There is only a handful of Western Sports Special Challengers ¨left in the world. Two of them happen to be in Christchurch.
The Yellow Team
In early 2003 Gary Kellar decided it was time to get another American car. And what better choice than a Dodge Challenger? “I loved them as a kid, and as we all know, the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys,” Gary says. “I knew prices for these cars were on the increase, so I worked at locating an importer to find me a nice big block Challenger in my price range.”
This proved a very difficult proposition, involving many reports and numerous auction photos from the US. Sadly the cars were all either sold by the time Gary got to them or just too rough to bother with. After three months of this, photos came through of a yellow big block Challenger ” with the 383ci engine ” being offered for private sale in California. Gary says waiting the three months for the car to arrive was murder, and during that time all the horror stories of containers falling off ships haunted him. The Challenger was imported through American Auto Parts and arrived safely in one piece. Gary had the car at work a week after compliance and noticed a Challenger parked across the road. He shot over and met its owners, Dale and Heather. “They told me they had imported their one a month earlier. After Dale looked over the car he noticed the production tag under the hood and said it was a Western Sport Special as it had the A91 code. In that instant my car went from being one of many to one of only 391 produced, and the 383 was the biggest engine to be fitted to a Western Sport Challenger.” Dale was similarly surprised. “I couldn’t believe my luck, that I had happened upon another Western Sport Challenger with the 340 four-barrel, considering there were only 37 or fewer of them produced and it was one of three documented survivors.” Since that day the owners of both cars have become close friends.
Gary’s car features many factory options such as a Rally dash, night and day mirror, a full lighting package, colour-coded race mirrors, a door carpet strip and reflector, a racing flip-top fuel cap, power steering, magnum 500 wheels and Top Banana high impact paint, which was one of the eight high impact colours you could get for an extra $14.
Gary’s car has an interesting history. The original owner was a doctor in Alameda, San Francisco, who bought it to surprise his wife. The bad thing was she didn’t like it, and forced him to trade it in about six months later with only 1500 miles on the clock. Bad luck doc! The second owner was a woman who purchased the car from the dealer at a reduced price from the original $3166. She was living in San Francisco and had it serviced regularly at the dealership. From 1974, every receipt for work carried out has been kept. She was nearing retirement and wanted a PT Cruiser so, not requiring a muscle car any more, she sold it in November 2000 with 151,000 miles (243,011km) on the clock. The third owner started to restore the car but ran out of money, so did fewer than 1200 miles in the two years he owned it. As it is a number-matching engine, Gary had it rebuilt super strong for peace of mind. The machining on the engine was carried out by Mace Engineering, and the trans work by Barry Lee. Also fitted at the time was a shift kit and deep oil pan for better cooling. Down the rear the 8¾ one-legged diff head was replaced with a brand new 3.55:1 Suregrip limited slip diff. “The suspension has had the works, Wilwood vented discs replaced the drums up front and it’s got all new steering joints and bushes,” Gary says. “I beefed up the rear springs and designed and fitted a heavier than standard rear sway bar.
“This works well, and Chamberlain springs and Koni shocks all round control the ride. The car has power steering, and with a good wheel alignment setup it is a real joy to drive and very quiet except for that nice V8 rumble.”
The Blue Team
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This was certainly the case for Dale and Heather Palmer. The story starts when they had a 1970 Dodge Challenger sitting in California ready to be shipped, and at the same time had a ’66 Mustang prised from their possession.
Sitting at home with a healthy cheque in hand and the computer on, Heather started looking at other Challengers. By pure chance she spotted a 1970 in black with bold yellow and orange stripes, running a 13:1 compression 383 with 727 trans, 3500rpm stall, manual reverse valve body and 411:1 gears at the rear. “Cool, let’s buy this one,” she said.
They talked to the owner in person just to check him out, and it became apparent that there was a lot more to this car than expected, namely the A91 code on the fender, meaning it was a very rare Western Sports Special model. The icing on the cake was finding that the original numbers-matching 340 engine-trans and 323 rear end were still with the car, and fully rebuilt.
There was some very quick work done to get the car from Akron, Ohio, to California, to link up with the other Dodge that was in California waiting to depart. Steve Curl from Kiwi Shipping did a brilliant job, considering all the spare parts needed to be shipped as well. After what seemed like a lifetime (in reality it was only a couple of months) both cars turned up in Nelson. It took two phone calls to a couple of good mates to acquire a truck and trailer to haul the cars back to Christchurch. The trip turned out harder than expected, and ended up requiring two return trips to Nelson with the trailer.
Thankfully, being in the Motley Crew V8 Social Club in Motueka and staying with founder Dave Elly was a huge bonus. Dave took time out from work to help with the mission back to Christchurch times two.
Dale and Heather spent Christmas unpacking the car and two crates full of parts. It didn’t take long to realise that in its current form this car was not going to be very street friendly. Just keeping the tank full of Avgas would be a mission. Decision time: sell the 318 Challenger and start funding the task of bringing the other beast back to its former glory.
The first thing was to pluck the radical 383 and place the little 340 back where it belonged for the first time in nearly 20 years. This enabled the happy duo to drive the car longer distances and iron out any bugs. Once satisfied it was time to take the 340 out again and disassemble the car. More research followed, as well as chasing up on the documentation that came with the car. There was no arguing that it was a genuine 340 A66 performance package Western Sports Special. According to noted Mopar guru Galen Grovier, it is one of 37 or fewer produced. Actual figures are a little hazy, but it is one of just three currently documented survivors. From here on there was no hesitation, the car had to be painted in its original colour, EB5 Bright Blue metallic.
