There's this thing in your head called the amygdala. According to neuroscientists, it's the part of the brain that regulates how emotional arousal impacts your memory. In layman's terms, while activity in the amygdala can improve memory retention anytime you're emotional, it can also flat out distort your recollection of history. Just ask Clay Huber. No thanks to his amygdala, he reached the painful conclusion that the hallowed Mopar of his youth was actually a dud. "My first car was a Butterscotch Yellow '71 Challenger convertible, and looking back, I always thought it was the fastest car on earth, however, after I found a car just like it 30 years later, it wasn't nearly as fast as I remembered," he laments. Fortunately, the problem wasn't anything that a 650hp all-aluminum Hemi, and a modern all-aluminum suspension couldn't fix. By throwing the latest and greatest aftermarket hardware at his E-Body, then having Steve Strope at Pure Vision Design (PureVisionDesign.com) add some tasteful retro cues, Clay built a Challenger that doesn't just equal the car of his youth, it leaves it choking in a cloud of its own historical dust instead.
Back in 1982, Clay was just like any other teenage gearhead looking for his first project car. With the help of his best friend, he found a yellow '71 Challenger with a 383 big-block and a four-speed stick. He drove it all through high school, but had to unload it to pay for college. As the years passed, Clay latched onto the fond memories of his high school ride, and vowed to own another Challenger one day. "Ten years ago, I tracked down a '71 Challenger convertible with the same engine, transmission, and color combination as my first car. The problem was that it just didn't have the same performance I remembered from 30 years ago," he says. Clay isn't the first person whose memory has been skewed by rose-colored glasses, but his situation is at least somewhat understandable. Cars have come a long way since 1971, and these days even minivans are pushing close to 300 hp, for goodness sake. Today's grocery-getters also handle and stop a heck of a lot better than yesteryear's performance cars, so a full Pro Touring makeover seemed like the most logical cure for Clay's affliction. "To update the car to more modern standards, I decided to upgrade the powertrain, suspension, and brakes while still respecting the original look of the car."
By starting out with a very solid car, Clay saved himself the aggravation of having to perform major sheetmetal repair. After mediablasting the body and addressing some minor imperfections, the Challenger received a fresh coat of DuPont Butterscotch Yellow paint. Since Clay owns several new car dealerships, he was able to perform the work at his in-house body shop. With the boring work out of the way, Clay shifted his focus to the car's floppy underpinnings. At the time, aftermarket suspension components were hard to come by for E-Bodies, so he had to settle for a set of heavy-duty torsion bars and leaf springs. Fortunately, destiny came calling when XV Motorsports launched a new line of trick E-Body suspension parts. In no time flat, a big wooden crate showed up at Clay's shop filled with an XV Motorsports aluminum K-member, a fat splined sway bar, adjustable coilovers, and C5 Corvette aluminum control arms and spindles. Out back, the leaf springs got yanked in favor of an XV Motorsports three-link featuring aluminum control arms and a Panhard bar. "The chassis slowly evolved over time. It started out pretty simple, but when XV Motorsports came out with its road race suspension parts for Mopars, I had to have them," he says.
To soften up the door panel, Strope covered them in leather matching the rest of the inter
While the suspension was now up to snuff, Clay found the 383 big-block's grunt very underwhelming when he hit the loud pedal. The Challenger needed a whole lot more motor, and the solution was quite exotic to say the least. Instead of following the flock with a Gen III Hemi small-block, Clay opted for an old-school Gen II Elephant motor. In case that wasn't fancy enough, the motor was built around an aluminum Keith Black block to keep mass in check, then topped off with a Hilborn eight-stack induction system to add some retro flair. The Hemi experts at Mopar Engines West spec'd out a 572ci combination based on a 4.500-inch bore and a 4.500-inch stroke. The rotating assembly consists of a Callies forged crank, Eagle steel rods, and JE 10.25:1 pistons. Providing the airflow are a set of Stage V aluminum cylinder heads fitted with 2.25/1.90-inch valves. A COMP 254/260-at-.050 mechanical roller cam manages the valve events, and allows the Hemi to kick out plenty of power while retaining driveability thanks in large part to the engine combo's massive displacement. With the Elephant trumpeting through TTI long-tube headers on the dyno, the 572 is good for 650 hp. Since proper g-Machines must be able to cruise with ease on the freeway, the factory four-speed has been replaced with a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed, which sends torque rearward to a Chrysler 8.75-inch rearend.
Upon finishing up the body, engine, and suspension, Clay still felt the Challenger was missing that special something that would set it apart from the pack. "There aren't a lot of street cars with aluminum Hemis, so upgrading the motor and chassis addressed the need to make the car faster. Even so, the car still looked stock, and I wanted to incorporate styling cues from '60s-era road race machines without going over the top," Clay says. There are few people in the business better suited to carrying out such a mission than Steve Strope, so the Challenger made the long trip from Virginia to Pure Vision's Simi Valley, California, facility. "We didn't want to build another run-of-the-mill Pro Touring car slammed on the ground with airbags and 20-inch wheels. We didn't want another muscle car with a fancy suspension and 18-inch wheels built strictly for the autocross, either," Strope says. "That's like seeing another Camaro with an LS motor and big billet wheels. Yawn. Clay wanted to incorporate the look and feel of an open-air '60s sports car, so the goal was to build something different from the typical muscle car without being gaudy, goofy, or tacky."
