Alloways Hot Rod Shop is in the process of building this 70 Dodge Challenger which should
PHR: Which Mopars do you see being the most sought after and why?
Johnson: I think the '70-'71 'Cuda is going to be the mainstream Mopar piece. It's going to be the '32 Ford of the street machine world. That's the prettiest of the cars Mopar has done. It's got all the looks and they've got a bad-ass look, more so than any of the other Mopar products.
Delaney: That's an obvious one because you can't even find an E-body convertible. They've gone through the roof. It's like buying a tech stock in 1999--you can't go wrong. The only difference is they kept printing stocks, but they stopped making E-bodies. The big thing is that the kids are liking them now. The desire to own one is running through people age 20 on up. That's a big problem in the street rod hobby right now--the kids just aren't there.
Trepanier: Definitely the Barracudas. The '70-'71. It's such a nice looking car. You can change a few things proportionally on it and it almost looks like a Camaro on steroids. You could take a little length out of the front and it looks good.
Strope: Right now it's E-body, absolutely. A couple of years ago, they got bidded up on the auction blocks. Even when the number-one car shoots up in price, that drags up the price on the plain-jane 'Cuda. It's a domino effect.
"The Challenger looks like the way you'd want a Camaro to look like. Chrysler had it toget
Alloway: It would have to be the Barracuda or Challenger. Then you're looking at Road Runners and GTXs. Why? Hell, I drove a '70 AAR 'Cuda in high school. I bought a brand-new one in 1970. My first job was with a Chrysler dealership. I grew up with those cars, I took them for granted then but looking back, that was the car. The Barracuda was hotter than a Challenger.
Staveski: My opinion, the three most sought after cars are '70-'71 Plymouth Barracudas, then probably '70-'71 Dodge Challengers, and the third would be '68-'70 Dodge Chargers. These are probably the most classic, most popular designs Chrysler ever did.
PHR: Are E-bodies the new '69 Camaro?
Johnson: Yeah, I think so. The Camaros have been the top dog in the street machine world just like the '32 Ford has been in the street rod world. The Camaros have been done to death and the majority of them all have the same look. But the 'Cudas were the most compact of that type of musclecar, and they were more aggressive looking. For the last year and a half the restored 'Cudas have been on fire and that's pushing into the street machine end of it.
Delaney: Except for lack of supply, yes. I say to the company who stamped out the '69 Camaro convertible body, if you don't stamp out a convertible 'Cuda body right behind it, I don't understand it. It's the highest demand with the lowest supply right now. If somebody will build the bodies, they will come.
Trepanier: Absolutely. As long as people start making parts for them, where the guys can do these cars without having to search junkyards and pay ridiculous amounts of money for NOS stuff, because that will kill a guy doing one of these at home. Twenty-five hundred dollars for NOS window trim--for just the front glass is ridiculous.
"When I started doing this the purists didn't like it and they told me so. I always liked
Strope: Yup, but to only those who can afford 'em. They've gotten real popular with the collectors. On top of that you've got Nash Bridges, Sick Fish and the high-profile TV cars, which have been E-bodies. Next up will be the B-bodies--Chargers and Road Runners.
Alloway: Yeah, they are. Everybody's done Camaros. If you look at the Challenger we're doing, it looks like a souped-up Camaro. It's a little longer and skinnier, a little leaner, and the roof's chopped off. The Camaro's a little fatter looking. The Challenger looks like the way you'd want a Camaro to look like. Chrysler had it together back then.
Staveski: Absolutely. The '69 Camaro and the '57 Chevy are probably the two cars that have been built the most. People want something different and builders are trying to stand out from the crowd, which is why you've got Troy Trepanier building a 'Cuda for Joe Rogan. Mopars have not been done. It was taboo to cut a Mopar.
PHR: Are you making a concerted effort to focus more on Mopars, or is this interest coming from your more in-tune customers?
