The chronic snubbing was unbearable. The sloppy journalism didn't help, either. Year after year, one badass Mopar build after the other, Steve Enochs and the crew at Muscle Rod Shop kept getting snubbed, backstabbed, and otherwise ignored. When you've made a habit out of crafting machines that look as sinister as this '68 Charger, it doesn't take long before the national spotlight comes shining your way. And indeed the press coverage came, but the wrong guys ended up hogging all the attention. Sometimes, it was other shops taking credit for Steve's work. Other times, certain cars tagged as homebuilt weren't really as homebuilt as Steve's customers claimed. Instead of crying about it, Steve responded like a man, letting his mad fabrication skills do the talking. By building an in-house shop car that looks like a million bucks, but only cost $25,000 from top to bottom, San Antonio-based Muscle Rod Shop (MRS) is making one heck of an opening statement.
With bulging quarter-panels, a trick Viper-inspired hood, and an insanely aggressive stance, the claimed $25,000 figure invested into the Charger's creation seems seriously suspect. Further reinforcing the visual deceit is how MRS managed to tuck the rollers deep into the wheelwells and damn near drag the rockers on the pavement while retaining a bone-stock suspension. The net result is a car whose implication of outward sophistication belies the reality of its inner simplicity, the product of an outside-the-box approach to car building that distorts your perception of reality with purposeful effect. Interestingly, breaking the cookie-cutter mold wasn't the primary mission, but rather a product of necessity. "Since this is our own car, and not something paid for by a customer, we didn't have a lot of money to put into it. Although we have the luxury of doing metal and paintwork in-house, we had to keep the costs down with budget parts, or trading stuff out," Steve says. "If I had a ton of money, I'd love to put a Hemi and a fancy suspension in it, but that wasn't in the cards. We decided to see how far we could push the limits of design while sticking with mostly stock components. The goal was to find out if we could build a car that could compete with the megabuck builds in the eyes of the public without the megabuck price tag."
Since a solid black stripe would have been too ordinary, Muscle Rod Shop created a unique
The two primary components in achieving this illusion are the Charger's custom sheetmetal and killer stance. As someone who finds the current Pro Touring trends somewhat bland and generic, Steve saw the Charger as an opportunity to create something with a different purpose—rather than building for speed or cornering prowess, he would do a modern-day custom cruiser, something to be relaxed in and seen with about town. "The trend these days is to build Pro Touring cars with big motors, big brakes, tucked bumpers, shaved marker lights and door handles, and a dropped suspension in a car with relatively stock body lines. This set standard of mods has become almost cliché, and it makes all the hard work that goes into building these cars a little less impressive," he says. "Each of these cars are awesome and the skill and talent it takes to build them is impressive, but this standard style of building makes it harder for any one car to rise above the others. At Muscle Rod Shop, we like our cars low, wide, and mean with an exotic flair. To enhance the Charger's sexy lines, we widened the car's hips by adding 5 inches to the quarter-panels." Not only does this accentuate the car's body curves, it also provides the extra space needed for the 315mm-wide Nitto Invo tires. The extra body width tapers all the way up through the doors to keep the lines looking factory. Likewise, the rockers have been flared and dropped another 2 inches to bring the car as close to the ground as possible. "These cars can look like they're packed with a trunk full of concrete when lowered," Steve says, "so we flared and raised the wheel arches 2½ inches for more natural-looking proportions."
As no surprise, the Charger’s bling-free interior is all about functionality. The only non-stock items are a Vintage Air A/C system, a JVC stereo, an ididit steering column, and a Guard Dawg push-button start system.
A major factor in keeping the costs down was opting for a budget engine combo. While Steve
As utterly delicious as the Charger's body enhancements may be, the ace in the hole of functionality is how MRS achieved such a ridiculously aggressive stance despite the B-Body's torsion bars and leaf springs. To accomplish this, Steve channeled the suspension 3 inches into the body. "People have been channeling '50s customs for a very long time, so why not resurrect this practice in a muscle car? It lets you slam the car way down with the stock suspension while retaining full suspension travel," he says. "Mopar B-Bodies don't have full frames or removable subframes for that matter, so we to cut the front framerail sections out of the unibody as if it were a removable piece. Channeling this entire section into the body raised the suspension pickup points by 3 inches, thereby lowering the car. In the rear, we raised the attachment points of the leaf springs into custom pockets built into the floor, and made a custom crossmember for the shocks to prevent them from bottoming out. If you have the fabrication skills, channeling is a simple and inexpensive process that doesn't require coilovers or airbags, just some old-school hot rod engineering."
