Understand that better is a relative term

I’ve been in a kind of loop lately. I’ve spent most of my spare time for the past two years fixing what seemed like the same problems with my 1969 Dodge Charger project car. And while the repairs were improvements, I didn’t really feel like I was doing anything about it. had been reached. That’s the danger of regularly driving a project car: if you’re not careful with your mileage, you’ll find yourself making more repairs than making progress.

Fortunately, I’m learning to give myself the breathing room I need by using other vehicles, while giving the Charger the time and attention it deserves. I’ve also been able to take inventory of the improvements I’ve made since the project’s previous auto update, and I’ve accomplished quite a bit. It’s also helped me better understand what I’m working towards, and it’s starting to feel like this project is really taking shape.

My Charger as seen in our team’s fleet debut.

remarkable progress

I ended the latest project car update by saying that the Charger needed some basic maintenance and a new set of tires. I am happy to report that this has all been resolved. The steering pump no longer screams bloody murder, I got the tires I wanted, and I even threw in some new ball joints and brakes. Speaking of brakes, the car now has power brakes. It may not be a racing car screaming mod, but it does make the thing a lot more fun to drive.

I installed a set of 275/60R-15s in the rear and reassigned the 245s to helm duty. The 28-inch tall, 3.55-speed Mickey Thompson Sportsman STs put my craving for overdrive to rest. Cruising speeds of 65 mph at 2,800 rpm is fine, and there’s still just enough low-end response to get around town. I have to do something about that 8.25 between the rear tires before I can really enjoy it. It has held up so far, but I made sure not to disturb the peace.

I also made some changes to get a little better performance. I had an old single-plane feeding the 440, and while it worked, more bottom end is best for street use. Since a Torker II intake manifold I had on the shelf would offer some performance gains on the low end over the top-heavy TM7 intake, I decided to go there for now.

Edelbrock Torker II and Holley 800 CFM sit on top of the filthy 440.

The results are about what you would expect from one plane to another. Low rpm can still be a bit jerky, but the Torker II has cleaned up the behavior somewhat. Shortly after, I switched to an 800-cfm Holley over the 850 that came with the car when I picked it off the field. The 850 needs some serious work and I want to improve efficiency. However, the 850 is not officially retired yet. Thanks to a company I recently came across, BLP Racing Products, I was able to find some repair kits that I probably would have lost my mind without. If you’re working on a Holley carb, I recommend checking out BLP’s inventory.

I even managed to catch up on some exhaust work. While I plan on getting a good exhaust system eventually, I went ahead and added an X-pipe and Dynomax Super Turbo mufflers to my homemade setup. It has enough bark to let you know you’re driving when you step on it, but drone is virtually nonexistent at cruising speeds, and I can dig that.

Not the first time. Not the last time.

Upgrades aren’t always better

The two main changes I’ve made to the car don’t really qualify as upgrades. In any case, they are downgrades.

The first downgrade I did was to ditch the electronic ignition system in favor of a two-point distributor. One of the first modifications I made to this car was converting it to a standard electronic ignition system. I messed around with an MSD system for a while, but kept up with the stock until last summer. By the time I had burned out the third or fourth ignition module, I knew something had to change. So when the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals came to town, I got a Mallory dual-point distributor there.

One of two Mallory dual-point distributors I now own. This was installed after I wrote this, but I have yet to test to see what kind of improvements the vacuum advance brings to this combination.

My dad barked at me to put a two-point distributor back in the car since the first time a broken ignition system landed me on the tow truck. I should have listened. The points distributor has now seen the car for all four seasons and has never been the reason I called roadside assistance.

What my AAA membership gave training was something else entirely. I should have listened to another elder tell me not to buy a tubular K member that the car rides on since I first started driving the Charger. It finally occurred to me not too long ago. Luckily nothing bad happened when it fell out as I was driving on a quiet stretch of road with more than enough room to stumble safely to the side.

Now, before I make a general statement about tubular K-members and street use, it’s only fair to say that some are built with that attitude in mind, while others are not. In my case, I should have done more research before buying marketing keywords and driving carelessly. I’m not an engineer and can’t really go into the details. All I can say is that I won’t be taking a risk on a road car again anytime soon. The stock unit might be a little heavier and offer less room for headers and working on things, but I’m sure Dodge built it for street use, and it’s proven to be a perfectly viable design for nearly 60 years now. I wish I had thought about that before spending money on flashy aftermarket parts. At least no one was injured.

On the plus side, I think the car looks a lot better with the factory K member tucked neatly into the belly. The tubular K-member, believe it or not, hung very low. In old photos you can see that there was minimal ground clearance under the front of the car when it was installed. It’s something I really never noticed until I swapped back. As soon as I did that, the charger looked like a charger again. Even with the stabilizer bar, everything looks neat and tidy.

It reached New Jersey. Where to now?

What’s the plan from here?

So the car runs, it looks good and it runs pretty smooth. Yeah, I’m going to make it pretty eventually, but I need to get some highway miles with it first.

I recently took the car for an emergency trip to New Jersey. According to my math, I got about 7 miles on the gallon. I know many of you will say that sounds about right, but I don’t. I know I can double that if I make a few changes. I have another vacuum advance distributor that I need to install, and I’m confident I can get more miles per gallon out of it by tinkering with the tune a bit more. Also, the sending unit has an annoying leak that doesn’t help the situation. Just tackling that should make a huge difference.

The single-plane intake and cam combination I have does not please me in terms of efficiency in this working range. A good dual plane like Edelbrock’s Performer RPM should be on top. And while I have an unopened Comp Cams cam and lifter set that would be perfect here, I’m yet to decide if it belongs in this bike or another one I’m working on.

Once I get that sorted, I plan to go out and explore a bit. I have an idea where I want to go, but I’m not going to say anything until I build a little more confidence in this sucker. Speaking of which, I’m still not sure if I want to keep my tubular wishbones. They haven’t let me down yet, but all the way to Jersey I kept thinking about the possibility of something going wrong because of my experience with the K member.

So I’ve been playing around and tightening things up. I plan to finally finish the cosmetics, but I plan to do something big between then and now to make it possible – something that requires a significant amount of money. I’ll keep you informed.

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