Johnson: I want to build something that interests me, whether it's a car for me or for my customer. This particular car, the '71 'Cuda we're doing for Bob Johnson, has been a car that both myself and my customer have been wanting to build. I've got another Mopar project lined up for another customer but two years ago we'd never done a Mopar project. I've always wanted to do one, but didn't want to do a restored one. Restorations do not interest me, and that had been the only interest my customers had shown until Bob Johnson came along. So it was really made possible by Bob, who funded the build.
Delaney: That's easy for me because I've always been Mopar. My primary focus has always been Mopar, it's just that I've got a lot more business all of a sudden. I'm turning jobs down now. Before, I took all comers. And almost all of them are custom cars where before they were restorations.
Trepanier: It started for us with the Snyper back in '96, but most of the Mopar stuff we're doing has been customer-provoked. But now that I'm more aware of the body styles from doing them, I'm more familiar with them and interested in doing them.
Strope: I've been doing it before it was in vogue. When I started doing this the purists didn't like it and they told me so. I always liked Mopars because they were different and they were alternative. I saw it as an opportunity to do something different, not because I was brand loyal or anything like that.
Alloway: No, it was my idea. I was just lucky enough to find a customer who would let me do it for him. I threw the concept at him and he said, "Go with it." It's hard to get somebody to spend a bunch of money on a '70 model car. A '70 model car can't go everywhere--we're limited to the events we can go to. A pre-'48 car you can take anywhere.
The price of stock-restored Mopars has just gone through the roof, which has opened people
Staveski: Honestly, we've been in the Mopar world for a while. We're one of the few builders who have been modifying Mopars for the past seven or eight years. The trend has finally caught up with us. We put a V-10 in a Challenger in 1998.
PHR: Why not Ford or Buick or Pontiac?
Johnson: It's not just the Mopars. Each brand has its own best car from an appearance or performance standpoint. And each brand has particularly bad cars. Most people could come up with at least one car from a manufacturer that they'd like to have in their garage. But I think a lot of the Mopar stuff is hot right now because it's being driven by the prices of the restored Mopar musclecars. I just think that's got a direct reflection on what's being built in the street machine world. I know it does with Bob Johnson anyway. He wouldn't be spending this kind of money on this kind of build if it weren't for the desirability we're seeing right now.
Delaney: It's value. Today, you can put your money into, say, a Coronet R/T convertible and expect to get $36,000. The E-bodies have provided people with an avenue where they can put the money into a car and actually get out of it what they put in. Those other cars out there are in such supply that it's hard to push the price up. The only two Mopars out there not bringing the money are the Duster and Dart because the supply is so high now, but it's gonna change. A lot of people are buying Dusters right now.
Trepanier: Honestly, Chrysler is bringing back all their heritage. I think that's the generation gap and the awareness. They're definitely feeding off what they used to do, the 300C thing, the Hemi thing, the Charger. From a marketing standpoint they've done an excellent job. It seems to me Chrysler is more the hot rod brand. Back in the old days the stuff was inexpensive and now the new stuff is too. You can get a loaded 300C for $38 grand, that's not a lot of money.
Strope: I think it was kind of coming. I think it's a combination of being in the right place at the right time. The factory had something to do with it by bringing things out like the Hemi and the P/T Cruiser. The manufacturer was ready for it and the buying public was ready for it.
Alloway: Everybody's done a Mustang; everybody's done a Camaro. When you can pick up a magazine and order anything you want--you can buy every piece to a Camaro--what's the point? I'm building a Mustang, but the Challenger's a cooler car. The Ford is just like a '55 Chevrolet--it's hard to build a better one than what's already been done.
Staveski: For my clients who are investing large sums of money into a project, a Mopar has the best return on that money.
PHR: Has the factory been in touch with you regarding your project car buildups? What are some of the things they're telling you? Things they're looking for? Concepts they're trying to emphasize?
