THE GTX FILES
The Authorized Biography of Ken Jansen’s 1968 HEMI GTX
After years of appearing at car shows and explaining the various (and endless) improvements he’s made to his much loved (and laboured over) 68 GTX, Tiger Tools President Ken Jansen decided to record the car’s complete history and share it on this website. So, for all you car-lovers out there, here it is. Enjoy!
Garry Sobyski – Hello Goodbye
It was the spring of 1967. Garry Sobyski ordered a “turbine bronze” 1967 GTX sporting a 426 HEMI backed by a 4 speed transmission and Dana 60 rear-end.
After waiting just over 2 months for the car to arrive at Pacific Chrysler located on Burrard Street in Vancouver, Garry was growing impatient. While checking on the status of delivery of the car at the dealership, he spotted a new 67 Chrysler Windsor convertible that caught his attention. Like most teenagers, the temptation for instant gratification overwhelmed him. Garry asked if he could take the Windsor instead of waiting for the GTX, (ugh) to which the Dealer agreed.
Only 4 weeks later, Garry was driving home from work when he spotted something eerily familiar, a shiny new turbine bronze 67 GTX travelling in the same direction in the adjacent lane. As he pulled up next to the HEMI Badged pristine beauty he could feel the thumping and discharge of exploding bursts of spent exhaust through the angular cut chrome exhaust tips extending out from under each side of the rear bumper. Leaning out the window, he asked the driver the obvious question, “Where did you get the car?” The driver smiled as he confirmed Garry’s fear. “I bought it at Pacific Chrysler located on Burrard Street about two weeks ago.” As the car drove away Garry thought to himself, “two weeks!”
Months later, brother-in-law, Leroy Phillips, took Garry to Lakeview Chrysler Plymouth in New Westminster (a suburb of Vancouver) to try out a new green 68 GTX with a 440 automatic. Garry still cringes as he recalls driving onto the Trans Canada Highway where Leroy pinned the throttle to “see what this thing would do”. As co-pilot, Garry’s responsibility was to keep an eye on the 150 mph speedometer to see if it (really was) necessary. As the needle leaned to align with the 140 mph marker, it appeared that indeed it was.
That experience diminished Garry’s enthusiasm toward his new convertible Windsor, so soon thereafter; Garry took a drive to look over the inventory at Lakeview Chrysler for himself. It was there that Garry spotted a red 68 GTX 440 automatic with an 8 ¾ rear end. Garry loved the maroon and white interior, and after negotiating a trade for the Windsor, Garry drove the car home to Desmond Road in Richmond. It was July 16th 1968.
Garry’s dad owned a Texaco Service Garage at the corner of Kingsway and Willingdon in Burnaby. Fuelled by his own passion for horsepower, Garry’s dad helped Garry tweak the car for some fun at the local drag strip in Mission.
The engine was fitted with a new Edelbrock Intake, Holly Carb, Accel dual point distributor, and the inner fenders carved out to accommodate Thrush nickel plated fender-well headers. The transmission was fitted with a reverse pattern manual valve body shift kit, and the rear end a set of 4:56 gears. Garry raced the car in Mission, BC at the original track.
Garry loved his GTX, washing and detailing it regularly. Garry recalls that he had just made the 2nd last payment on a 3 year loan to buy the car when late one night a drunk driver missed a corner near Garry’s house. Unfortunately, the GTX was parked in the impact zone just on the other side of a row of cedar hedging. The left rear quarter fender on the GTX was caved!
In addition to replacing the quarter fender, Garry had “Inner City Motors” in Richmond repaint the entire car in black. Having observed the directions given by the body shop to care for its new shiny black coat of paint, Garry noticed something odd happening the first time he washed it. The paint began to sag! Garry returned the car to the paint shop where the owner graciously accepted responsibility agreeing to repaint the car. This time however, the car came back with excessive orange peel. Having been Garry’s pride and joy, the replacement of the quarter fender and the substandard paint caused Garry to lose interest in the car. Garry and his Dad agreed that his Dad should take the car to Garry’s Uncle Ed, a car salesman at a Ford Dealership in Abbotsford, BC to see about selling the car.
Dale Howes – Back in Black
Back in 1971, a young man who a few years later would become one of Ken’s best friends, Dale Howes, purchased Ken’s brother-in-law’s 1969 GTX. A gorgeous specimen of a GTX, this car was black with a two-tone tan and white interior, 440-4 speed and Dana 60. Unfortunately, within a few months Dale very unceremoniously parked it around a telephone pole. Fortunately Dale was unhurt, save and except his pride, and pocketbook.