The task of stripping it back to bare metal was handed to Paul Stevens Panel And Paint in Nelson.Paul did a brilliant job of making the Challenger as straight as she was when she rolled from the factory. When the time came for a second trip to Nelson once the colour was applied, Dale admitted, “I was a little uncertain but had total faith in the end job. As I always tell people, don’t comment until the job’s done.” The Challenger sat there sporting an all-new hood black-out decal, a vinyl roof and, of course, on both guards the factory Western Sports Special decals, which had been carefully placed in the glovebox prior to shipping from Akron. The return journey to Christchurch saw the car back home for Christmas ’05. With the 16th Muscle Car Madness show looming in January ’06, it was time for some very serious work.
To give the car a better hold of the road, good mate Gary Kellar fitted a Performance Suspension Technology suspension kit. The power steering box had been sent to Auckland to be fitted with an aftermarket kit for better feel, and now the car drives better than new.
All the hard work paid off when on her debut she won The Best Muscle Car award. This was soon backed up by two more shows and two more awards. After the hat trick it was time for some serious decision-making.
Was she going to be a trailer queen or a good all-round driver? Although the little 340 isn’t completely standard, something was missing, and in the back of Dale’s mind there was always the knowledge that being 60 thou over there wasn’t much chance of rebuilding the engine if anything happened to it. Heather came up with the brilliant idea of building yet another motor for the car. A six pack was purchased from Koller Dodge in the States and fitted to the 340, replacing the Mopar performance manifold and the 600cfm Holley. This definitely enhanced the engine.
On the first run, building up speed in 16kph increments, checking for hesitations and other problems, at 177kph it was decided to go flat out. On pushing the accelerator to the floor all the secondaries opened. A quick cry of “shit!” and they slowed her down.
A couple of phone calls put them in touch with Gavin Harris of Mopar Performance in Helcombe. After a few more calls, it was decided to use a stroked 340, sporting Edlebrock heads and, of course, the tuned six pack. This should enable the happy couple to put the little 340 back in its crate while it’s still in one piece. A good investment for the future, and continuing the Challenger’s trend of being passed on with all her original equipment should the need arise.
Dale and Heather Palmer – 1970 Dodge Challenger Western Sports Special
Occupation: Automotive technician
Previously owned Cars: 1946 Jailbar pick-up, HD Holden, AP5 Valiant, ’73 VH Valiant Regal, 327 Chevy Toyota, 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400
Length of ownership: Four years
Thanks to: American Auto Parts, Burkes Metal Works, Chamberlain Springs, Barry Lee Transmissions, Mark Porsey for the head porting, Colin Grey for distributor tuning, Dale Palmer and Darryl Brice for all their help
Engine: 6276cc (383ci) big block Mopar, 0.20 Keith Black hyper race pistons, moly rings, H/D rods, balanced steel crank, block decked and blueprinted, modified windage tray, Malling high volume oil pump, Comp cams kit, XE274H-10, 440 source roller rockers, Manley race series valves, chromoly pushrods, ARP bolts and studs, 906 ported heads, compression ratio 9.63:1, Edlebrock 383 performer intake, 750cfm Holley, vacuum secondary, MSD blaster coil, Mopar electronic ignition, Splitfire plugs, high torque starter motor, Hooker competition headers, HPC-coated 2.5-inch exhaust with flow-through mufflers
Driveline: A727 Torqueflite with shift kit deep pan, Hughes 2500rpm converter, H/D driveshaft, 8.75-inch diff, 3.55 Suregrip, 742 casing, Yukon gears
Brakes: Wilwood four-pot callipers, drilled and slotted rotors front, standard drums rear
Suspension: Standard torsion arm and heavy-duty rear leaf springs, front sway bar and T/A race spec rear, Koni adjustable shocks
Wheels/Tyres: 15×8 front, rear Magnum 500 BFG 225/60R15 and 275/50R15 BFG Magnum tyres
Gary Kellar – 1970 Dodge Challenger ¨Western Sports Special
Occupation: Customer service/sewing machinist
Previously owned Cars: 1966 Z89 Mustang, 1970 318 Challenger, 1973 340 Rallye Pack Challenger, 1968 Dodge Charger
Thanks to: Steve Curl at Kiwi Shipping, Wayne and Annie at Southern Mustang and Ford, Dave Elly (Hooper), Paul at Paul Stevens Panel and Paint, Gary Kellar for his patience and keeping them sane, Rex, Brian, Hayden and Colin for supplying the transporter, the boys at Kent Richardson, Geoff Hunt for giving encouragement in a good way and determination
Engine: 5572cc (340ci) enhanced six pack
Driveline: 727 Trans shift kitted, 323 Posi rear end
Brakes: Front disc and drum rear standard
Suspension: Koni adjustable front and rear, rear sway bar, Performance Suspension Technology suspension kit, Hemi rear springs
Wheels/Tyres: 15-inch Rallye rims, 235 Cooper Cobra tyres
Exterior: EB5 Bright Blue Metallic, original chrome
Words: John Miller Photos: Quinn Hamill