torque that a big-block Chrysler makes. Shaving elapsed time at the starting line through torque equates to lower elapsed times in the quarter-mile, which is our ultimate goal. The third advantage of the big-block is we can make great power at a low rpm, which will ultimately make our engine last longer. Aside from the high number of start-ups a drag racing engine endures, rpm is the biggest killer of engine parts. By using a good oil system and keeping the revs under 7,000 rpm, we'll ensure the bearings will last a couple of seasons before needing to be changed. Keeping with the budget theme, we'll be using a mid-'70s 400 block and forged 440 crankshaft that we had around the shop to build a 451-inch, low-deck engine for the Barracuda.
The 8 1/4 rearend in our Barracuda...
The 8 1/4 rearend in our Barracuda isn't quite strong enough for a hard-core drag racing application, so it will be removed and replaced with either a stout 8 3/4 unit or an indestructible Dana 60. Parts we don't use, such as the 8 1/4 rearend, will be sold to add to our budget for this build.
The ultimate goal for this project is to build a safe, reliable, consistent, and fast bracket car on a fixed budget. In round numbers, just under $10,000 is what we have to spend on parts for this project. This seems like a significant amount of money until you start pricing the parts we'll need. New Edelbrock heads are some $1,300 and the rear tires alone will set us back almost $500. Our goal is to maximize the performance of this vehicle while still retaining a factory appearance, so we'll lighten it up with fiberglass parts and polycarbonate windows where we can.
Another of our goals is reliability, so a significant portion of our budget will be spent on the engine, transmission, and rear differential.
Installing a Competition Engineering...
Installing a Competition Engineering rollcage will test our fabrication and welding skills. Be sure to follow along as we perform some low-tech metal work and show you what it takes to install a legal and safe rollcage.
There was really only one option when it came to picking a transmission for this car. The 727 TorqueFlite automatic is tough, consistent, and relatively inexpensive to build for this type of application. Of course, we'll freshen the transmission and beef it up with a bolt-in sprag and manual valvebody, then install a loose converter for hard launches. TorqueFlites are plentiful, and we can pick one up for less than 100 bucks, saving more of our budget for engine and transmission internals. Behind the transmission, we're still undecided. We will certainly keep the rearend all Chrysler by utilizing either an 8-3/4 unit or a Dana 60. The 8-3/4 would need to be beefed-up substantially, but would still cost less than the Dana. In the interest of reliability, however, the indestructible Dana 60 may be our logical choice.
Our plan for the car itself is pretty simple. We'll repair it, lighten it, stiffen it, and add the safety equipment necessary for chassis certification and tech inspection. We'll be adding framerail connectors, torque boxes, and a 12-point rollcage to make this car safe to drive at high speeds, stiffening the chassis in the process. installing these items will add significant weight to our car, so we'll counteract the weight gain by installing polycarbonate windows and fiberglass body parts. This should bring the car's weight back to what it was before the cage, frame connectors, and torque boxes were added. The factory leaf springs will be replaced with Super Stock units, and a pinion snubber will help plant the rear tires. Front suspension will be treated to new bushings and shocks, and the factory brakes will be rebuilt to perform like new.
Our factory fuel tank will...
Our factory fuel tank will be replaced with an NHRA-legal fuel cell and new fuel lines. we'll get it out of our way along with the factory fuel system.
You'll notice we are leaving the aesthetics for last-spending money on the core of the vehicle and getting it to the track before we even thinking about painting it. Our goal is to build a race car, and we'll do that first before making it look good. We have no problem showing up at the track in a primered car as long as it runs good numbers.
So there you have it. follow along as we complete our project, and you're certain to learn something. Even if you don't plan to build a race car, many of our methods and techniques can be applied to a street car or dual-purpose vehicle with good success.
Once the car is completed, Amy will be racing it at tracks in central Florida and the southeast, so be sure to come and say hello. we value the opinion of our readers, so feel free to e-mail us at www.moparmusclemagazine.com to let us know what you think of our plan.