A stute PHR readers will remember this '65 Dodge Coronet from the "Hometown Heroes" photo contest in our January '09 issue, but my personal introduction to the hot rodding world of Brandon Bussard would come several months later.
I was walking down vendor's row at the South Bend stop on the '09 Power Tour, when I heard a distinct rumble following me down the aisle. I turned around, expecting to see another first-gen F-body with a flashy paintjob and big hoops. Instead, I saw a two-tone '02 Ford Focus (also featured in the same "Hometown Heroes" issue), pulling up to the Edelbrock display and drawing a big crowd in the process.
As the sea of humanity closed in around the Focus, everyone clamored for a glimpse of the stroked 5.0 that had been crammed under the hood of the little econobox. I remember thinking the car looked familiar and when I returned home a few days later, the dossier on this '65 Coronet was waiting for me and all the pieces fell into place.
Brandon is an avowed Ford EFI enthusiast, as evidenced by his radical compact creation, but he also has a strong affinity for the golden years of hot rodding, when match races between the original A/FX "funny cars" were all the rage. This altered-wheelbase '65 Dodge Coronet is a product of that passion, but his sights weren't always set on hot rods.
"I didn't actually get into cars until about 10 years ago," admits Brandon. "I had worked with my dad at a service station when I was younger, but it was just a job. I was a drummer, received a scholarship, and was planning on going to Indiana University."
When Brandon couldn't get into Indiana's music school as a freshman, he had what he described as a "reality check" and took his life in a different direction. "I'd always liked cars," he says, "so I went to Automotive Tech school at Ivy Tech in Fort Wayne, Indiana."
As Brandon pursued his ASE certification, he began working for Gary Ball at his Rod and Custom Shop in Syracuse, Indiana. That's where he first crossed paths with the bare shell of the '65 Coronet Ball he purchased. "Gary got me into Mopars because that was his thing. It was '32 Fords, '40-41 Willys, and then we got into '62-'65 Mopars pretty heavily," remembers Brandon.
The first step in transforming the Coronet was altering the wheelbase. For that task, Ball enlisted the services of Seattle's Rich LeFebvre, who was at one time considered "the guy" when it came to slicing sheetmetal for altered wheebase cars. This Coronet is rumored to be the last car LeFebvre completed before he embarked on what might best be described as a bizarre sabbatical.
A story appearing in a June '08 issue of Seattle Weekly magazine that claimed Lefebvre was busy shooting a "self-financed remake of Calamari Union, Kaurismki's '85 cult film about a bunch of aging Helsinki rockers who all mysteriously share the name Frank." That report leaves us wondering if Joaquin Phoenix is hunkered down in a garage somewhere, chalking off cut lines on a '63 Tempest quarter-panel.
Once the Coronet made its way back to Indiana, the only metalwork that remained was in the trunk area and the fabrication of post sedan doors to fit the hardtop body. That task proved to be the toughest part of the build, with several days spent just making the donor doors fit and look right.
With the bodywork behind them, the group was able to move onto other elements of the build. "Our original plan was to do fenderwell headers and one of the new 528 Hemis and probably swing toward an EFI Hilborn setup," says Brandon.
As time went on, their goals changed and even included discussions of making it an exact, authentic race car for competition in Nostalgia Super/Stock events. The crew working on the car also evolved during this time. Originally, there were three guys working on the car at Ball's shop, but attrition eventually reduced that number to just Brandon. "Gary was out of town all the time at shows and I ended up fabricating and building the car," he says.