Some guys just don’t play by the rules. What’s good for the masses gets wadded up and tossed aside in lieu of originality and character. When Kenny Wayne Shepherd decided it was time to build a hot rod, he bypassed the cookie-cutter fluff and jumped straight into the world of forgotten ’70s Mopar-dom. Yeah, we’re talking about that Kenny Wayne Shepherd—guitar rocker and bluesman extraordinaire. And yeah, we’re talking about a ’72 Dodge Charger.
The life of a bluesman is a lot like the life of a good muscle car. It has to take the ups
The Chargers that get all the love are usually the ’68-70 versions made famous by a couple good ol’ boys by the last name of Duke. Neglected are their younger (and older) brothers, but the ’72 had more than enough style and swagger to hold its own. When the body style changed in ’71, besides shortening the wheelbase a couple inches and widening it, the look was completely different from its predecessor and people didn’t really know what to think. As a couple decades passed by, the emissions-stifled B-Bodies were typically left untouched in the corners of a few junkyards. Castaways. Black sheep. It took the vision of someone like Kenny to mentally lift away the green hue of algae buildup and picture what could be done to make the car into a modern muscle marauder.
“I’m kind of drawn to cars that are underappreciated. That’s been my quest in the past; the last few years have been to realize the potential in the cars that seem to get overlooked. That was like my ’70 Plymouth Duster that was a cover car (Mar. ’08). Nobody had really done a serious Pro Touring Duster, and I saw a lot of potential there. I felt the same potential was in this car.”
As an enthusiastic car guy, Kenny’s built a number of cars to keep his roddin’ passion at bay. Although the years might vary on his rides, the dedication to the Mopar brotherhood has never swayed. This particular ride came his way in 2008 as one of those projects to be filmed and photographed throughout the process, but under the expectant eyes of the public, things got a little rushed. After the initial build, Kenny backed up and went through the whole process again, fixing the little details, tweaking the tweakables, and getting it just-so-right. He wanted to really showcase the unique style of the car.
Although his touring and recording schedule doesn’t allow Kenny to do the total immersion
“As far as Chargers go, the ’71 to ’74 is a bastard stepchild,” he says. “They’re very underappreciated. But the more I looked at this body style, the more potential I began to see. It’s another situation where when I built this car, nobody had done a real Pro Touring version of the third-generation Charger.”
That’s not to say they are completely unknown in the high-performance world. King Richard Petty, who was known for being mostly a Plymouth guy, had a ’72 Charger in his stable, which Buddy Baker drove, though there was also a version with the famous No. 43 on the side.
Kenny’s project began with a trip to Ted Moser’s Picture Car Warehouse (Northridge, California), which he tasked with the bulk of the build. Since Kenny’s cars are built to actually be driven, they decided the number-one step in moving the car into modern ride quality was to install a Reilly Motorsports AlterKtion front K-member and suspension kit. Though the kit usually employs coilovers to handle the load, they paid homage to the past and built custom hidden torsion bars to spring the frontend. Axing the old steering box in favor of a rack-and-pinion and redesigning the mounting points to reduce bumpsteer really help the car stick to the sometimes less-than-perfect road conditions as Kenny eases down Mulholland Drive in the hills of Los Angeles. “One of the great things about the AlterKtion frontend and the RMS four-link rearend is that with those adjustable QA1s, you can dial it in. You can loosen those shocks up and it drives like a Cadillac. Or you can tighten them up and take it to the track, and it feels like a track car. It’s a pretty versatile automobile.”
From 20 feet back, it’s tough to spot how much effort went into making the hind end of the
It goes without saying that a rock star car would have the ultimate stereo. A Pioneer doub
Mopar Performance knew when they created the 392 crate engine that it was a hit. The third
And since there is a high probability of a cell phone-toting, toy dog-carrying starlet stepping out in his way, Kenny equipped the ride with road-race quality six-piston 14-inch Wilwood front brakes within the super-fat, low-profile meats.