Johnson: No, they haven't. I wouldn't let them or a customer put any demands on what we're building. If I can't build it the way I envision it, I just wouldn't be interested. At least there are certain demands I wouldn't let them or a customer put on me. If I didn't agree with the engine choice or a color choice, I'm pretty stubborn about stuff like that and I wouldn't go along with it. Before, we contacted Chrysler and worked back and forth for three months and it never materialized. They showed interest at first but it never went anywhere. We talked with them at SEMA and at PRI, and then nothing. That's been three year ago, before they had any musclecars at SEMA. When Tom Gale was there, not only was he involved with making the new cars, he was backing the big-name shops who were doing the hot rod projects. We need somebody at Mopar who cares what's happening with the street machines and the shops that are using their products. It didn't take GM that long to figure out they needed an LS6 crate motor to get out to the public for use in street machines and street rods.
Delaney: I have spoken with David Hakim at Mopar Performance. We discussed putting together a Challenger. We haven't gotten much past the discussions, but the car body they're liking right now is the Challenger. It's a Dodge, not a Plymouth. I showed a Plymouth last year at SEMA and there is no Plymouth. It makes no marketing statement for them and they do the displays for marketing. As far as the 'Cuda, which is more popular than the Challenger, they could get away with putting the Pentastar on [a new] 'Cuda and get away with calling it a Chrysler. Just put the Pentastar down low representing the Chrysler name. After all, they did switch the Prowler over to Chrysler.
Trepanier: On the new stuff, we've been contacted several times to do a new Charger for SEMA. I think we're going to do one, but I'm not sure yet. Since Tom Gale and Bob Longstreth have left on the factory side, support has been weak on these Mopar hot rod projects. What I think might happen is that once they see these projects completed they're going to be excited about them. Some of the builders are going to be disappointed that they didn't get any help on the front end of the project. Well-known shops are having to regain their credibility with DaimlerChrysler. A lot of the new designers over there push our names in the meetings they have, but we're only starting to get through. We're having to gain our credibility--again.
Strope: With me, I have dealt one-on-one with Mopar Performance, but the only agenda they have is that the Mopar Performance parts are marketed. I've just begun conversations with DaimlerChrysler about working on a new Charger. Now Mopar Performance wants me to do a six-speed with a Viper transmission and a Hemi, but DaimlerChrysler might not want that at all. We're discussing the new Charger project with Mopar Performance and we're going to do that even if the factory doesn't like it. Mopar Performance has its own budget; it's kind of like giving your kid $20 to spend at the mall. My agenda is to make a new Charger and be as cool as it can be. One other thing--they did not want Plymouth in the [SEMA] booth. There was some concern from Chrysler about having Plymouths.
Alloway: Yes. I got started with the factory on this deal. We were going to put a new Hemi in it with a twin turbo from Gale Banks. My guy at Chrysler, Bob Longstreth, got fired and they left me holding the bag. I couldn't get anybody else to pick up with the car, so I had to sell it to a customer. We were so deep into the project, we had to go to Indy Cylinder Heads. I really wanted to be at Chrysler's booth at SEMA. I turned down a lot of projects to do this one. Bob Longstreth at Chrysler originally wanted us to shoot for the Street Machine Of The Year award with a Hemi crate motor.
Bob Johnson's g-Force 'Cuda is well underway at Johnson's Hot Rod Shop in Gadsden, Alabama
Staveski: Yes, the factory has been in touch with me. I think they are from the Mopar Performance side of things really trying to get more in tune with what is going on out there, as evidenced by the 5.7L crate Hemi and the retooling of the other Hemi crate motor lines. They're getting more active in the licensing of parts that are hard to find--trim pieces, and so on... They just licensed to Goodmark a full quarter-panel for a Dodge Challenger. The factory side of things really believes, I've been told, that four-door cars are what sell and the two-door platform really doesn't sell as well. I think if Chrysler would come out with a two-door 'Cuda or Challenger like the new Mustang--Hemi-powered rear-wheel drive, two-door--they would sell more units than they could build.