A Worthy Project
Geoff Stunkard - August 29, 2013 10:00 AM
The Dodge Coronet R/T was considered one of Dodge’s “Scat Pack” machines in 1968.
Coupling either a 440 Magnum or 426 Hemi to the driveline with associated performance trim made it the classy cruiser in the line-up. The Super Bee was a late cousin that year, available with the special 335 horsepower 383 or Hemi and a lot less trim and extras.
Many Coronet buyers were not as focused on performance as practicality, so they purchased options that did not relate as directly to the street beat. A Coronet could be had with nice trim and finish, to be sure. Neal Powell’s Coronet 500 convertible certainly fit that bill when new. Today, it is even more impressive.
Beyond the WS code R/Ts, which were the top-of-the-line models in both trim and price, buyers could opt for the basic trim Deluxe (WL), 440 body series (WH, whose numeric designation should not be confused with engine size or style), and upscale 500 series (WP). In 1967, Dodge wisely chose to put all of the powerful engines into a car optioned and built with performance in mind, the WS-code R/T. The next step down was the WP-code 500, which featured the same trim as the R/T, just not the smoked rear tires. Getting one as a convertible was icing on the cake.
For Neal, who works in the railroad business, this Coronet 500 was the latest in a string of projects that have included everything from street rods to SRT4 late-models. With a “Mopar or no car” mindset, this car was destined to be a 21st century cruiser with a muscular twist when he started with what he calls a “fair” 318-powered base. That included serious re-adaptations to the driveline and suspension.
The LA-series small-block gave way to a Mopar B-style low deck engine. It had left the factory back in the day at 400 cubes, but now pushes 452, thanks to a stroker package. Neal selected the pieces and built the engine himself in his garage, using a reground factory forged crank, Manley rods, and Ross pistons. The center pocket received a streetable Crane roller cam and kit, while the top end was redone with ported Edelbrock RPM aluminum heads, Crane gold roller rockers, and an Offenhauser 360 intake hosting a duo of Edelbrock 500cfm Thunder Series carbs. MSD ignition parts, a nine-quart Milodon pan, and tti headers round out the package, with Neal creating the custom linkages and lines. A Hot Rod City gas tank is under the back end now as well, fed with a Holley Gearator pump.
Getting that engine down into the circa-1968 body would have presented no big issues, but Neal wanted a driver and RMS kicked in their Alter-K-Tion kit, a suspension set-up that replaces the factory torsion bar layout with rack-and-pinion steering. Swap in QA1 shocks, Mopar Super Stock leaf springs, and a highway-happy 2.76 gear, and it “goes like it’s on a string” in Neal’s words. A set of 18-inch Eagle alloy rims with Nitto 555 rubber are the only real giveaway to the casual onlooker that this car is a beast. In between the crank and rear gear is a 727 Torqueflite tranny rebuilt by Jack Phelps, with a mild 2,400 stall Turbo Action converter and the OEM column shift.
Neal admits he knows it will go faster from 60 to 125 than 0 to 60. We didn’t ask him where he was or when he found out. When we asked about the quarter-mile performance, he said he didn’t care about that, but the top end was as fast you would dare to take an old convertible! Hydro-boosted 12-inch Wilwood disc brakes on all four corners help you cry “uncle” as needed.
He needed good seat belts, which Crow had available. Legendary supplied the fine seat covers. Charger Specialties redid the tach. Though it does look stock, the convertible also hosts a Vintage Air A/C outfit for hot days and Neal carefully tucked it up under cover, putting the controls in the ashtray opening and fitting the lines into the fenders for a very clean underhood and in-car look.
Those details have allowed the car to take several awards, and that recognition requires appearance when you are not relying on historical notoriety. Neal wanted it to be subtle on the outside, but not so. The final result “draws as much attention as landing in a spaceship.” Once the body was done and trim refinished, the car was sprayed in Viper Red with no other external changes. Though Neal did much of the work at home, he credits Hector Maroquin of Hector’s Custom Classic in Hanford, California, for getting the look.
Coronets were among the more respectable machines of the ’60s car era. Available in formats from basic to blasted, Dodge used this model to meet the needs of the average ordinary guy. For Neal, this car offered a chance to take that into the future using his own ability and a sense of purpose. To us, his Coronet is to be crowned as a winner!