“To be honest, I don’t think any vintage car, no matter what you do to it, will handle exactly like a modern car, but I don’t want it to feel like that because then it would lose part of the charm,” he says. “Some of the appeal to me is the difference. We try to update it and make it safer, but I still want it to have some character.”
To be sure that the car had enough power to make the chassis really work, Kenny picked up a late-model Mopar Performance Gen III 392 Hemi. The crate engine comes with all the go-fast goodies like a high-lift hydraulic roller cam, CNC-ported aluminum heads, forged crank and rods, a plug-and-play EFI system that’s set up for big power, and of course the Hemi name that strikes fear into, and respect from, all in its path. With all that power right out of the box, he didn’t see the need to throw a bunch of extras at the engine. “Everything is stock on the motor. I figured with 525 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque right out of the crate, it was pretty good for us. We’ve just been fine-tuning it a little bit and trying to get a little more out of it. The thing is, out here all we have is 91 octane and it was set up for 93 octane, so when we started running it out here we had some pinging. So we’ve just been trying to find the right areas where we need to pull a little bit of timing.”
The ’71-74 Charger was the last of the true muscle car Chargers before Dodge switched from
With that kind of power, it didn’t make sense to hook it up to a lazy man’s slushbox, so Kenny installed a six-speed Viper transmission and a Mopar-supplied Dana 44 with 4.10 gears to send the power to the pavement. A modern take on the infamous Pistol Grip shifter was created by Billet Technology and matched to his reach for comfort and performance.
Subtle styling cues were the theme for modifying the body. “Unless you’re a Mopar guy, a lot of people don’t know what the car is when they see it,” he says. Even those in the know aren’t always hip to the modifications right off the bat. “It takes even a trained eye a few times to look the car over to see what we did,” he says. “We shaved the driprail moldings, keyholes, and side-marker lights, tucked in the front bumper, and with the rear bumper we smoothed and shaved the entire rearend. We molded the entire rear bumper into the body so there’s no seam of any kind. We used ’69 Charger door handles instead of the door handles that came on it.”
Inside, the ride continues bypassing the mainstream. Kenny incorporated Chrysler Sebring convertible seats for the added safety of a built-in shoulder belt without having to install ricer-looking four-point harnesses. Keeping with the updated theme, the car sports a clean modern interior, air conditioning, cupholders, and a kick-ass stereo. “It’s got everything except for safety airbags,” he says. With all the work done to the car plus the original Detroit steel in place, there was a small weight penalty to pay, but it was compensated for. “The car is huge! I think it’s like 18 feet long, and I don’t even know how much it weighs, but that 392 Hemi just gets up and goes,” Kenny says. “I built this car to drive the crap out of.” And that’s exactly what he’s been doing.
As a world-renowned blues/rock guitar hero, Kenny is used to being treated a little different. Likewise, his ’72 Charger also spends its life outside the lines of normalcy. Living outside the boundaries of 9-to-5 society is what puts both of them on the fringe. Perhaps that is why they make such a perfect match for each other as a pair of black sheep.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s ’72 Charger ain’t your regular grocery getter—but it does that too.
By The Numbers
1972 Dodge Charger
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 34
Los Angeles, CA
Type: Mopar Performance 392 crate engine
Displacement: 392 ci
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Rotating assembly: steel crank, steel rods, hypereutectic pistons
Cylinder heads: Mopar Performance aluminum Hemi
Camshaft: hydraulic roller
Induction: Mopar Performance
Fuel injection: Mopar Performance
Output: 525 hp, 510 lb-ft
Transmission: Viper six-speed
Rear axle: Dana 44 with 4.10 gears
Front suspension: RMS AlterKtion K-member, torsion bars, QA1 adjustable shocks
Rear suspension: RMS Street-Lynx four-link, QA1 adjustable coilover shocks
Brakes: Wilwood 14-inch six-piston SL6, front; 13-inch, four-piston SuperLite 4R, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Foose custom “Challenger” 19x9.5 front, 20x12 rear
Tires: 295/35R19 front, 335/30R20 rear