You know the drill. Rich dude buys a muscle car, drops it off at a big-name shop, then shows up a year later with an armored truck full of cash. In the world of high-end Pro Touring, these are the hands-on guys. More casual enthusiasts pay the shop to find their project cars for them. Even if that rubs the do-it-yourselfer in you the wrong way, you can’t criticize these cars as stagnant showcases of billet and chrome anymore. The filthy rich now have hot shoe drivers on retainer to pilot their cars for them around the autocross at blistering speeds. That’s just the way it goes, homie, so get over it. Granted that the high-end of the Pro Touring spectrum is getting ridiculously expensive, but ultimately, stuffing a modern powertrain and suspension into old-school sheetmetal is still freakin’ cool. Even so, does this mean that the average working stiff can no longer build a nice g-Machine for a reasonable sum of money? Not if Brent Perez and his ’70 Challenger have anything to say about it.
From every angle, Brent’s Challenger certainly looks the part of a gazillion-dollar Pro Touring ride. With big-block power, monster brakes, eyeball-searing paint and a mean stance crouched on big rollers, this E-Body packs all the right stuff. Although it gives the illusion of a pro-built ride with a matching six-figure price tag, by doing 90 percent of the work himself and budgeting wisely, he put the entire car together for $37,000. “Building a g-Machine on a tight budget is tough, so I had to spend money where it counted the most. I could easily have $75,000 invested into this car if I paid someone else to build it, but by doing the work myself, I’m not sitting upside down on the car,” he says.
Interestingly, for such a thoroughly planned-out build, Brent decided to build the Challenger on a whim. Mopar guys tend to be a passionate bunch, but Brent didn’t catch the Pentastar bug until later on in life. He had no plans of building a Pro Touring machine either. “My first muscle car was a ’70 GTO, and after I sold it, I built a couple of sport trucks. One day my twin brother, Bryan, brought home a ’70 Barracuda, and that car made quite an impression on me,” he says. “I went over to his house every weekend to help him restore it, and the more I worked on it, the more I fell in love with that car and E-Bodies in general. With us being twins and all, I thought it would be cool to get a Challenger. Then we’d have twin cars for twin brothers.”
Not long thereafter, Brent’s brother informed him of a ’70 Challenger that his buddy was thinking about selling. “This was back in 2003, at the height of the muscle car boom, so there weren’t many cars in my price range. This Challenger was a perfect fit because while it was solid overall, it still needed a fair amount of work, which made it affordable,” Brent says. “I knew that if I didn’t jump on it, the car would sell quickly, and I’d have a hard time finding another car in my price range. I met the owner, and we reached a deal at $13,000 the same day. The driveshaft U-joint was broken, so I had to fix it before I could drive it home.”
After completing all the metalwork...
After completing all the metalwork and priming the car, Brent had Paintshop101 (San Antonio) spray it in custom blue paint. The precise panel alignment and tight gaps are very impressive for a homebuilt effort.
Initially, the plan was to sand the car down, put a quick coat of paint on it, and go cruising. When funds permitted, the ultimate goal was building an R/T clone. Upon pulling the motor and trans for a refresh, however, Brent noticed much more body filler and rust damage than he anticipated. “I thought the car was in much better shape than it really was, so I decided to media blast it to find all the hidden problem areas. Afterward, I realized that the quarter-panels and trunk floor needed replacement, and the floorboard had to be patched in several spots,” he says. As someone who had never done metalwork before, this put Brent in a real pickle. In order to build the car to a standard that fit his vision, he couldn’t afford to farm out the work. Fortunately, Brent is a man with a lot of generous friends. “My buddy David Dean runs a hot rod shop, and he let me rent out a space there for my car. He was willing to teach me how to do bodywork and weld, so I jumped headfirst into the project and learned as I went. This was just the beginning of a four-year restoration process, and I wrenched on the car every day after work.”
As is always the case, the overall direction of the project changed several times. “The car had a stock hood on it, but the former owner threw in an R/T bubble hood as part of the deal. I really wanted a Shaker hood, but no one was making reproduction units at the time, and original hoods were going for $6,000,” Brent says. “I found a $700 conversion kit that let you cut up the flat stock hood and turn it into a Shaker. I figured the worst that could happen is that I’d be out $700 if I messed up, but if it worked out, having a Shaker hood would be badass. My initial measurements were off by ¼ inch, so I had to weld the hood back up and start over, but I got it right on the second try.”
With the success of the custom Shaker hood, the R/T clone concept got thrown out the window. Since the goal was to go cruising, not road racing, Brent figured the best way to building a streetable package with modern handing and braking dynamics was by assembling the Challenger in the g-Machine tradition. “Not building an R/T clone was somewhat of a relief, because they’re everywhere. There are tons of Pro Touring Camaros and Mustangs, but not a lot of E-Bodies,” he says. “I’m a low-key kind of person, so I wanted the car to be nice yet understated. I wanted someone to look at the car and say ‘that’s a nicely done g-Machine that’s not gaudy or over the top.’ I spent hours in Photoshop coming up with different ideas for color schemes, graphics, and wheels. Once I came up with something I liked, I had my friend Lance Peltier sketch a final rendering, and we used that as the template for the car.”
