I probably don’t speak for everyone, but I know I personally waste a lot of time daydreaming about different cars. I build them in my mind with an unlimited budget and use the best parts available, usually from the same manufacturer as the vehicle itself. One of the things that I often envisage is the fitment of a late-model engine into an old classic body. The result is the perfect mix of old school charm and character with late-model reliability and horsepower. Cambridge’s Jason Skinner has similar visions. Although, the difference is that around three and a half years ago, he decided to make his dreams become reality.
A long-time Mopar fan, and more specifically a fan of the 1969 and 1970 Dodge Chargers, he started researching the possibility of dropping in a late-model injected Hemi into one of them. In theory, while the engine conversion itself was not going to be too difficult, sorting out the electronically-controlled transmission appeared to be a whole lot harder. “Everyone said it couldn’t be done due to the computers and the amount of wiring,” says Jason. “I wanted to prove them wrong, and show that it could be done,” he continues, hinting perhaps there was a bit of pride involved in taking up the challenge. “Now as far as I know it’s the first one in the world like it, so I’m pretty chuffed!” he goes on to say. And with an SRT-powered Charger in the shed, who wouldn’t be chuffed? The car itself was found in Bakersfield by ex-pat Kiwi and car-finder extraordinaire Duane Jones. It was a factory big block-powered machine that had apparently been parked up since 1974. With minimal rust, the Charger was a great starting point, even if the original running gear didn’t come included in the purchase price.
After the first engine he bought in America literally fell off the back of a truck in LA, and as a result was damaged beyond repair, a 2008 SRT8 Dodge Challenger engine and gearbox was found. Better still, it came complete with a wiring loom, not just for the engine, but for the whole vehicle. While most people would just want the engine loom for such a conversion, Jason isn’t most people. Instead, he knew having the full loom would allow him to also fit things such as heated electric seats and a speedo cluster sourced from a donor vehicle.
With the experience of having built many cars over the years, and now running a business called Scatpack Restorations that specialises in building classic American muscle, fitting the engine itself into the hole wasn’t a hard task; all that was required was a Milodon sump and some TTI mounting plates. Convincing the oversized transmission to go where it should took a bit more work though, including a slight enlargement of the trans tunnel and a modified gearbox crossmember. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg, as over the next two and a half years, more and more late-model parts found their way into the vehicle. Included in those parts was a speedo cluster from a 2008 SRT8 Dodge Challenger, along with matching shifter and centre console. To look the part, those components, along with seats from the same donor vehicle, were all re-trimmed in black leather by Regal Auto Trim in Mount Maunganui. The most complex part of the build was making the transmission actually function as it should. For a long time, it was in ‘limp mode’, causing it to be stuck in second gear. Many hours were spent trying to fix the problem, but it wasn’t until Paul Stephens from Winger Motors in Hamilton had pulled out most of his hair that he managed to get the system working properly. The sigh of relief from Jason when he received the call to tell him it was finally drivable can only be described as epic.
While the head-scratching had been going on, Jason had been busy working on the rest of the build. Included in this was making the most of the vehicle’s torsion bar suspension setup by replacing every bush and fitting QA1 adjustable shocks. The rear end runs the stock leaf springs, but QA1 shocks have also been fitted, as have Firm Feel sway bars front and rear. The biggest change to the car’s handling comes in the form of a rack and pinion steering assembly, and of course the swap from 15-inch wheels to 17×8 and 17×10-inch Boyd Coddington items. While the main reason for the wheels was for the look they gave the car, it also allowed Jason to install a decent (and much needed) brake setup that includes 4-pot Wilwood callipers and drilled/slotted rotors on each end.
There was only ever going to be one colour sprayed on the vehicle’s sheetmetal — black. A man of many talents, he sprayed the car himself using De Beer Deep Black with a combination of blue and green Xirallic pearls mixed in. Mopar fans out there may have noticed the custom bodywork touches that have been performed too, such as the frenching of the 1970 indicators, removal of the bumper overriders and the fitting of a 1970 taillight panel. After three years on the build, Jason was stoked to finally drive the car for the first time to the annual Stragglers Charity Car Show in Cambridge. Not only did it drive flawlessly, the tiptronic shift worked just as it did in the donor vehicle, and the car drew more of a crowd than even he’d expected it to. It wasn’t an easy task to prove that the conversion could be done, but now that the job has been completed, he’s had people from all over the world turn to him for advice on how to do it. We’re guessing being in charge of that knowledge isn’t a bad place to be… then again, neither is being in the driver’s seat of the only fully-functioning SRT and tiptronic-powered 1969 Dodge Charger in the world.
1969 Dodge Charger – Specifications
Engine: Chrysler Hemi 6.1L V8, Milodon sump and pickup, 2x SRT8 fuel pumps, 1970 Dodge Charger fuel tank, dual 2.5-inch exhausts, Super Turbo mufflers, custom headers, SRP radiator, alloy trans cooler, ECU chip upgrade
Driveline: Dodge W5A580 5-speed tiptronic transmission, 8-inch diff, 3.55:1 Richmond gears, Detroit Truetrac head, custom 2-piece driveshaft
Suspension: Stock torsion bars, QA1 adjustable shocks, stock rear leaf springs, Firm Feel sway bars front and rear, rack and pinion steering
Brakes: Wilwood 4-pot callipers, drilled and slotted rotors, alloy front hubs
Wheels/Tyres: 17×8 and 17×10-inch Boyd Coddington Smoothie 2 rims, 255/45R17 and 275/50R17 tyres
Exterior: 1970 Charger taillight panel, frenched 1970 Charger indicators, deleted bumper overriders, De Beer Deep Black paint with blue and green Xirallic pearls
Interior: 2009 SRT8 Dodge Charger heated seats, Flaming River tilt column, Flaming River Waterfall steering wheel, SRT8 steering wheel controls, 2008 SRT8 Dodge Challenger cluster, SRT8 Challenger console and shifter, 1970 Charger dash trim, Dynamat throughout, Sony touchscreen DVD player, Sony amplifier, 2x Sony 10-inch subs, 2x 6×9-inch speakers
Jason Skinner – Driver Profile
Previously owned cars: XB Falcon GT replica, 3x Camaros, 2x Dodge Challengers, 3x Dodge Chargers, 2x Dodge Rams
Dream car: Doesn’t get much better than this
Why the Charger?: I was told by lots of people in the US that this setup was too complicated and wouldn’t work, because of all the computers involved
Build time: 3 years
Length of ownership: 3 years
Jason thanks: Paul Stephens from Wingers, Hamilton, for getting the computers to talk to each other and bringing the transmission to life, Reece and Leanne Killingback from Regal Auto Trim, Mt Maunganui, for all the trim work, Mike Yearbury for drinking all my beer while supposedly working on the electrical wiring nightmare, Duane Jones for sending out parts as needed, Rob’s Plastic Welding, Te Awamutu, for making the grille look like brand-new, PD (Phil Dove) from Automotive Engineering Services, Cambridge, for assembly of the diff, my family, including my daughter Samara for her help sanding and passing daddy the tools, and also my wife Lisa for her Visa card for all the US purchases.
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Adam Croy
This article is from NZV8 Issue 83. Get your copy here.
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