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.
The fuel lines running into...
The fuel lines running into the Hilborn stacks are purely cosmetic, but they do help maintain the correct Super Stock A/FX appearance.
Getting the right look inside...
Getting the right look inside and out was important, but so was keeping cool during a hot, summer cruise. Brandon solved the dilemma by hiding the Vintage Air control panel inside the glovebox.
The 440 block was an old race motor, which once pushed another car into the high 11s and produces about 375 hp. The factory cast-iron heads were completely rebuilt several years ago, but were languishing on a shelf in Ball's garage until they were pulled for this project and worked over pretty heavily.
Brandon and Ball knew they wanted the look of Hilborn injector stacks popping through the hood, but the historically correct mechanical fuel injection option seemed like an unreasonable choice for any use other than racing. Many builders have opted to go the EFI route in these applications, but they balked at that option on two fronts. Cost was one consideration, but the fact that EFI is simply not period correct for this car also played into the decision to go with an Edelbrock 750-cfm carburetor.
"We went with the 440 and the Carter-style setup, because it's really streetable and really reliable. It's a proven combination we've done in about 15 Mopars over the last five years," claims Brandon.
The period-correct Max Wedge cast-iron exhaust manifolds flow into dual 3-inch exhaust pipes, crafted from dairy-grade stainless steel tubing. "I do all my exhaust systems with that stuff," says Brandon, "because it's thicker and maintains a really bright, machined look at all times. I can also use the nicer ferrules and clamps on it, instead of that muffler shop crap."
When Brandon finished up school in 2003 and completed his ASE-certification process, he and his father decided to go out on their own. "We spent the next six years building this car on and off, while trying to start a business," says Brandon. The car was nearly complete, when Canadian, Walter Phillips, gave Ball an offer on the Coronet that he couldn't refuse.
At the time the Dodge changed hands, it had the motor and drivetrain in it, but the shell was still in primer and the rolling chassis had no interior. "Phillips had a crate Hemi and we actually thought about putting that in, but ended up not because he said he wanted to drive the car too, so we stuck with the original plan," says Brandon.
Bell finished up a spot-on interior, right down to the A990 seats and a heater/radio delete dashboard, while Phillips asked Brandon to make some changes in preparation for the Dodge's trip North of the border. "It has wipers and a four-headlight system. That was the only thing on the outside of it that wasn't cosmetically correct, but we had to do that for Canadian DOT regulations," says Brandon.
After finishing the car, Brandon and his dad drove it to shows for a few months and claim that their goal of building a driver was met. "It handles great; it's purely a driver," says Brandon. "That's why it's got that tall gear in the ass end, because we just wanted to drive it."
As much as he prefers working with EFI Fords, Brandon will always have a soft spot for altered cars and he certainly isn't closing the door on future projects. "The Mopar market was really big for about five or six years and from what I've seen in the Nostalgia race car scene, the Thunderbolts, Willys, Dodges, and Max Wedge clones are all bringing good money for what it costs to build them," says Brandon. "Everybody wants an old race car, man!"
Apparently, the economics of building these cars also has some appeal for Brandon. "For the money Gary had in the Coronet and the time my dad and I had in it, this car was built relatively cheap for an altered car. Those cars will bring anywhere from $75,000 up to $150,000, depending on the correctness of the car and if they're the real deal."
In fact, Brandon's current projects include a '40 Willys Coupe with a 392 Hemi, a '37 Chevy straight-axle Gasser, and a Thunderbolt clone he's working on with Ball. As for the Coronet, the only thing it's missing now is a traditional name, like the Dandy Dodge and Color Me Gone. "We never named it, because it ended up going to someone else," says Brandon.
By The Numbers
|’65 DODGE CORONET AWB A/FX |
|Builders: Gary Ball and Brandon Bussard, 28Warsaw, IN |
|Total cost to build: $55,000 |
|Type: ||Mopar 440 |
|Block: ||iron block, 4.62-inch bore, 3.75-inch stroke (bored over 0.030 inches) |
|Oiling: ||Melling oil pump, Milodon 7-quart pan |
|Rotating assembly: ||Mopar forged crank and Mopar Six-Pack rods; |
forged 11.5:1 Ross pistons
|Cylinder heads: ||factory cast-iron, heavily ported, 2.08-/1.75-inch valves |
|Camshaft: ||Mopar Purple hydraulic flat-tappet 248/248-at-0.050, |
0.509/0.509-inch lift, 108-degree LSA
|Valvetrain: ||Mopar Performance lifters, Cloyes billet timing set, |
Crane Gold Race 1.5:1 shaft-mount rockers
|Induction: ||Edelbrock Torker II intake manifold, Edelbrock 750-cfm carb |
|Ignition: ||MSD Pro Billet distributor, MSD coil, Taylor 8mm wires, and 6AL box |
|Fuel system: ||Carter 120-gph fuel pump |
|Exhaust: ||’64 Max Wedge Super Stock cast-iron manifold, |
dual 3-inch Stainless Flowmaster mufflers, dairy-grade stainless steel
|Cooling: ||re-cored four-row Mopar radiator and electric cooling fan |
|Built by: ||Gary Ball and Brandon Bussard Performance Specialties |
|Transmission: ||Mopar four-speed, Hurst Competition Plus shifter |
|Rear axle: ||’65 8¾-inch rearend, 489 case, 31-spline Moser axles and 3.50:1 gears; |
Mopar Sure-Grip differential
|Front suspension: ||moved forward 10 inches, custom-length, |
Mopar-style torsion bars, KYB Gas-a-Just shocks
|Rear suspension: ||moved forward 15 inches, custom super stock springs, |
KYB Gas-a-Just shocks
|Brakes: ||Later Mopar E-body 10-inch discs and Mopar |
one-piston calipers front and stock 11-inch drums in the rear
|WHEELS & TIRES |
|Wheels: ||ARE Torq Thrust D 15x4, front; Stock Mopar Size 15x8, rear |
|Tires: ||Mickey Thompson 28x7.5x15 Sportsman, front; |
BFGoodrich 275/70R15 Radial T/A, rear
Aspiring Indie filmmaker and...
Aspiring Indie filmmaker and part-time fabricator, Rich LeFebvre, shifted the Coronet's center of gravity by moving the front axle forward by 10 inches and the rear axle by 15 inches.
All of Brandon's exhaust systems...
All of Brandon's exhaust systems are crafted from food-grade stainless steel. He says they "look bitchin'" on street rods, but at $500 for a 20-foot stick, they ain't cheap!