With the merciless grunt of a 426 Hemi on tap on a tight 1.3-mile road course, an extra tug or two on the five-point harness seems like a good idea. You see, beating the pee-turkey out of someone else's $200,000 street machine isn't all it's cracked up to be. When the test vehicle at hand was literally finished the night before, you're the lab rat who gets to sort through its mechanical bugs for the very first time. What an honor. Just three laps into the test session, it's clear that cinching down the seatbelt extra tight was indeed a good idea. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with any malicious handling proclivities, but rather the pleasantly surprising amount of stick this untested combination dishes out.
The latest creation to come from the partnership between Unique Performance and Chip Foose is a line of '70 and '71 Dodge Challengers. Avid PHR readers will recall our coverage of the Foose '69 Camaro in our January 2006 issue. In case you missed it, here's quick recap. Based in Farmers Branch, Texas, Unique Performance rescues piles of rust no one else will touch, gives them the full handling rubdown, and then offers them to the public as turnkey production cars. Its line of fastback Mustangs, endorsed by and developed with Carroll Shelby, put the company on the map.
A few years back, Unique Performance forged a symbiotic relationship with Chip Foose. Enthusiasts in the know are well aware that Chip's Huntington Beach, California shop builds cars that bag Ridlers and AMBR trophies at will. He intentionally keeps his operation small, as the nature of building multimillion-dollar street rods is an extremely low-volume business. However, his recent TV stardom has attracted a new demographic of potential customers seeking more plebian musclecars. His shop simply lacks the manpower to meet that demand, and that's where Unique Performance comes in. Chip designs them, Unique builds them, and the team's new line of Challengers is the latest in a series of musclecars the partnership will produce. "The response to the Foose '69 Camaro was fantastic, which led to an outpouring of requests for a similar car from Mopar fans," says Doug Hasty, president of Unique Performance. "Our Challenger will fulfill those wishes with a very, very small run of an even more exclusive Mopar."
Exterior DesignEven from a distance, there's no mistaking the Challenger for anything other than a Foose concoction. Adding contemporary panache without corrupting the essence of a musclecar has become Chip's trademark, and this car is no different. Aggressive yet subdued, the car wears a two-tone paint scheme bisected by a contrasting strobe stripe pattern along its beltline. A custom front grille and hood, rear spoiler delete, and re-contoured, body-colored bumpers add continuity to the flow of the body lines. Custom Foose wheels-19s up front and 20s out back-tuck neatly into their wheelwells, augmenting the car's intimidating stance.
PowertrainUnique Performance isn't down with building poseur cars. "Our goal is to transform these Challengers into pink-slip-winning, Z06-eating supercars," proclaims Hasty. Backing up that kind of talk requires some seriously potent powerplants, but Unique has that covered with a modern 5.7L Hemi, rated at 360 hp. Fortunately, Unique didn't stop there. An extra $17,500 buys a real Hemi that displaces a nostalgic 426 ci. Built by the Hemi gurus at Indy Cylinder Head, it cranks out 540 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque. For the ultimate in drivability, a FAST fuel injection system is under development as well. Backing up either mill is a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed trans, a custom 3-inch aluminum driveshaft, and a 3.55:1-geared 8 3/4-inch Chrysler rear end with a limited-slip differential.
ChassisA solid chassis makes or breaks a real road car, and like Unique's past creations, the Foose Challenger boasts a thoroughly modernized suspension beneath its sheetmetal. Up front is a Magnum Force tubular K-member that incorporates a rack-and-pinion steering system, tubular upper and lower control arms, QA1 coilovers, and an adjustable sway bar. In the rear, a Chris Alston four-link setup with QA1 coilovers is standard, but for another $6,500 Unique will install its trick Watt's link system. The design features a tubular cradle that bolts to the rear subframe, and allows mounting the QA1 coilovers at an angle almost parallel to the ground to reduce unsprung weight. The Watt's link, trailing arms, and torque arm are all adjustable for easy fine tuning. The only downside for Mopar purists is that the system is only offered with a Ford 9-inch rear end. Chassis stiffness is enhanced with custom subframe connectors and a four-point rollbar, and monster Baer disc brakes scrub off speed.