Once the paint and bodywork were completed, Brent shifted his focus on bringing all the mechanical elements together to execute his vision for the car while staying on budget. Not willing to spend the $6,000 he was quoted to rebuild his 440 big-block, he scoured online ads to find a more economical alternative. He eventually found a deal on a zero-mile 440 that had already been rebuilt with forged slugs, ported stock heads, and a Mopar Performance 238/238-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet cam. The motor included a freshly rebuilt TorqueFlite 727 trans and a matching converter, all for $5,000.
The 440 is essentially a stock...
The 440 is essentially a stock refresh with a bigger cam, a dual-plane Edelbrock intake manifold, and 800-cfm carb, but that’s not a bad thing. Brent estimates output at 425 hp, and its 9.5:1 squish ratio allows it to run all day long on junk gas. Besides, this sucker sounds sweet.
On the chassis side of the equation, although tubular K-members and four-links have become the norm in the g-Machine scene, Brent needed a more frugal alternative. As such, just like in the early days of Pro Touring, he enhanced the stock hardware that was already there instead of replacing it outright, and dipped into the factory Mopar parts bin as well. “Up front, I built custom gussets to stiffen up the K-member, and custom reinforcement plates for the lower control arms. I also built some custom torque boxes, and custom subframe connectors,” he says. “Since Hemis and 440s weigh about the same, I installed torsion bars out of a factory Hemi car and cranked down on them to get the stance just right. In the back of the car, I tried running Hemi leaf springs, but it sat too high, so I put the stock leaves back on and used spacers to lower the ride height. I also replaced all the old rubber bushings with urethane units. Ultimately, I didn’t cheap out. I just figured out a way to make the stock suspension perform as well as it can while staying on budget.”
Despite the simple appearance...
Despite the simple appearance of the Shaker hood, it’s actually a complex device. To get it all to work requires installing a baseplate, air cleaner assembly, air grates, baseplate support legs, air vents, a series of levers and cables, and the scoop itself.
At the end of the day, Brent has built himself a tool that suits the task at hand, which is a refreshing change from high-buck cars built with fancy doodads that they’ll never fully utilize. Far too often, the Pro in Pro Touring refers to a car that’s been professionally built, but as far as Brent’s Challenger is concerned, it stands for “Practical,” as in Practical Touring. “I don’t have any desire to take my car out to the track, so I just built something that I could drive around town in comfort without worrying about it breaking down. I’m really proud of the stuff that I built myself, like the subframe connectors and torque boxes, which was the only way I was able to build a car like this on a budget,” he says. That pride is well earned, Brent, because if more hot rodders took a similar approach to building Pro Touring machines, the trend would be a lot less “pro” and a lot more practical.
By The Numbers
1970 Dodge Challenger
Brent Perez, 40 • Leander, TX
At the time of purchase, the...
At the time of purchase, the Challenger’s seats, carpet, and dash were shot. Instead of dishing out big bucks for fancy aftermarket seats, gauges, and trim bits, Brent restored the stock components back to like-new condition. Clever enhancements include XV Motorsports three-point seatbelts, a thumpin’ stereo, and A/C. Brent built the custom billet pedals, door inserts, and shifter plate himself.
Type: Chrysler 446ci big-block
Block: factory Chrysler bored to 4.350 inches
Oiling: Melling high-volume oil pump, Milodon pan
Rotating assembly: stock 3.750-inch steel crank and rods; Speed-Pro 9.5:1 forged pistons
Cylinder Heads: ported factory “906” iron castings with 2.14/1.81-inch valves
Camshaft: Mopar Performance 238/238-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet cam, .505/.505-inch lift; 110-degree LSA
Valvetrain: Mopar Performance rocker arms, Cloyes timing set, Crane springs, retainers, locks
Induction: Edelbrock Performer dual-plane intake manifold and Thunder AVS 800-cfm carburetor
Ignition: FBO distributor and coil, Taylor plug wires
Fuel system: stock tank, Carter Super Street HV mechanical pump
Exhaust: Schumacher 2-inch headers, custom X-pipe, dual 2.5-inch MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: Mopar Performance pump and stock radiator
Built by: Mullens Machine (Houston)
Transmission: Chrysler TorqueFlite 727 trans, TCI 3,400-stall converter
Rear axle: Chrysler 8¾-inch rearend with 33-spline axles, 3.70:1 gears, and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: QA1 tubular control arms, stock Hemi sway bar, KYB shocks, reinforced K-member, stock Hemi torsion bar
Rear suspension: stock leaf springs, KYB shocks, custom subframe connectors, reinforced torque boxes
Brakes: Wilwood 11-inch discs with six-piston calipers, front; 10.75-inch discs with four-piston calipers, rear
Wheels: Centerline Laser 18x8 (5-inch backspace), front; 20x10 (5.25-inch backspace), rear
Tires: Nitto 555 245/40R18, front; 275/35R20, rear