Don't mind the lemmings that say stock is junk. They're probably the same goofballs who prefer impressing random Internet bench racers with long lists of mods rather than actually going fast in real life. Granted, the very essence of hot rodding involves replacing inadequate stock hardware with superior aftermarket components, but we pity the car whose ETs don't stack up to the sum of its parts. Staying on budget is all about accurately gauging when stock parts will suffice and when they won't. Josh Gaspard is an expert at doing so, as evidenced in his '73 Challenger. It's the ideal balance of factory and aftermarket. It's stock enough to keep things cheap, modified enough to run 11.80s, and fast enough to humiliate far more heavily modified machines.
Take the motor, for instance. It's nothing more than a factory 360 small-block with Edelbrock aluminum heads and a big solid flat-tappet cam. Josh bracket races the Challenger in a foot-brake class every weekend during racing season, and when his built 416 threw a rod out of the block, he needed to quickly put something together to hold him over. Consequently, he picked up a 360 for next to nothing, cleaned up the block, and threw in a fresh set of rings and bearings along with some KB hypereutectic pistons. "The only reason I built it was so I wouldn't have to miss any track time while I'm working on building a new 418," Josh says. "It's a real simple motor and I didn't expect it to run as good as it has. I was only planning on running 12.50s with it, but at 11.81 at 113 mph, it's within three-tenths of the 416 I had in the car."
Also stock on the Challenger...
Also stock on the Challenger are its front disc and rear drum brakes.
After three full seasons of abuse behind the 416, the Challenger's TorqueFlite trans wasn't quite dead, but sprung a few leaks. Instead of ordering a turnkey aftermarket trans, Josh rebuilt it himself for a miniscule $350 in parts. "Rebuilding a trans for the first time is pretty overwhelming, but fortunately the 727 trans is easy to work on, and I had my friend Pat Kotzur help me out," he explains. "Since I had a back-up trans in my garage just in case things didn't work out, I bought a repair manual and decided to go for it. You have to pay close attention to how the lip seals are oriented on the front and rear drums, but once you rebuild a trans once or twice, the process gets pretty easy." Furthermore, while Dana 60s are irrefutably pimp, Josh knew that the Challenger's factory 8 3/4-inch rearend was up to snuff for the task at hand. He rebuilt it and swapped in some 3.91:1 gears at home for $600. If we include the price of a Precision Industries torque converter, the entire driveline rings up to a total of less than $1,700.
Although it wasn't hooked...
Although it wasn't hooked up during our photo shoot, Josh fabbed an air pan that feeds fresh air from the hoodscoop to the carb.
Motors and drivelines comprise a large chunk of any car's budget, but it's the little stuff that can really set you back. To counter this ugly reality, Josh relied on his extensive fabrication skills. Instead of taking the Challenger to a chassis shop, Josh bought a generic rollbar kit out of the Jeg's catalog, and welded it in himself. "I had to bend the main hoop a little to get it to fit more closely to the door panels, but it wasn't that bad of a job," he recalls. Likewise, he welded up the custom X-pipe at home using a tubing kit from Summit. To further pinch pennies, the water pump, radiator, and fuel tank are all stock replacement pieces, as opposed to costlier aftermarket alternatives. "The water pump is a $50 AutoZone special, and it works great."
While the suspension delivers respectable 1.63-second 60-foot times, it's also a product of the keep-it-simple school of thought. The front end is completely stock, freshened up with a PST rebuild kit. Out back, the hook is enhanced with Calvert Racing leaf springs and Rancho adjustable shocks, but the suspension retains stock geometry. "Since I run street classes at the track sometimes, I couldn't upgrade to coilovers and had to stick with leaf springs," he explains. "Beside, if they'll work on 9-second cars, they'll work just fine on an 11-second car." The most interesting aspect of the suspension is the custom traction bars. "CalTracs bars are a proven system, but I didn't want to spend that kind of money, so I borrowed some from a friend, and copied them as best as I could in my garage out of raw metal stock."
The only other major expense that hasn't been documented thus far is the bodywork, and doing so requires digging deeper into the Challenger's history. The car was originally purchased by Josh's dad, Paul, in 1989 with a decent interior and its original 340 still intact. Despite having 250,000 miles on the clock, it ran 13.30s with just minor induction and exhaust modifications. After losing interest in his '69 Barracuda, Josh bought the Challenger from his dad for $3,600 in 1997. It served as his daily driver through high school, but after smashing up the front end, it sat neglected for a couple of years. When he decided to restore it with the help of his dad, the two suddenly became familiar with unfamiliar territory. "We're your typical car guys, not paint and body guys, so doing bodywork was quite a learning experience," Paul explains.
In addition to patching up the floorpans, they picked up a hood, grille, and passenger-side fender from a swap meet to replace the crunched up panels. However, hanging them on the car was the easy part. So the Challenger would look less like a rolling anachronism, Josh decided to remove the vinyl top. "That was a lot of work because the roofs on vinyl-top cars were built very sloppy from the factory," Josh says. After performing the raw metal work themselves, they let their friend Dewey Perankovich handle the finishing touches and apply the DuPont Dandelion paint. Thanks to his sheer determination and generous friends, Josh got the bodywork done for a mere $1,500.
It takes a trained eye to...
It takes a trained eye to spot it, but the Challenger's hood isn't a factory Six Pack piece.
Almost lost in all the hoopla about pushing the limits of stock components is the fact that this isn't just any 11-second car built for $16,000. It's an 11-second E-body built for $16,000. OK, so it's a Challenger, not its more seductive platform counterpart, the 'Cuda. We also concede that a '73 isn't the most coveted model year for this vintage Challenger. But given these idiosyncrasies in minutia, who really gives a hoot? Sure, the Challenger lineup was seriously diluted by the '73 model year, but we're not living in 1973 anymore. Purists can criticize the '73's front end styling and loop grille for looking less manly than earlier model years, but without an abundance of '70s on the road to provide a frame of reference, the car looks downright menacing compared to any amorphous late-model blob. Likewise, even though Chrysler dropped 440s and Hemis from the E-body lineup in later years, you can swap in any motor you want 30 years later.
Ultimately, not everyone needs to budget as frugally as Josh, but most people are on some kind of real-world budget. As Josh's Challenger proves, although it clashes with the core tenets of hot rodding, keeping certain parts stock isn't always a bad thing. While that means you won't have a long list of mods to show off to your friends, what's the point of impressing a lemming anyway?
Despite a relatively loose...
Despite a relatively loose 4,800 stall speed, Josh says the Challenger is very streetable.