Matt Delaney of Shreveport, La., has always maintained the habit of keeping a barn full of cars to, in his words, "build one day." So it was no wonder that when he caught wind of a local convertible Challenger for sale, he was quick to find more room out back. As always, Matt was busy working on several other cars so the Challenger joined the ever-growing group of "someday" cars. That all changed when a friend of Matt's named Marcus Wren came into the picture. Matt and Marcus had worked together on several projects over the years and Marcus had just finished having some wheel time in the Hemi-powered AAR 'Cuda on the '05 Power Tour. Driving the AAR 'Cuda was such an enjoyable experience that Marcus made the mistake of offering to go in as partners on the newly acquired ragtop.
At first, the pair planned to use a 540-inch Hemi, but when they learned that a new SRT8 Challenger was on the horizon, their plan switched gears to a more modern approach.
Unfortunately, even with their connections, they were unable to secure a new 6.1L engine for the convertible. As fate would have it, they mentioned their dilemma to Shafi Keisler of Keisler Engineering and he surprised them with the news that he just happened to have a couple. Luckily for Matt and Marcus, Shafi is the kind of guy who shares.
However, the plan changed once again at the Mopar Nationals when Matt started talking with David Hakim of Mopar Performance about their project to combine old iron with high-tech performance and comfort. Turns out that Mopar Performance would not be releasing the 6.1L Hemi and would be going straight to their new 392 cubic-inch stroker version. What really got Matt and Marcus's attention was when they were told of the new stroker's power output of 510 hp and 510 ft-lbs of torque. Hands were shaken and the team agreed to build the '70 Challenger with the new 392 for the Mopar Performance display at the '05 SEMA show. The 6.1L powerplant obtained from Shafi was moved to another project. It wasn't until they got home that Matt and Marcus realized that they had just committed their team to an ultra-short, 88-day build!
With SEMA on the not-so-distant horizon, the project moved into a nitrous-injected high gear. First up was the complete disassembly of the vintage Mopar. Everything forward of the firewall was cut off in preparation for the modifications to come. The tops of the frame rails were carefully removed and 1/8-inch plate steel was fitted and welded to the inside of each side of the frame rail. Gussets were added every six inches and the top was welded back into place. The entire cowl was then rebuilt with more 1/8-inch plate steel to add even more structural rigidity. Next, a 1x2-inch tubing frame was built from the outside of the cowl to the shock tower support, forward to the radiator core support and down to the front of the frame. Subframe connectors, along with an X-frame and two additional cross-frames were welded in to aid in stiffness and the installation of a Heidt's independent rear suspension. Moving to the rear of the car, the entire rear frame rail was also reinforced with the plate steel. As Matt told it, "There were many other modifications made, but suffice it to say, the body rigidity necessary for the modern ride and handling was obtained."
Next up was the suspension. Matt was very happy with the performance of his previous AAR 'Cuda so he decided to stick with the proven components. Up front an Alter-K-Tion suspension from Reilly Motor Sports with a Flaming River rack-and-pinion helps the car go were it's pointed. The rear was fitted with an 8-inch narrowed SuperRide IRS from Heidt's, complete with 3.73 gears. Alden shocks in the rear and QA1s up front help dampen the ride while Wilwood six-piston calipers on all four corners combined with a Hydro-boost system from Hydro Tech help the '70 pile on the negative g's when needed. Wrapped around the brakes is a set of Fikse Profil 10 forged wheels in 17x8 up front and 18x10 in the rear. Nitto Extreme high-performance rubber in 245/45R17 and 295/45R18 maximizes the Challenger's contact patch with the asphalt. Just like that, the suspension was done and it was time to go to town on the paint and body.
The custom hood was on order, but with time running out the team could not wait for it before starting the paint and body. The 392 was not at the shop yet either, so the decision was made to fit the hood and drivetrain after the paint. Matt told PHR: "Anyone who has ever tried fitting a custom hood and engine after the car has been painted knows how scary this was, but with the super-short build schedule we had no choice. Mike in our body shop suggested that most of the aftermarket hoods are based on the flat hood rather than the rally style, so we used one for fitment." They also used the spare 6.1L engine, since it's dimensionally the same as the 392, to fab up the motor mounts and such. The car was dipped, e-primed and then Mike and his new apprentice Justin went to work on prepping the body for paint. Once the body was suitably straight it was shot in '01 Viper Sapphire blue. The body was reassembled using as much OEM trim as possible including a NOS grill that was restored over at Southland Restorations.
The 392 from Mopar Performance showed up to the shop just as the bodywork was being finished up. TTI worked a few miracles and came up with a set of prototype headers for stuffing the modern 392 into the E-body. The mill is kept cool by a Flex-A-Lite 29x19-inch radiator/fan/shroud combo. It should be noted that by the time you read this, the 392 should be available for purchase in crate form in naturally aspirated, fuel-injected form. Backing up the new-school Hemi is a Tremec TKO-600, five-speed transmission from Keisler Engineering complete with a McLeod clutch. Matt usually goes with a six-speed transmission, but he didn't want to cut the center brace of the convertible to get the T56 to fit. To give the Hemi-powered Challenger a deep rich tone, Matt contacted B&B Exhaust and, based on the artist's renderings by Justin Wren, B&B came up with an exhaust system to fit the unique requirements of the Dodge.
To help carry forward the SRT8 theme, Matt designed an appropriately modern interior. The seats, door panels and headliner were all stitched in a combination of Optima leather and suede. The carpet used is a high grade of English wool and the convertible top material is straight from Mercedes. It all results in a very modern feel. An updated center console was formed to the trans tunnel and filled with items like electric window controls, a start button and even a couple of cup holders. An A/C unit from Classic Auto Air keeps everyone suitably chilled even when they are burning up the highway, and SoffSeal weather stripping keeps the passenger compartment sealed from the elements. Red Line gauges track the health of the mill thumping under the hood and they look right at home behind the factory wood-grained dash bezel. If any car needs the benefit of a tilt steering wheel, it's an E-body, and this car was no exception. A Flaming River Waterfall steering wheel is bolted to the 32-inch tilt column which features cruise control. Tunes come courtesy of the Pioneer head-unit and speakers by Memphis. It all works together to make for an interior that's almost luxurious in its appointments.
The build team managed to get the Mopar done in the 88 days and met its obligation to debut the car in the Mopar Performance booth.
"Our goal was to create a classic musclecar with the performance and handling capabilities to rival the best sports cars produced today," says Matt.
After spending some time with the reworked E-body we would have to agree that their take on the SRT8 is truly the best of both worlds.