Within weeks of having finally sold the car for scrap, a friend of Dale’s came by to see him at work explaining that he had just seen “his old GTX” at a Ford dealership in town. Confused by even the possibility, Dale thought, “I’ve got to see this” and raced to the dealership for a firsthand look. Unfortunately, when he arrived the car was already gone. Having made enquiries, Dale was introduced to Garry’s uncle, Ed Sobyski, who explained that although the car was indeed a black GTX, it was not his old 69, but a 68 owned by his nephew, and then explained where he could find the car.
On February 10, 1973 Dale made his way out to the Texaco Garage in Burnaby where he saw the car parked out front. Dale immediately observed that the car had been meticulously kept, and knew he had to have it. After an exchange of $2,250 Dale was the new proud owner of the GTX with the speedometer registering an inaccurate 41,300 miles (due to the installation of the low gears).
The fender-well headers had been removed and replaced with the stock exhaust manifolds before the sale, but the balance of the performance enhancements remained making driving the car on the street with 4:56 gears and a freewheeling first gear a real blast. However, after a brief altercation with a BC Ferry (a boat for transporting cars, and trucks) while attempting to park on board, Dale bent the left front fender and driver’s door requiring their replacement, so it was off to the body shop. While having the sheet metal replaced by Sandy Morita, Morita Auto Body in New Westminster, Dale had Sandy repaint the damaged area and wet-sand and polish the balance of the car…no more orange peel.
OWNER #3 Alvin Jansen – All in the Family
In the spring of 1974, Dale had the urge and the pocket book to order a new 1974 Corvette. Ken’s brother, Alvin, caught word that the GTX was for sale. Approximately $2,350 later, the car became Alvin’s. Recently married with a young family, the car was used as the family car, which was driven mostly by Alvin’s wife. The 4:56 gears were replaced by 3:23’s and the car driven through to an odometer reading of approximately 78,000 miles. Having limited funds, a needed overhaul of the engine, transmission, and brakes seemed an insurmountable task. Family responsibilities required that the car be offered for sale once again.
OWNER #4 Ken Jansen – A Lifelong Relationship
Having just turned 16 and already earning a pay check, the $2,500 asking price seemed workable to younger brother Ken who purchased the car in May of 1976. Number 7 of 8 siblings (7 boys and 1 girl) Ken had grown up around the performance cars of the 60’s and 70’s, many of which were owned by his siblings and their respective friends. From here on, Ken will tell the story in his own words.
“As the early to mid 70’s unfolded, it was clear that the late model performance cars were ever-increasing in their performance and styling like an aircraft increases its velocity while pointed directly toward the ground! The only possibility of living out my childhood fantasies of owning a real performance car of my own one day would require an adjustment to my expectations in the form of fantasizing about something previously abused.
After purchasing the car from my brother, I continued the tradition of keeping it clean and polished while running it hard. I had begun to date the woman who would later become my wife, deciding that both were worthy of a long-term investment.
Six months after buying the GTX, I began to buy and sell several second cars used for transportation while contemplating a restoration of the GTX. In 1978 I began to disassemble the car removing the engine, transmission, and later the interior. Minor surface rust on the trunk floor and the desire to lose the evidence that the car was at one time red, I opted to have the car sandblasted by someone confident in his ability to do a “good job”.
At the age of 18 or 19 I didn’t even know what sandblasting looked like, but I was soon about to find out. Leaving the car in his care, I returned to pick-up the car where I learned that the trunk area provides direct access to the rear side window area, and the roof. As I neared the car, I could see a haze through the windows which turned out to be sand sifting through my headliner and onto what was a near perfect interior. As I approached my hood for an inspection, it having been laid with the underside facing upward, the top side readily revealed what stretched metal looks like. It was a bad day, but I was learning.
Soon after, I carefully removed the interior piece by piece, cleaning and detailing each part to its previous pristine condition. Those pieces would be moved like furniture every time I relocated to a new residence.
The next lesson I learned regarding restoration was as follows;
- Don’t choose a body shop by its name (the name “Sunshine Vettes” might invoke thoughts of things done well and performance based, but the reality might leave you wanting…like say for a lawyer, or a prescription for antidepressants; and,
- Never ever say, “take your time, use it as a filler if you want, I just want a really good job.”
And that’s all I have to say about that!
Restoration: Part One
In 1980, my brother-in-law, Darrell, and I laid underneath the car with containers of lacquer thinner, rags, and plastic scrapers where we removed the randomly sprayed undercoating and cleaned the entire undercarriage of any foreign debris.
About the same time, a young local self-taught car restorer/painter upstart, Zoltan Bod, was making a name for himself having turned out a small number of fine projects (both his own and for a few customers). In a calm and matter-of-fact kind of way, Zoltan explained what should have been the obvious. The restoration of a car requires that it be completely disassembled, parts and pieces bagged and marked, and every piece, including the main body, prepped and painted separately. He explained another very important truth, one that is as sure as the gospel itself, having this done by others is very expensive.