InteriorThe interior of a Foose-badged vehicle is never an afterthought, and by simply peeking inside, it's quite obvious that no ordinary designer laid out the Challenger's cabin. From the custom black leather bucket seats, which feature attractive suede inserts, the driver faces a 15-inch leather-wrapped steering wheel and a custom dash. Hidden beneath that dash are the brake and clutch fluid reservoirs, built by Kugel Komponents. The custom carbon-fiber instrument panel houses Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges, each accented by an aluminum bezel. Depending on customer preference, the center console is home to either a single-disc CD player, or an optional DVD navigation system ($4,500) with a 10-disc changer ($900). The Hurst pistol grip shifter is retro, but its carbon-fiber handle is not and appropriately matches the interior's modern theme. The entire cabin is lined with sound dampening material, and the floors are covered with the same high-grade wool carpet found in a Mercedes. Of course, standard A/C is a given.
On The TrackThe freshly built auxiliary road course at Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, Texas, is 1.3-miles of sheer intimidation for a driver unfamiliar with its layout. It's a tight, technical circuit that mixes up high-speed, double-apex sweepers with blind crests and unsettling elevation changes. Regardless of how well a car is built, it will always reveal some mechanical quirks its first time out at the track, and the Challenger is no exception. That should make for a rather harrowing experience, but the chassis builds driver confidence after just a few laps. Although steering is somewhat vague and the brakes lack bite, the Challenger performs quite admirably. Roll and dive are virtually non-existent during heavy cornering and braking loads, and prodigious rear grip allows hitting the gas early and hard on corner exit. We've driven cars with half the power that struggle to keep oversteer in check. Speaking of the motor, the Hemi is a true beast. Although a relatively small hydraulic cam in a 426ci motor ensures superb low-speed tractability, it still pulls hard past 6,000 rpm.
According to Unique's head R&D man, David Reed, a prototype caliper bracket on our test car only allowed half of the brake pads to clamp down on the rotors. Likewise, the vague steering could be attributable to something as simple as low tire pressure or improperly aligned front tires. Nonetheless, all of Unique's production cars endure hundreds of hours of street and on-track testing to sort out these types of issues. It just so happens that our deadline meant the test laps we ran were the very first the Challenger had ever turned, period. Taking that into account, the Foose Challenger is a pretty respectable performer.
The Foose Challenger isn't cheap, coming in at a base price of $189,000. Various options can boost that price tag to $228,000. Obviously, this isn't a car for the average working stiff, but cars like this have never been about bang for the buck. They're about being jealous of the guys who do have the bucks. It's not very likely that anyone with the necessary means would chose to build his own Challenger-which probably wouldn't turn out as nicely in the first place-over a limited edition Challenger penned by one of the greatest designers of our time. And that's precisely the point.
|BY THE NUMBERS |
Cost: approx. $200,000
|Type: || |
426ci Chrysler Hemi
|Block: || |
Mopar Performance, bored to 4.250
|Oiling: || |
Milodon 7qt pan
|Crank: || |
Eagle 3.750-inch forged steel
|Rods: || |
Eagle steel H-beams
|Pistons: || |
Keith Black 10.25:1 forged
|Pistons: || |
Keith Black 10.25:1 forged
Cylinder heads: Indy Cylinder Head castings, 2.25/1.94-inch valves
|Camshaft: || |
COMP 227/227-at-0.050 hydraulic roller, .512/.496-inch lift
|Induction: || |
Indy manifold, BG 750-cfm Mighty Demon carb
|Fuel system: || |
stainless steel 18-gal tank;
internally mounted Aeromotive A1000 pump
|Exhaust: || |
Hooker headers, 2.5-inch collectors and mufflers
|Output: || |
540 hp and 490 lb-ft
|Built by: || |
Indy Cylinder Head
DrivetrainTransmission:Tremec TKO 600 five-speed, Ram 11-inch clutchRear axle:Ford 9-inch, 3.89:1 gears, limited-slip differential
ChassisFrame:stock with custom subframe connectors, four-point rollbarFront suspension:Magnum Force K-member, QA1 coiloversRear suspension:custom Watt's link, QA1 coiloversBrakes:Baer 14-inch rotors with six-piston calipers, front; Baer 13-inch rotors with four-piston calipers, rear
|WHEELS & TIRES |
|Wheels: || |
custom Foose 19x8, front; 20x10, rear
|Tires: || |
Dunlop 245/40-19, front; 295/40-20, rear