Alan Johnson, of Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop, stands in for owner Seth Wagner, demonstrating th
After an exhausting day of refilling prescriptions, playing bingo, and forgetting where they live, most 72-year-olds are ready to hit the sack before happy hour. Not Seth Wagner. It’s after 9 pm when we call to chat about his car, and he’s still wide awake watching Speed TV. Staying up later than most old folks, however, isn’t what makes him a cool cat. Neither is the fact that he does what he can to stay in shape. You see, the reason why Seth stays fit is because he’s a road racing addict, and he knows that dealing with the rigors of constant g-loads can be taxing for people half his age. “A lot of old people drink too much beer and eat too much turkey, so they can’t even get in and out of their cars. I try to stay in shape so I can spend as much time on the track as possible,” he says. Putting his money where his mouth is, Seth frequently pounds on his Corvette ZR1 and Porsche 911 Turbo through the ultrahigh speed track known as Road America. Nevertheless, he thought it would be so much more fun to do it in a muscle car, and that epiphany has materialized in the form of a Hemi-powered, four-linked, 1967 Dodge Charger built by Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop. See this car up close, and it will be one of the few instances in life where you want to trade places with someone far more elderly than yourself.
The interior looks mostly stock, but is far more refined. The most noticeable touches are
Way before the Hamptons got invaded by elitist Manhattan transplants, it was a blue-collar district of Long Island that Seth called home. As unimaginable as it may be today, it even had a dragstrip—one that Seth spent plenty of time at as a teenager. He bought a Y-block–powered ’56 Ford Crown Victoria when he turned 16, slapped on a McCulloch supercharger, and went racing. A stint in the military and family obligations forced Seth into a temporary retirement from hot rodding, but he never strayed too far from his true passion. “While I was going to school, I started working with my father-in-law, who taught me the art of injection molding. I eventually opened up my own shop in Detroit, and my first big break was getting hired by Ford to make the molds for its cruise control units,” he says. “So while I didn’t have the time to build hot rods, as an OEM supplier I was always involved with the automotive industry in some capacity. Today, we manufacture everything from steering columns to ignition switches to lighting equipment to taillight assemblies for suppliers like Saginaw, TRW, and Valeo. We didn’t take off for China like a lot of other companies, and we’ve kept our business right here in America.”
About 10 years ago, after several decades of building up a successful business with over 300 employees, Seth felt that it was time to take a step back and hand over the daily operations of the company to his son. That meant he had a lot more free time on his hands, opening up the floodgates to get back into the hobby full-bore. He found a ’49 Ford business coupe, and restored it at home. From there, the collection grew rapidly to include an all-steel ’32 Ford roadster, a ’41 Willys truck, and a ’36 Ford three-window coupe. The street rodding crowd isn’t exactly into driving their machinery hard, so Seth started hanging out with some local road racers. “I always like watching vintage road racing, so it didn’t take much for my friends to talk me into going to some open track days,” he says. “I started running laps in my Cadillac CTS-V, and I got hooked. I don’t like drag racing anymore because waiting around all day to make two passes gets old. I want to spend my time on the track improving my driving skills.”
Seth’s road racing fix led to the acquisition of some more appropriate track hardware, such as an ’03 Corvette Z06, an ’09 ZR1, and a turbo Porsche. Despite the cornering and braking prowess that these late-models offered, he felt they were a bit mundane. Seeking to combine his love of corner burning and old-school iron, Seth picked up a ’67 Dodge Charger that had already been restored. That made it a perfect candidate for a full g-Machine transformation, and to turn his vision into a reality, he called up Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop. “After my own attempts to build the Charger stalled, I realized that the caliber of car I wanted was beyond what my own talents could support,” he says. “Of all the people I could have called, Alan Johnson was a natural choice. The creative vision, technical ability, and enthusiasm he brings to the table are second to none. Aesthetically, I wanted the Charger to stay true to Dodge’s original design, but beneath the skin I wanted a fully modernized and over-the-top chassis and suspension.”
To that end, the B-Body’s archaic underpinnings were replaced with a Magnum Force K-member, tubular control arms, and a racy splined sway bar. Out back is a Magnum Force four-link suspension, with RideTech coilovers supporting each corner. Stopping power comes courtesy of 14-inch discs swiped off of an ’06 Dodge Viper, and sticking it all to the pavement are Billet Specialties Lobeck wheels—measuring 18x9 in front and 19x12 in the rear—wrapped in Pirelli tires. Building such a capable suspension without an over-the-top engine combo just wouldn’t be right, so a Ray Barton 528ci Elephant does its best to give the chassis a workout. Based on a Mopar Performance iron block, it boasts a forged rotating assembly, aluminum heads with massive 2.375/1.900-inch valves, a cross-ram intake manifold, and a pair of Edelbrock 650-cfm carbs. The Hemi is good for 651 hp and 618 lb-ft of torque, and it sends all that grunt back to a Bowler 4L80E trans and a Dana 60 rearend.