Having attained a greater understanding of the restoration process, I entrusted the care, custody and control of the car to Zoltan’s Specialty Auto Refinishing. Zoltan placed the car on a rotisserie; the doors fenders and trunk were sent out to be chemically stripped, a new hood was purchased (still available at the local Chrysler Dealership), and Zoltan did body work while I did the grunt work, like blasting parts, sourcing new replacement components etc. By this time I had also accumulated a number of new trim parts, not always because I needed to replace them, but because they were still available.
The restoration process had progressed to a point where the entire car had been prepped, and everything painted (excluding the exterior which was primed). The fenders, doors and trunk-lid were affixed, the finely detailed suspension components installed (including a newly acquired B-body Dana rear-end differential housing with new de-arched super-stock leaf springs) when the car was moved to my house for assembly…. and then nothing happened for 6 or 7 years.
Restoration: To Be Continued
One evening my brother, Bernie, came over when we happened to enter the garage. Glancing toward the car, he said, “When are you going to put that thing together?” I responded that I just couldn’t get excited about a relatively stock version of the car. I said, “I’d sooner have a pro-street car.” He said, “Well then, let’s cut it up!”
I struggled with the idea of altering the car, and then I saw a guy with a t-shirt that read, “Anyone can restore a car, but it takes a real man to cut one up!” Had it been a Hemi car, it’s doubtful that I would have done it, even back then. But a 440 automatic car that had already had the inner fenders cut to accommodate fender-well headers, and the fact that I had already committed to black instead of the original red, seemed reason enough to move forward with a new program.
I took the car back to Zoltan’s shop where he cut the floor just behind the front seats, from quarter to quarter all the way back to the rear portion of the trunk. We narrowed a Dana 60 housing acquired from a truck for the benefit of the thicker axle tubes. I purchased a second 440 (originally from an A12 car) now mechanically alcohol injected. The engine sported an Enderle Bird catcher on a Weiand Tunnel Ram, Stage 3 heads, Isky cam and valve train, 6 pack rods, TRW pistons, and having found a new set of Thrush nickel plated fender-well headers in the late 70’s, the combination seemed right.
Zoltan fabricated a six point roll bar system that was closely color matched to the original maroon portion of the interior, a ladder bar suspension, coil-overs, and a set of wheelie wheels out back. We fabricated 3” polished stainless steel exhaust using Borla Mufflers.
True to the era, 15” x 15” rear and 15” x 3.5” Weld super-lites were covered in Mickey-Thompson tires (33” x 21.50” rears) making the transition complete.
The car was finished in the fall of 1989 with a lot of help from my brother, Bernie. The car was photographed and eventually featured in the April 1992 issue of Mopar Collector’s Guide.
After showing the car at several local car shows and participating in a number of cruises, growing dust on the undercarriage indicated it was time to attach a set of slicks for a good spanking at the local race tracks before lying underneath the car with a hose and a bucket of soap. The car ran a best 10.92 @ 123 mph.
In 1993 I had a brain storm, which turned out to be catastrophic brain failure! Building the original 440 into a blown alcohol injected version seemed to be a good idea and the ultimate “step up” in the pro-street program. I purchased an 8:71 Littlefield Blower and set in on my bench for inspiration.
I spoke with a number of local street and drag racers with Blower experience for wisdom, but unfortunately I didn’t know the right questions to ask. Furthermore, they were all Chevy guys. None of them knew what I was about to get into.
I had learned that building a strong bottom end was critical to a Blower application, and therefore I purchased a set of billet steel four bolt main caps from Pro-gram Engineering. I had the block machined to accommodate the caps and then line-bored. Then we filled the block with concrete to within 1” of the top of the deck (oops #2) before boring the cylinders .030 over. I ordered Wiseco Pistons, BME Rods, and a CNC Billet Crank. It was then that I made a phone call that I will never forget!
For some reason, I made a call to McCandless Performance. (I think Kenny Lazzeri had just left for Indy Cylinder Heads at the time). In any event, I didn’t expect to be talking to Herb McCandless himself, but he introduced himself and I started talking. After explaining what I was doing, he paused for a moment before commencing what was for me, “440 Blower Motors: Lesson 101.” He said, “You know you’re really building the wrong motor”. I am? “Yes, most people use a 400 block because they’ve got a lot stronger bottom end”. At this point I could hardly wait to tell him how smart I was having machined those shiny black-oxided Pro-gram Engineering Billet Steel main caps into the block, filling it with concrete etc. when he said, “well, that’s about the best band-aid you can get, but that’s not the problem.” It isn’t? “No, the problem is, the cast webbing in the block lacks the structural integrity to hold that crank in place while making that much power. You’re planning to make 1,000 – 1,100 hp correct?” Yes. “Well I’ve had 440 blocks come apart on the dyno at 650 hp if it’s a bad casting.”
