Project Challenger Build - part five

By: CB - Words & Photos

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The Mopar build continues...


Mopar build - part five

There have been times during Project Challenger when I’ve wondered whether we’d be left with just a couple of door handles, an ash tray and half a wiper blade after throwing away all the crap. Coz there’s a lot of crap.

In fairness, I didn’t go into the project blind – the former owner was very honest and upfront about the state of the body and running gear, which was basically buggered, but not terminal as far as rust and lack of use over a long period of time goes.

dodge-challenger.jpgWe think this ad shows the power and handling of the Challenger, we think

It had spent a large part of its early, pre-Oz life in the north-western US, so was close to saltwater and a pretty damp climate.

The initial intention of the first local owner was to restore it to its former glory. But circumstances changed and the Challenger ended up languishing in a paddock for a long while, absorbing more rust-promoting moisture, which did nothing to help the situation. Then along came I…

As with so many rebuild projects, you start with the best of intentions – then reality spoils everything. You find a bit of rust here, a missing part there, something broken, a few bent panels and before you know it, you’re up to your skinned knuckles in a dismantled dream car.

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project-challenger-5.jpgThere wasn’t much structual strength left in her

Fortunately, I have the good luck to call Max Hayes a mate, although I have to say at times he can be one of the most annoying bastards I know. And it’s all to do with Project Challenger.

A good example is when I’ve been trying to remove some of the old trim fasteners and screws from the bodywork in preparation for sand-blasting. Some of this stuff has evolved into entirely different life forms altogether, so that while they might have originally been simple studs and bolts secured by threads, some weird kind of molecular metamorphosis has taken place that has resulted in them being entirely absorbed into the bodywork or chassis. So as I’m standing there with a hammer and chisel about to pummel the self-tapper loose from the roof, Max strolls over, says something smartarse like: "Oh yeah, I’ve got the special tool that Dodge made only three of in 1948 to remove that screw. Stand back and give me a bit of room will ya." A nanosecond later, the ancient and rusted screw is in his hand, and the shit-eating grin on his face is so smug I wonder if he realises I’ve still got the hammer in my hand. There are times when I want to set fire to his beard. (If I ever do, you’ll know – the fire will be seen from space and last for weeks.)

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project-challenger-1.jpgIf he leans forward a tad more that’ll be it for the beard

Max is one of those irritating bastards who knows shit that no one else knows. Or at least that I don’t know.

So lately I’ve taken to sneaking around the outskirts of the Vintique Moto workshop whenever something difficult presents itself, like dismantling the Dodge’s ancient front suspension, which looks for all the world like it came off a Confederate War tank – from the losing side. I’ve deliberately tried to stay below the radar so as not to attract Max’s attention. But as I’ve come to accept, it’s a futile and infuriating exercise.

"Ummm, looks like you could do with a hand," is the comment I dread most.

"Not at all. Actually, I have no idea why you’d even ask," is what I’m saying.

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project-challenger-3.jpgChris doing his best Basil Fawlty impersonation

But what I’m actually thinking is: "Well, smartarse, if you think you can do it better and without using a large rock, a pneumatic hammer or tactical nuclear weapons, then go-bloody-ahead, bastard face!"

I once sat spell-bound as Max beat, pummeled, massaged, cajoled and fondled a few pieces of sheet metal into one of the most beautiful and elegantly styled custom air cleaners you will ever see on a 1965 Ford Mustang. It took him a couple of hours and barely raised a sweat. Like I said, a bloody annoying bastard. How come other people get all the talent?

project-challengerr-2.jpgRust chip anyone? There’s enough for everyone

Max and I actually go back a long way, geographically at least. Both of us were conceived and delivered in a place known variously as Aotearoa, Un Zud or The Home Of The Bloody Legendary All Blacks.

As a result there’s a fair bit of motorised mischief in our backgrounds involving names like Zephyr, Vauxhall and some others that we’re both not particularly proud of – think Morris, Austin, Rover, Vanguard et al. Which means we both have an understanding of primitive engineering, mechanical fragility and the frustrations that inevitably ensue.

Max emerged on this side of the Tasman with a wealth of old school metal-bending experience and mechanical skills that he has honed over the years to attract a growing clientele who appreciate his unique abilities and knowledge.

project-challenger-4.jpgMax being the genius that Max is

Need to replace the floorpan and dash on that 1952 Fiat Bambina and complete a conversion back to left-hand drive? No bloody worries. Max has probably been there, done that, got the T-shirt and written the book.

He’s a one-man operation called Vintique Moto whose services are sought after by people who want quality, no-comprises restoration work done on their classics. And as long as I can put up with his infuriatingly competent work and advice, most of what you’ll see at the completion of Project Challenger will be Max’s fault.

In the next instalment we’re going to look at the best way to remove all the years of rust, dust, grime, wildlife and various toxic substances that have accumulated in what’s left of the body and chassis. And if I can exercise a little self-restraint (not exactly one of my strong points), Max might even come through it with beard intact. Or not … Happy days.

Read more:

Project Challenger build - part one

Project Challenger build - part two

Project Challenger build - part three

Project Challenger build - part four


From Unique Cars issue 437, March 2020 

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