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Grease. Not that campy play (and later movie with Olivia Newton John) from the 1970s, but real grimy gunk stuck on everything. Frankly, it was something I never took a liking to. When I got my first car, a ‘68 Charger with big miles and northeast rot, my father wanted to show me how to change the oil. I wanted no part of all that slime on my hands and clothes. I was never a ‘neat freak,’ but I was never a mudpie kid, either; that black muck was yucky…
OK, so my inner child might have needed a good butt-whuppin’ at the time. I was not a car guy yet, but that Charger was the turning point. The cool kids at school were soon asking me questions like, “Is it an R/T?” or telling me, “you need a 440 Magnum.” Hey, this car thing was a whole new world, and like most other things I’ve ever obsessed about (and there’s been a few of them), I began reading everything I could.
The local speed shops, which were Harry Tilman’s old place in Aston, Pa., and Steve Kanuika’s up on Route 202 just over the Del./Pa. border, were more Chevy-oriented than anything else, but they helped me with things like DC catalogs and parts over the counter.
So I did learn to get under there and get messy. I learned how to bend tranny lines, handle a torque wrench, and swap out 8 ¾ center sections. After the first real serious engine rebuild on the Charger, with a worked over small-block, headers, and shift-kitted A727 ‘Flite, I found out that I was much happier. All that old road grime was washed away, and if I kept it cleaned up, it stayed that way. That was coolest!
Then came arrests for street racing, traffic tickets, misery, a growing interest in shooting photos, redemption, and eventually a career behind the keyboard without wrenches. I was OK with that; I would help out an occasional Super Stock or Alcohol racer when I was at the track, getting to work on minor stuff that, unless something catastrophic occurred, rarely got very dirty. My kids grew older, and my sons (John and Joel) both sort of ended up with the ‘car bug.’ Seeing pristine iron at places like the York Reunion, the Forge, and the Year One Experience got them hooked on it. John turned 17 just as I took over the editorship of Mopar Enthusiast, and we began looking for a project car.
That ended up being a ’71 Dart Swinger with low miles and minor rust but nothing like the cavernous metal problems up north. The car is a factory 318/A904/8 ¾ open end combo with factory front disc brakes, which gave us a great starting point. We decided on a plan of doing small things to start with – clean up, bulb and wiring fixes (with some great replacement from Tony’s Parts up in my old home state of Delaware), vinyl top and rust removal using a new product called Rust Dissolver Gel from Eastwood, 14” 4.0-bolt circle Rallye wheels from Specialty Wheel and BF Goodrich tires from Coker, and Energy Suspension parts courtesy Mancini Racing in Detroit.