“What kind of heads are you running?” Stock 906’s. “That’ll be your next problem, the heat from the exhaust valve transfers to the intake valve making it so hot that when you dump that cold alcohol onto the intake valve the heads will crack, not maybe, they’ll crack for certain, if they haven’t already.”
Although Mr. McCandless was inserting the knife into my chest as nicely and gently as any man could, it was starting to become a “bad day.” Thinking it couldn’t be any worse (I’m into this block for about $3,500 by this time) I said, “I guess I won’t be racing it.” He said, “Well that’s okay, but you need to know one thing. That engine doesn’t know the difference between a hard launch at the track, or putting your foot into it on the freeway in 3rd gear.”
Forgetting what I called him for in the first place, I thanked him for the information and for being so generous with his time. As I recall, I hung up the phone and went to lay down on the couch.
Anyway, despite Herb’s advice, I didn’t have the financial or the marital option to start over. We assembled the engine anyway. Initially we ran the blower 1 to 1 (that was a crazy ride) so with extra pulleys I’d purchased we changed the ratio to 26% underdriven.
Although the car was more streetable (kind of) I couldn’t drive it very far for two reasons;
- It only held approximately 22 gallons of fuel, and as I recall it used 1 gallon per mile.
- Methanol is not readily available at the local gas stations.
Flexing More Muscle
In 1997 I trailered the car to Palm Springs, a common vacation spot for my wife and I, where we showed the car downtown, and then at the Spring Fling in Van Nuys. Hot Rod Magazine did a photo shoot in Palm Desert, which ultimately turned up in the November 1999 issue of Mopar Muscle.
Upon my return home back to Canada, I was starting to become more and more daring with the car. The adrenalin rush resulting from leaning on the pedal midway through second, and finally hooking up the tires just before selecting third was becoming more and more addictive and common.
Then one day, with a new victim in the passenger seat, Herb’s words rang true when at the top of 2nd gear I heard the sound of rushing water as a result of a copper head gasket spitting out from under the o-ringed block at #2 cylinder. The head had cracked, just as Herb had promised, but fortunately it didn’t do any bottom end damage.
So I purchased a set of aluminum Indy Cylinder Heads, and once in my possession, I pondered another of Herb’s statements regarding the lack of strength in the block. With visions of scattering the bottom end out through the oil pan, I decided to think this through a little longer. That took about 4 years.
Ray Barton, Ray Barton
My business takes me around the US and Canada from time to time and Louisville, Kentucky is one of those places. Indy Cylinder Heads is a relatively short drive from Louisville, so I went to meet Kenny Lazzeri and ultimately Russ Flagle.
I was thinking a blown Hemi on gas, after all I already had a virtually new 8:71 Littlefield, but Kenny was less than excited about the idea citing, “It won’t make no power.” I didn’t quite get it at the time, but continued to explore my options over the next few weeks.
Upon my return home, I called a new friend of mine in Victoria, BC. Peter Wille runs a HEMI Super Stock “A” car among other things, and along with his brothers, owns Victoria Automatic Transmissions. I no sooner said the words, “I’m looking at buying a HEMI”, when Peter blurted out the name, ‘Ray Barton.’ In the midst of my next words he would say, ‘Ray Barton, Ray Barton’ and ‘don’t think about anyone else! In fact, he’s coming to Mission Raceway (in BC-10 miles from my home) and I’ll introduce you to him.”
Years before, my brother, Bernie, said, “if you’re ever going to buy a Hemi, here’s the guy you gotta buy it from,” pointing to an article about Ray. (He was still a Canadian back then.)
I was able to convince Ray and his son, Dave, to come to my house to have a look at my car. I explained that, like everyone else, I want lots of horsepower with minimum maintenance. “I don’t mind setting valves now and then, but I’m not interested in checking main bearings regularly.” I explained to Ray that I kind of wanted to use the blower and my Enderle Injector hat. There was a few seconds of silence when I heard something I had heard once before, “it won’t make no power”. Ray explained that blowers weigh approximately 100 lbs, they take horsepower to run, he’ll only be able to build a 528 cu. in motor because you can’t remove that much cylinder material if you’re going to run a blower, and I’ll have to underdrive the blower to keep it cool on the street (after all, that was one of my criteria) in which case, “it won’t make no power.” He said, “to make it work, you’ll have to buy a bigger blower, like a 10:71 so you can still underdrive it so it stays cool, and still make power.
Although I considered upping the blower size for a few weeks, a quick observation of the engine bay revealed one of two things that directed my ultimate engine combination decision. First, there was no room in my engine bay (without mods) to accommodate a larger blower, and second, the thought came to mind that “I should listen to someone who knows.”
