The Throwback Cruiser

Today and Yesterday

Story Joe E. Harvey / Images J. Matthew Johnston - January 31, 2013 10:00 AM


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Joe E. Harvey of northern Virginia had a mission.

He has taken a 2010 Dodge Challenger SE and expanded Chrysler’s retro-design to make a unique throwback cruiser with a modern edge.

“I was hooked from the first sight of the prototype for the new Dodge Challenger,” he said. “The style screamed 1970s muscle car. Growing up among lots of old school mechanics and hot rodders, I’ve seen many classic cars and crafty ideas. This has led to an appreciation for the classics. Owning a Dodge never crossed my mind, being a native of Youngstown, Ohio, near the GM Lordstown plant. However, after seeing the new Challenger, it was time.”

The first step was buying a Challenger before too many modifications were made to the initial design, since new models were being released yearly. The opportunity came in 2010. The SE, RT and SRT models retained the same body between them, so the only criteria going into the purchase was that Joe wanted a true hardtop and the coloring had to be a black metal flake. The models all had the option of a true hardtop and they were all available in Chrysler’s Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl paint.

Being a budget-minded person, Joe went to work determining which model to buy based on a combination of purpose and cost. The main purpose was to replace a daily driver and the cost difference between models was approximately $10,000, primarily due to horsepower. “My personal driving habits don’t include excessive speed, so the extra horsepower would be a waste of money. After all, no matter how fast your car is, eventually you are going to see another car’s brake lights. The 2010 SE came with a 3.5-liter V-6 high-output 24-valve engine with 250hp. That’s more horsepower than many of the V-8s from the classic era! The Challenger is a heavy car; with the 2010 SE weighing 4,905 pounds, but it makes a smooth and comfortable ride - perfect for a cruiser. The SE’s five-speed autostick/slapstick transmission allows the driver to shift through gears manually, if desired. After a week of negotiations between dealers, I brought my Challenger home.”

Intrigued with the idea of having a daily driver with a classic look, but including modern performance and technology, Joe chose to enhance the concept by creating a throwback cruiser. “Early on, I realized I’d have to do the customizing to keep costs low. The customization included a variety of parts and accessories from Mopar, aftermarket companies, custom specialty orders and personal fabrication.”

Comparing the new style with the 1970s models, the 2010 Challenger needed classic style bumpers and a change to the modern looking taillights. Bumper overlays from Retro USA met the need. For the taillights, lettering was removed and a custom-built taillight bar was built from aluminum bar stock found at Home Depot. The aluminum bar was cut, etched, painted and installed with 3M automotive tape and clear silicone adhesive. A fender emblem was attached to finish the look. The taillight bar covers up the original reverse lamps, so new LED reverse lamps from Saleen were wired above the rear license plate.

The rims were changed to a classic 18-inch design from American Racing. The nose badge was replaced with a custom badge from Billet Technology, and a Flowmaster three-inch dual cat-back exhaust system with “pop bottle” outlets was installed. Mopar’s classic-script fender emblems and the classic-style fuel filler door were added because they weren’t included with the 2010 SE model. Additional accents to round out the look included chrome door handles, chrome hood scoop grilles, painted calipers with decals, custom bullet valve caps and chrome license plate frames.

The factory interior of the 2010 Challenger is a mix of modern and classic features, like the “four bomb gauges” and low-back bucket seats. There is no better way to transition from the classic exterior to the modern interior than with dual-functioning doors. “I installed a kit from Vertical Doors, Inc. that allows the doors to open normally, but there is the option of opening vertically,” he said. “This particular kit not only had the dual-function, but it installed with no permanent modifications to the car. The process was fairly simple, but one has to be very careful with the Challenger’s body panels, as they are thin and tend to buckle, dent and ding easily.”

Enhancing the interior, a pistol grip shifter from Drake Muscle Cars was added. Steering wheel and dash emblems were replaced with a classic-script design. The headrests were embroidered and floor mat plates were added with the classic-script design as well. Additional chrome accents include the door sill plates, pedal overlays, eject lighter deletes, dash vent trim, center console side trim, door vents, door pull plates, headlight control knob, seat power knobs and a chrome glove box handle. Deep blue LEDs were used for the dome lights, reflecting off all the interior chrome and giving a “space-age” glow. The interior was topped off with the essential pair of fuzzy dice.

“I had a dilemma customizing the trunk area with the classic theme in mind, but then I remembered the wooden beds in the old-style trucks and decided to do my own version,” Joe continued. “The trunk bed is standard pine, tongue-in-groove. The flooring is attached to two plates that allow for separation in the middle for easy removal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t affix the floor permanently due to the battery and spare tire compartments located underneath. The flooring was cut, attached, sanded and coated with polyurethane. Black leather trim with chrome upholstery tacks were attached around the edges, creating a clean look. I obtained really nice Challenger coins and counter-sunk them in the flooring for a point of interest.”

The custom trunk lid and hood insulation is from The liners are made from aircraft insulation material and came with decals. The material has a leathery look and installs snuggly against the underside contours giving it a “wet suit” appearance. Due to the trunk’s locking mechanism, the trunk lid insulation is a combination of the original and custom liner. The trunk area was finished by dying the inside panels black.

Dressing up a modern engine bay is usually done by custom airbrushing or “wrapping”. Options that have a newer appearance do not work for a classic theme. “My engine bay became loosely based on the Cylon robots from the 1970s movie and TV series Battlestar Galactica. This allowed me to maintain the black and chrome look I desired. I started with a chrome engine shroud by American Car Craft. The shroud was originally made for a Chrysler 300 V-6, which has the same block dimensions as the Challenger SE engine, but with a different top design.

“The shroud needed to have new top holes cut, reshaping of bends and trim added. The cold-air intake system was customized for the new look. To fill in and balance the chrome look of the engine bay, I added an upper hood cap, shock tower domes, header plates, oil dipstick handle, fuse box plate, washer fluid cap, power steering cap and an oil cap, all in chrome. Personally designed emblems were attached to a few of the new caps and the custom hood insulation was installed. With the Cylon in mind, I decided to remove the front grille emblem and add a ‘Cylon eye’ trailing light behind the grille; a lighted control box was mounted in the interior center console. This feature is the reason it’s sometimes called ‘The Cylon Cruiser’.”

Joe says the throwback Challenger is a pleasure to drive and the customizing was lots of fun. It appeals to the young and old because of the combination of classic and modern style. It has received numerous car show awards, including the prestigious Best In Show. “I’ve had several people say they did double takes before realizing it isn’t a true classic, and that has to be the best compliment I can receive.”

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