Of course, slicing, dicing, and relocating large sections of the unibody and suspension presents some additional challenges as well. Steve says: "Channeling a suspension pushes the drivetrain into the body shell, so it requires realigning the steering box, the column, the brake and clutch pedals, the bumpers and floors, not to mention reconstructing portions of the engine compartment and firewall. The transmission and driveshaft tunnels must also be raised to clear the drivetrain," Steve says. "Since the engine also sits higher, we built a custom Viper-inspired hood for 2 inches of additional clearance. MRS's head fabricator Brandon Enochs came up with the all-metal design that features six functional heat extractors and really enhances the Charger's exotic flair. There's also a cool metal skull molded into the nose of the hood."
Steve Enochs rescued the Charger out of a field for $2,500. The fenders and doors were sal
Considering all the attention that went into the sheetmetal, Steve had to compile an engine combo that wouldn't break the bank, yet wouldn't embarrass itself on the street. He turned that task over to the shop's powertrain technician, Jeff Enochs, who had to temper his penchant for big cubes and power adders for a more practical 383ci big-block. The short-block has been cleaned up .030-over and fitted with fresh 9.0:1 pistons, but is otherwise stock. A COMP Cams 224/224-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet manages the valve events; providing the air supply are ported factory iron cylinder heads, a Weiand intake manifold, and a Holley 750-cfm carb. Steve estimates that the combo is good for 450 hp, which are fed through a Chrysler A833 four-speed stick and a factory 8.75-inch rearend.
Granted that budget builds aren't supposed to look this badass, what's equally as impressive is how MRS managed to beef up the factory sheetmetal without defiling the essence of a stock Charger. Steve says, it's all about having an eye for what works and what doesn't without going over the top. "I like to think of this car as a muscle rod, which in my mind is a muscle car that integrates street rod design, body modifications, and modern technology in a unique package that respects the intent of the original designers. A muscle rod draws its inspiration from the techniques applied to the great rods and customs of past decades, and even before Pro Touring became mainstream, we realized that the next logical step was combining these techniques into building muscle cars," Steve says.
All the posers out there trying to take credit for Muscle Rod Shop's handiwork better take notice. Now that MRS's metal-crafting talent, mad fabrication skills, and signature eye for design are out of the bag, something tells us that these guys aren't going to get snubbed ever again.
Inside the Shop
To truly understand Muscle Rod Shop and its unique approach to building cars requires taking a closer look at the man behind its inception. In his past life, Steve worked as a computer programmer and built cars out of his garage strictly as a hobby. After many years on the job, he realized that being a code monkey wasn't the most fulfilling way to exercise his artistic talent. "Writing computer programs requires lots of artistic creativity, but the problem is that not everyone can appreciate it. You can't walk around a computer program and analyze it in three dimensions from multiple angles," he explains. "If a program ever goes away or becomes obsolete, then you have absolutely nothing left to show for your hard work. Cars, on the other hand, are much more permanent. They're like a blank canvas, and everyone can appreciate the work that goes into building them."
In pursuit of a more gratifying profession, Steve opened up Muscle Rod Shop in 2002 along with his sons, Jeff and Brandon. The trio of men balance each other perfectly, with dad overseeing the overall direction of the builds, Jeff handling the powertrain development, and Brandon tackling the hard-core sheetmetal fabrication. "I'm in the car business less for the speed and more for the artistry. The other guys on staff are more into the performance aspect of car building, so it works out well," he says. After a while, you know how to slice, modify, and fill in panels. It's not that big of a deal. There are a lot of shops that can do paint and body, but what sets us apart is that we can start out with a car that's all ratty, bulk it up, give it some steroids, pour some wild color on it, and show what can be accomplished by improving upon an already sweet design."
By The Numbers
1968 Dodge Charger
Steve Enochs, 54
San Antonio, TX
Type: Chrysler 389ci big-block
Block: factory B-series (low-deck) iron, bored to 4.280 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, stock pan
Rotating assembly: stock crankshaft and connecting rods, Keith Black 9.0:1 hypereutectic pistons
Cylinder heads: ported factory iron castings
Camshaft: COMP Cams 224/224-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet; .470-/.470-inch lift; 110-degree lobe-separation angle
Valvetrain: COMP Cams lifters, timing set, valvesprings, and pushrods
Induction: Weiand dual-plane intake manifold, Holley 750-cfm carb
Ignition: Mopar Performance distributor, coil, and plug wires
Exhaust: Doug's 1.75-inch headers, custom X-pipe, dual 3-inch MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: stock water pump, Griffin radiator
Transmission: Chrysler A833 four-speed manual trans, McLeod clutch, Hurst shifter
Rear axle: Chrysler 8¾-inch rearend with Strange 33-spline axles, 3.55:1 gears, and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: rebuilt stock
Rear suspension: rebuilt stock with raised spring perches
Brakes: Baer 11-inch discs with two-piston calipers, front; 10.75-inch discs with single-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Centerline Lazer II 18x8 (4.5-inch backspace), front; 20x12 (5.5-inch backspace), rear
Tires: Nitto Invo; 245/40ZR18, front; 315/35ZR20, rear