During my conversations with Ray, I campaigned the idea of running EFI and an Enderle Bird Catcher hat with him, and while EFI was not a “big hit” with him at the time, he had no serious objections to the idea, so he prepared a quote for a 572 with what I specified should include all of the high-end components he would use if he built one for himself.
We discussed the matter of my car having been only “back halved” with only one side bar running diagonally from shoulder height forward to the floor just behind the kick panel on each side. Having consulted with Ray and Peter Wille on the matter, it was decided that the car should have sub-frame connectors, front and mid engine plates, and a full cage including engine bay bars. Pete recommended Russ LeJeune from LeJeune Engineering in Victoria on Vancouver Island, “the metal god” as he affectionately referred to him.
With the engine now on order, it was time to prepare the chassis. Russ was travelling near my house soon after, and he agreed to come over to have a look at my car. I was very impressed with Russ, and his suggestions as to how and what he could do for me. I said, “I know you can’t perform magic, BUT, if there’s any way you can do what needs to be done without marking my exterior paint, I’d be grateful”. The exterior paint looked pretty much as it does now, with only minor imperfections, so I really didn’t want to start over, if I didn’t have to. Russ agreed to do his best, and he did.
A few short months later, I trailered the car over to the Island leaving it in Russ’s care. Pete graciously delivered a Hemi block and heads to Russ for the mock-up, and the work was underway.
One of my parting comments to Russ after leaving his shop was, “if I can slide my right pinky between the roll bar and the headliner at any given point, I want the other side to be the same. I’d like the lateral bar above the windshield out of my line of sight, and the vertical bars extending downward to the floor as tight to the A-pillar as possible.” I explained that the additional cage work would never be altered or replaced (at least by me) and therefore, “I know it takes time, and time is money, and while I don’t have an endless supply, it’s not something that can be easily changed later, and therefore it has to be right.” Not that I thought he’d likely accomplish that kind of precision, but I wanted to communicate where the level of the bar was located (no pun intended), and he definitely attained it, and then some!
Using the HEMI Superstock cars as an overall theme for the updated build, Russ also made a horizontal brace for the steering box, a lateral brace for the engine, a new transmission cross-member, driveshaft hoop, 4 inch stainless steel exhaust system (using Borla Mufflers I supplied) with an X-tube he fabricated, and several other small nuances that raised the “quality meter” substantially. My vision for the finished product was beginning to take a new direction, which would include much more than just a new HEMI.
I had made two previous visits to Ray Barton Racing Engines in Pennsylvania, first to have a look around, and the second time was to have a look at my engine under construction. This time was with my son, Kirk, to see it run on the Dyno. Richard Ehrenberg had been invited by Rance Baxter to have a look at “this EFI Hemi running a new ACCEL DFI system.” With Dave running the Dyno, and the rest of us standing in the dyno room, (Ray, Richard, Rance, and Kirk and I) Rance was adjusting the EFI, while Richard was watching the dyno instruments. All at once, I heard Richard laugh as he pointed to the torque indicator. “Look at that torque, 500 ft. lbs at 3500 RPM!” At that moment, he turned to me and said, “I hope you’ve got a good transmission for this thing!” My lack of a quick come-back was indicative of my “knowing just enough to be dangerous” and Richard picked up on it. “You do have a good transmission, don’t you?” I had just had a new transmission built with a bolt-in sprag, torrington bearings, and an aluminum drum, I thought what else could there be? He said, “Do you have billet steel input and output shafts, cause yer going to need ’em with that much torque,” and “I’ve never seen a Torqueflite stand up to that much power without ’em.”
Returning home from Barton’s shop, I called Pete Wille to build a bullet-proof transmission like the one Richard described. When Pete gave me the figures, I just about went into a cardiopulmonary arrest. While I had no doubt in Pete’s figures and the components he would insist on using, it seemed that for not a lot more premium I could buy something more exotic, like a Lenco with a Bruno torque converter or something, but once again, I decided to listen to someone who knows, and who I trust, and that was Pete. I told him to go ahead and get it done.
Pete offered to pick-up the car from Russ’s shop, bring it over to Victoria Automatic Transmissions, and install the transmission and the new torque converter he had purposely built for my application. While it was there, I asked him to install the new 4:56 gears in place of the 4:88’s. When he removed the cover, and unloaded the carrier he called with bad news. My carrier was a mess. Pete replaced the carrier and powder-coated the rear-end housing (which had previously been painted) before reassembly. I also had Pete install the new Wilwood Brakes I had purchased while he had it apart.
After returning the car home, I began looking for the right body man with an understanding of where I was going. My original painter, Zoltan Bod, had given up body and paint and was at last I knew porting heads and building carburetors. After making several enquiries around town, the name Derrick Dotchuk was recommended, but reported to be unlikely available.