Anyone familiar with Alan’s work knows that his creations are anything but bolt-on-engineered machines. For Alan and the crew at JHRS, factory sheetmetal—even when it’s perfectly straight—is merely a rough draft. Whenever there’s an opportunity to tighten up gaps, modernize factory body lines, or enhance functionality in a subdued fashion, JHRS will take whatever measures are necessary to make it happen. Take a gander at the custom front bumper, for instance. Not only has it been narrowed and flush fit to the fenders, but the ugly license plate indentation is gone. Furthermore, unlike the factory unit, it has a pair of discreet horizontal openings that supply air to the transmission and power steering coolers. Not only does this enhance the car’s visual punch, it means that it won’t go spewing fluid after just a couple of laps like some of the other Pro Touring posers out there. The rear bumper was subjected to a similar treatment, and features a pair of rectangular slits for the exhaust outlets. As a result, mufflers and tailpipes are invisible from the car’s rear profile.
Perhaps the most standout trademark of cars built by JHRS are stances that peg the aggressiveness meter. Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find an entire story on how to achieve the perfect g-Machine stance (p. 32), and if you need a visual aid on how to do things right, look no further than this Charger. While most shops are content to crank down on the coilovers (or torsion bars) and call it a day, JHRS engineers the entire body, chassis, and suspension to work around a desired stance and profile. Optimizing rearend width, wheel backspacing, tire size, and wheeltub dimensions are all part of the equation, but there’s more to it than that. “On this car, we built a new trans tunnel and driveshaft tunnel to tuck the entire driveline more tightly into the body,” Alan says. “This allows for a very aggressive stance without compromising suspension travel. The rear wheelwells were also moved inward 3 inches on each side.” The net effect are fender openings that just slightly obscure the tops of the rims, rolling stock that fills every last millimeter of real estate, and a subtle rake that complements the Charger’s substantial rear proportions.
Granted, Seth and JHRS have built one truly badass street machine, but if there’s one thing the owner isn’t entirely crazy about, it’s the automatic transmission. “All of my road course cars have had manual transmissions, and this Charger had a T56 in it when I bought it. Unfortunately, I’m having some problems with my feet, and my legs are too weak for a clutch now, so I put an automatic in it,” he says. On one hand, we can understand why Seth is a little bummed out about it having to forgo the privilege of banging gears with a 651hp Hemi on tap, but we can only wish more 72-year-olds had the same problem. While people half Seth’s age might be able to handle a clutch, they’re probably only half as cool.
By The Numbers
1967 Dodge Charger
Seth Wagner, 72 • Crystal Lake, IL
Type: Chrysler 528ci Hemi
Block: Mopar Performance iron, bored to 4.500 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, Moroso pan
Rotating assembly: Barton 4.150-inch forged crank and billet steel rods; JE 10.0:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: Mopar Performance aluminum castings with 2.375/1.900-inch valves
Camshaft: Barton hydraulic roller (specs classified)
Induction: Mopar Performance cross-ram intake manifold, dual Edelbrock 650-cfm carbs
Ignition: MSD 6AL box, spark plugs, and wires; Mopar Performance distributor
Exhaust: custom JHRS 2.25-inch long-tube headers and X-pipe, dual 2.5-inch MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: Walker radiator; Stewart water pump, custom electric fan
Output: 651 hp and 618 lb-ft
Built by: Ray Barton Racing Engines
Transmission: Bowler 4L80E trans and 2,300-stall converter
Rear axle: Dana 60 rearend with 35-spline axles, 3.50:1 gears
Front suspension: Magnum Force tubular K-member, control arms, and splined sway bar; RideTech coilovers, Heidts spindles
Rear suspension: Magnum Force four-link, RideTech coilovers
Brakes: factory Dodge Viper 14-inch discs with four-piston calipers, front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Billet Specialties Lobeck 18x9, front; 19x12, rear
Tires: Pirelli 255/40ZR18, front; 345/35ZR19, rear
JHRS’s creations are all about functionality. Since ’60s-era Detroit iron wasn’t exactly i
It’s a shame that this vintage of Charger isn’t more popular, since they have one of the m
To tuck the gas tank as neatly into the body as possible without sacrificing fuel capacity