The German weave carpet looks cool, but installing it is a very labor-intensive affair. Si
Anyone familiar with Strope's designs knows that he prefers subtlety over flamboyance, and this Challenger is no exception. On the outside, the most noticeable visual elements are the custom stripes and the retro center-lock wheels. "The multipiece stripe was designed to give the hood a sense of direction and flow. It's not elaborate, but it's strong and visually flows well with the car's lines," Strope says. The wheels are off-the-shelf Kinesis 18 inchers, but with a custom twist. "To emulate the look of an old '60s road racer with spinner knock-off wheels, we machined the center of the wheel, and fabricated a flat plate that covers up the lug nuts. Next, we threaded the cover, and screwed the spinners onto it. The result is a modern 18-inch wheel that looks old school."
As a builder who draws inspiration from many diverse sources, Strope welcomed the mandate of incorporating European sports car flair into a muscle car interior. Since the Challenger would be driven without a top most of the time, getting the interior right was of critical importance. "To emulate the look of cars like the Ferrari 250 GTO, we stitched a diamond pleat pattern on the seats and extended that theme onto the transmission tunnel as well. Likewise, there's also an aluminum scuff plate on the tunnel, next to the gas pedal, to give the car a racy look and feel," Strope says. "The German weave carpet is similar to what you'll find on a Mercedes-Benz, and in addition to looking cool, it lasts a very long time. In the dash, we installed Auto Meter gauges, but had Redline Gauge Works incorporate the vintage Dodge fonts into them. Overall, it's just a much nicer place to spend time than the stock interior, and it smells nicer too."
After 30 long years, Clay finally has a machine in which he can vicariously revisit his youth. The difference is that he has much higher standards for what a muscle car should be now than he did back then. Fortunately, as difficult as it can be for reality to compete with the rose-colored accounts of history, the miracle of modern engine and suspension technology means that reality has come out on top this time around. Ultimately, Clay's distorted memory merely forced him to build a nicer car than he otherwise would have, so maybe that was his amygdala's master plan all along.
The Hilborn individual-runner induction system doesn’t just look sweet, it also substantia
After replacing the stock steering column with a slimmer aftermarket unit, Strope relocate
A far cry from the E-Body’s miserable stock torsion bars, Clay’s Challenger boasts a state
By The Numbers
1971 Dodge Challenger
Clay Huber, 46 • Fredericksburg, VA
Combine the Hemi’s tall deck height with the aluminum block’s propensity for flex, and the
Type: Chrysler 572ci big-block Hemi
Block: Keith Black aluminum, bored to 4.500 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, custom aluminum pan
Rotating assembly: Callies 4.500-inch forged crank, Eagle steel rods, JE 10.25:1 forged pistons
Cylinder heads: Stage V aluminum castings with 2.25/1.90-inch valves
Camshaft: COMP Cams 254/260-at-.050 hydraulic roller
Valvetrain: Indy Cylinder Head/T&D rocker arms; COMP Cams springs, retainers, and locks
Induction: Hilborn individual-runner intake manifold and throttle-bodies; Imagine Injection stand-alone EFI system and injectors
Ignition: MSD ignition box, distributor, coil, and plug wires
Exhaust: TTI 2.125-inch long-tube headers, dual MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: Edelbrock water pump; Be Cool radiator and electric fans
Built by: Mopar Engines West (Newark, CA)
Transmission: Tremec TKO 600 five-speed manual, RST twin-disc clutch, Hurst shifter
Rear axle: Chrysler 8.75-inch rearend with 33-spline axles, 3.91:1 gears, and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: XV Motorsports aluminum K-member, control arms, spindles, coilovers, and splined sway bar
Rear suspension: XV Motorsports three-link with aluminum control arms and adjustable Panhard bar; XVM coilovers and splined sway bar
Brakes: XV Motorsports 14-inch discs with 6-piston calipers, front; 13-inch discs with 2-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Kinesis K59 18x9, front; 18x10, rear
Tires: BFGoodrich 275/35ZR18, front; 295/35ZR18, rear
Steve Strope: Trendsetting Builder
Creative inspiration can come from a multitude of diverse sources, and a hallmark of Steve Strope's designs has been the infusion of styling cues drawn from outside the muscle car kingdom. Anything from finely chiseled shifter handles modeled after European supercars to pushrod-actuated suspensions off of open-wheel race cars is fair game at Pure Vision. Steve attributes much of this to his upbringing in rural New York. "I'm very open-minded and enjoy and appreciate many types of cars. As a kid, I went to Indy car races at Watkins Glen, sports car races at Pocono, stock car races at the local NASCAR track, and drag races at Englishtown and Maple Grove," he says. "A cool old car is a cool old car, regardless of where it was made. I venture outside the muscle car arena all the time to come up with new ideas. I spend lots of time at the magazine rack looking at how cars are built in other parts of the world, and I visit exotic car dealerships to draw inspiration from the latest Ferraris and Aston Martins."
Yet another one of Strope's trademarks is integrating various visual elements so seamlessly, that it's easy to overlook them entirely. It's a refreshing departure from the diametrically opposed trend of modifying a car's body lines and overall character beyond recognition. While there's nothing wrong with pushing things to the extreme, Strope continually proves that less can be more. "I like to hide things in plain sight. People have told me that my cars are like an Easter egg hunt because the more you look, the more you keep finding little things here and there," he says.