I did my due diligence, having looked at his work, and then made a visit to his inconspicuous body shop in an rural area on the outskirts of town.
I introduced myself, to which he promptly replied, “Yes, I’ve heard all about you, you’re hard to please, just like me!” (or words to that effect). His second response was, “sorry, but I’m booked for two years”. After telling Derrick about my project, I was able to convince him to come over, “just to have a look”.
Upon his arrival, I showed him the new Hemi on the stand, and went over the car and what I wanted to do. Essentially, I explained that everything had to be repainted except the exterior. He said, “I get it, you want me to do all of the difficult work!” I replied with a smile, “I guess that’s about it.” After he finished laughing, he continued to look over the exterior of the car for a close inspection. He pointed out two cracks in the paint in the cowling located on each side where the factory had originally applied lead. He said, “What we’ll do, when we paint the engine bay we’ll carry right over to the windshield frame, seeing as how you’ll be taking the windshield and the rear window out.” I responded, “I’ll be taking the rear window out?” to which he promptly replied, “Well yah, how else am I going to paint those roll bars?!”
I knew that the next response should be a quick, “I’ll take the rear window out” and it was… we were definitely heading in the right direction. I said, “I guess if we’re going to remove the fenders, doors, trunk and windows, and mount it on a rotisserie, we might as well repaint the whole car.” He said, “that’s what I was thinking”…”how much do you think this is going to cost you?” I said, “That’s easy, it’ll be the amount of hours it takes you to do the job times your hourly rate.” Derrick’s immediate reply was, “Good answer” and thereafter, I was in!
Back Together Again
Once all of the major components were back in my shop, I began to assemble the car including the engine, transmission, a new radiator, a new set of Weld Wheels and tires, and all of the EFI, ignition, fuel lines, and wiring components.
I hired a local Aircraft Maintenance Engineer, Shawn Reuter, to bend all of the fuel supply, return lines, brake lines, and the tube that wraps around the intake to accommodate the Injector wires. All of the brake lines and fittings are stainless steel, the cross tube from the left front to the right front being installed on the interior side of the firewall.
Another challenge, was finding a guy to do the wiring. Wiring guys are all over, but finding someone who not only knows what they’re doing, but how to create art in the process is more of a challenge. A local Hot Rodder, Lambert Head, has a pretty hectic schedule of his own. I assured Lambert that this was more about quality and fun, than it was about budget and deadlines, so he smiled and agreed to take on the project. It is indeed unfortunate that only an owner intimately knowledgeable about the car can really appreciate Lambert’s work, because his work is “a thing of beauty” and being so good at what he does means you can’t see most of it.
Once the car was assembled to the degree that we had finished drilling holes, and mounting hardware etc., Lambert and I looked at each other and agreed it was time to disassemble the car.
With the entire driveline assembly, suspension, wiring, fuel lines, glass, fenders, doors and trunk-lid removed, the car was mounted to a rotisserie and moved to Derrick’s shop for paint and body work.
While my car was at Derrick’s shop, he called to ask for the maroon paint code for interior and the new bars. I had long forgotten where I might find that information, but I had a hunch that Zoltan might know. I made the call to Zoltan, and asked if there was any way he would still be in possession of that information.
He said, “Sorry, I had it up until a few months ago when during a move, I came across the GTX file. I decided to throw it out” (he hadn’t looked at it since 1989). He asked what I was up to. After telling him the story, I asked him what he was up to. He said, “Well, I’m kind of looking for something else to do”. I said, “You need to go over and introduce yourself to Derrick, he needs help, and the two of you guys would be the ultimate team!” The next time I went to check on my car, Zoltan greeted me with sand paper in his hand. It couldn’t have been better!
Now it was time for me to get at the suspension. I dissembled all of the components, re-blasted the rear-end housing, blasted the modified K-member and had them powder coated applying a silver-vein finish and then clear. The lower control arms were boxed in for strength, and new billet struts were added. I took the Wilwood rotors and had them nitrided, mostly for the black finish that would be applied for the sake of appearance.
I purchased QA-1 double adjustable shocks, and readied the suspension components for reassembly into the car.
One day one of my nephews, Daryll, walked into my shop explaining that he just acquired a set of 17” and 18” Torque Thrust wheels for his 1971 Demon he was building. He said, “That’s what you’ve gotta do for this thing” nodding toward the GTX. I said, “That will never happen!” By this time I had three sets of new Weld Wheels, a pair for the front and two pairs for the back to accommodate street tires and slicks. Furthermore, I was slow in buying into the look of the large diameter wheels, and particularly the low profile tires.
While all of this was going on there were several “long breaks” in the action. The car had been painted, we attached the suspension, and returned the car to my shop.
Kelly Shannon is a former neighbour, client and long time friend. When it was time to get at the interior I called Kelly to book him for the job. I laugh when I think back to the times when Kelly would subtly inspire me to a higher standard. I was cleaning up a bracket that I had made years before that I used for mounting the gauges. He leaned over my shoulder and said in a very casual calm voice, “Are you going to use that?” (of course I was) so taking the cue I said, “No, I’m going to make one out of billet”, and so I did. On another day, I had removed the original, what I thought were pristine door panels, from a plastic bag and he said, “Are you going to use those?” I said, “I was going to, they’re in great shape, don’t you think?” He replied, “Not in great enough shape for this car.” So I called Legendary Interiors and bought new ones. Between Legendary and Year One I had already purchased new seat foams, covers, and headliner anyway… why stop now?
Re-inventing the Wheel
One day Kelly invited me to come over to a Custom Car Fab shop he works for to have a look at a 70 Cuda they were working on. They were talking about having it ready for a local car show, which I thought was absolutely impossible. They were months behind where I was, but Kelly said the guys were confident they’d have it ready. Then the thought crossed my mind, that if they would be ready, I certainly could be! When I communicated that thought out loud, my brother, Bernie scoffed at me; “You’ll never have that thing ready!” It sounded like a challenge, and that was just what I needed. I informed my son, Kirk, that our new vocation for the next few months was to get the car finished in time for the show. Kirk enthusiastically agreed.
Then one day during our annual “guys” trip to the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, I was talking to a car builder from Hawaii as I was admiring his projects. They had the large wheels, and looked great. We got to talking about my project when he said, “Are you doing the big wheels?…(and in my hesitation he continued) “You’ve gotta do the big wheels man, that’s what everyone is looking for now.” Later in the day, I turned to my brother-in-law, Harvey “Garbagge” and said, “I’m thinkin’ I might need to go to big wheels on my car,” he turned to me with a response I didn’t expect from a guy ten years my senior. Squinting his eyes with clenched lips while rotating his head in short fast vertical motions, he said, “I think so.” With that I knew I had to do it.
During one of my annual trips to SEMA in Las Vegas, Chip Foose had unveiled the serial # 001 Hemisphere in the Mopar Exhibition. I had always been a fan of Foose’s 5 spoke wheels, and five spoke wheels in general, but the wheels on the Hemisphere were the most gorgeous five spoke wheels I had ever seen! Although I kept looking for several months, it was at the 2008 SEMA Show that I met up with Don Voth, the owner of the 001 Hemisphere, and JF Launier from JF Customs, (both local BC boys who live in my area, and each friends of Chip Foose). When I explained that I was zeroing in on wheels, they both suggested I speak to Mike Curtis who could create an entirely new design, and who happened to be at the show. By chance, I met up with Mike while walking the show and was able to discuss wheels. Upon my return home, Mike sent me a design, but it was too far off of what I was looking for. I explained that I wanted something like the Hemisphere wheels, but he quickly added, that that wasn’t an option for him. As it turns out, he designed and manufactured the Hemisphere wheels for Foose, and he was loathe to knocking them off, even with the variations I wanted.
By then I was committed to the look. As the owner of a tool manufacturing company, we have our own CNC mills and lathes and therefore decided that there was no good reason that we couldn’t make the wheels ourselves.
I sat in front of a computer with a young man by the name of Steve Steiger, and while he applied my ideas and rough sketches to the CAD program, together we designed a thick coke bottle shape spoke with a sharp leading edge, and narrow stem transitioning to a wide base. It was exactly the look I had envisioned.
Having completed a lot of homework, we ordered the shells, and the raw billet. We machined the centers for 18” x 7” (front) and 20” x 15” (rear). The centers were polished and then treated to a textured finish using scotch-brite and WD-40. After assembling the wheels at our shop, we sent the wheels to Green’s Automotive in Richmond to true them up and weld the centers.
A few years previous, I saw a car with billet wheelie wheels and thought it was cool. We designed new mono-shock wheelie bars with matching billet wheelie wheels.
The Ring Brothers are custom car guys and the originators of the first billet aluminum hood hinges. Having seen the first set at SEMA, I was able to speak to Mike at the following Barret-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale. I asked if he had made or had intended to make hinges for a B-Body Chrysler. Although he said that indeed he was, he had no idea as to when they might be available. There was another company in Phoenix that was getting into billet hinges, so I asked them too. But no one was making hinges for a B-body Chrysler. I took the matter back to my staff, and we got right on it. What we didn’t expect was the amount of R & D that would go into them. While they weren’t ready for the first two events I attended, they were ready for SEMA, and I’m proud to say to my staff’s credit, that my hood hinges are outstanding in every way!
One day my nephew, Daryll came over again. I showed him the intake on my motor, and asked him what he thought I should do. (Regardless of the care a manufacturer takes in fabricating a sheet metal intake, it’s hard to keep from making marks, and mine had some). I didn’t want to polish it, because it’s hard to maintain the calibre of finish. Clear powder-coating leaves me wanting, it’s been done, and it would require polishing first. Silver ceramic coating might look like it came from off-shore. Daryll made a statement that would set me back once again, “You wanna know what I would do with this engine?…make it black! Business! That’s what I would do.”
I resisted the thought at first, but over the ensuing days I was beginning to warm up with the idea. I had been bothered by how the intake had dwarfed the Enderle Bird Catcher, when the thought of buying a “Buzzard” hat with clear aluminum finished rectangular flaps. Some quick internet research directed me to Gerardot Performance Products. They sent me a sample of their black Teflon coating, which I color-matched to an available powder coat for the intake, and the engine makeover was done.
I wish the rest of the story was done, but unfortunately it’s not over until the “fat tires fry.” My brother, Bernie called one day to inform me that the same radiator I had for the GTX wasn’t doing the job to cool what he was running which was the majority of my old 440 on gas. More research revealed that I would likely have a problem too, in spite of what I had been previously advised. A new Be Cool rad solved Bernie’s problem, so I concluded it would mine. Unfortunately, unlike his, mine would need to be custom made. Be Cool’s Canadian contact for this purpose is Canadian Performance Warehouse, Bill Kydd. After several discussions concerning available options and design, they shipped the finished product with which I was pleased. After polishing the tanks, I took it to Al-tech Anodising in Richmond to have it hard anodised in black, an idea I borrowed from Lance Smith in Southern CA.
Meanwhile, Lambert was becoming overwhelmed with what would be a slower process for him once he was on the EFI wiring. At a previous local car show I had caught a glimpse of a Cannon plug used on a gorgeous Burgundy Shelby Daytona. I stopped in my tracks, turned around and introduced myself to Dave Hartnel from Fire & Fuel. Dave specializes in Automotive Engine Management Electronics and Wiring, Chassis Wiring and Automotive Systems Integration. Now, months later, Lambert welcomed the idea to invite him to assist in the process. Between Lambert and Dave, “sparks were flying” (pun intended). Dave’s first contribution was the introduction of the ISIS Intelligent Multiplex system. Lambert understood it, was excited about it, and looked forward to working with Dave, so I said, “Then let’s do it!” We all hit it off, everyone was excited, committed, and now thrashing toward completion.
With time disappearing, I had to come up with a plan for a new hood. The “air grabber” hood (or at least the bubble portion and associated mounting base lines) off of a 71-72 Roadrunner/GTX would provide Plymouth consistency in comparison to a 68 Satellite hood (the base model Belvedere from which the 68 Roadrunner/GTX was based). The internet revealed that Stinger Fibreglass in Florida had just announced that they had recreated a fibreglass replica of same. Rick agreed to supply that portion of the base hood which was grafted onto my 68 fibreglass version, enough so that the bubble could be attached thereon.
Jeff Soetisna from Mission agreed to pull out the stops to conduct the grafting operation whereupon the hood could be released to Derrick to complete the paint in time for the show. My cousin, Rob Ross, a wood craftsman, prepared a jig to accommodate the routering required to countersink the new AeroCatch hood fasteners in time for the show as well, now fast approaching.
As remaining days before the show turned to hours, my shop was a frenzy of activity with everyone working diligently to complete their respective areas of trade.
Only days before the show, it was time to install the rear wheels. We had done our very best to accurately measure the off-set to ensure the wheels were as far to the outside as possible without coming in contact with anything. Once you’ve adjusted the rear-end to dead center, and you here a “click” “click” “click” on each side as you rotate the tires, you know two things;
- Your adjusting ability is impeccable.
- Your wheels are too wide.
Yes, the tires were contacting the chrome wheel open mouldings, not enough to prevent driving the car off the trailer and into the first show, but wide enough that something would have to be done.
Dismounting the tires and placing the wheels on a machine represented a significant risk of damage to the wheels. I called my younger brother, Kevin, for his opinion. He agreed with my risk assessment and suggested that narrowing the rear-end was mostly labour. So with the help of my son, Kirk, that’s what we did.
If I were asked what impresses me the most about my car it’s this, “The car was not built around what the casual observer will see, it was built around what the casual observer will never see. One day my car will likely be disassembled once again by someone other than me. When that happens, they will be impressed with what they unfold, and inspired by the people who contributed to the process.”
I bought the GTX a few days after I started dating the woman who would shortly afterwards become my wife. In some ways our marriage has been somewhat like my car; it’s always been pretty good, but sometimes it’s real good. I consider myself a fortunate man that I still have them both.