1971 Dodge Challenger - Modern Missile
RPM Hot Rods’ Challenger pays tribute to the legendary Motown Missile drag machine, but with a Pro Touring twist
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If you’re a rogue nation looking for instantaneous street cred, you can’t go wrong with a covert missile program. It’s a time-honored strategy, proven by generations of international tyrants, that instantly puts your shenanigans on the big stage. Similarly, as the Big Three waged war over muscle car supremacy in the ’60s and ’70s, Chrysler never conquered as many subjects as its crosstown rivals, despite kicking out what was arguably the most diverse lineup of extreme performance machines. Not surprisingly, Mopar Nation went rogue by developing a potent yet little-known weapons program of its own. No, we’re not talking about Hemis stomping all comers at Daytona in 1964, or the Elephant motor’s dominance in Top Fuel. To the contrary, the Mopar Missile program of the early ’70s produced a triumvirate of legendary drag machines that dominated NHRA Pro Stock. Now the Missile is back, this time reincarnated as a cutting-edge, Gen III Hemi-powered, IRS-equipped Pro Touring machine that pays homage to its legendary forbear in unexpected ways.
To the typical smug Pro Touring enthusiast who associates drag racing with tooth decay and fashionably sleeveless T-shirts, the idea of state-of-the-art technology coexisting with straight-line machinery is a bizarre concept. Well get over it, because that assumption is pure bunk. Chrysler campaigned three different Missiles over the years, a ’71 Challenger, a ’72 Cuda, and a ’73 Duster. Believe it or not, modern data acquisition systems are merely an evolution of technology introduced more than 40 years ago in these revolutionary Mopars. As the story goes, the factory-backed Missile program hired NASA engineers to rig up a trunk full of data acquisition gear that logged everything from wheel speed and throttle position to shock travel and oil pressure. The team also used titanium brake rotors and suspension components to pare mass as much as possible. Consequently, although RPM Hot Rod’s (http://www.RPM-HotRods.com) ’71 Challenger is a Pro Touring tribute to a straight-line machine, both speak the same high-tech language.
In a yearly tradition that spans several decades, the Goodguys Rod and Custom Association hooked up with RPM to build a killer giveaway car for 2012. For creative inspiration, Goodguys opened up a design contest that allowed artists from all over the country to submit renderings of what they wanted to see built. The ’71 Motown Missile Challenger struck a chord with designer Steve Stanford, and his modernized rendering of this fabled machine (Chrysler renamed the ’73 Duster “Mopar Missile”) struck a chord with RPM’s Curt Ukasik. Having already built the 2010 Goodguys giveaway car, a shotgun-powered ’70 Mustang that we featured on the cover of our Oct. ’10 issue, Curt was well aware of the tedious task at hand, but forged ahead anyway. “With the Mustang, we were really under the gun to get the car done in a very short time frame. I wanted to take another stab at it to see what we could build if given some more time to dedicate to the project,” Curt says. “My kids come by the shop and see these cars coming together in various stages. Taking them to the giveaway ceremony is great, because they get to see how you can make someone’s day by giving back to the community.”
With 14 months to go before deadline, RPM procured a ’71 Challenger that Curt describes as “fairly decent” but would give most hot rodders a heart attack. Soda blasting the body revealed a big mess of holes, and the quarter-panels, doorskins, fenders, and floors were replaced accordingly. In fact, every panel except for the roof is brand new. Since Goodguys events have become synonymous with legit max-effort g-Machines that go like stink around the autocross, RPM knew the chassis couldn’t disappoint. The factory torsion bars and leaf springs just wouldn’t cut it. As such, the crew welded in a Roadster Shop front clip complete with tubular twin A-arms and RideTech coilovers. The E-Body’s posterior is even more trick, boasting a Roadster Shop independent rear suspension. Super heavy-duty splined sway bars virtually eliminate body roll, and the wheels are anchored by C6 Corvette spindles and hubs at every corner. Massive 14-inch Baer discs brakes with six-piston calipers bring the Missile to a halt in a hurry.
Just as impressive as the chassis and suspension hardware is how RPM merged it with the body. By welding the Roadster Shop front clip and IRS cradle assembly together, the Challenger was transformed from a unibody into a full-frame chassis. To achieve a downright sinister stance while retaining full suspension travel, RPM performed some serious surgery with the plasma cutter and welder. Just like a ’70s-era NASCAR stock car, the chassis was tucked way up into the body. “We cut out the entire floor, dropped the body over the chassis, built custom channels over the framerails, then welded everything back up,” Curt says. “Now the body attaches to the rocker panels, and the bottom of the rockers are even with the bottom of the chassis. For additional ground clearance, we ran the exhaust through the driveshaft tunnel.”
Since the original Motown and Mopar Missiles relied on Hemi power under their hoods, Curt wanted to retain elements of that hallowed heritage but with a modern flair. Consequently, he ordered up a crate 426ci Gen III Hemi small-block from Indy Cylinder Head. The combo is based on a production block that’s been bored to 4.090 inches, then stroked the rest of the way with a forged Compstar rotating assembly. CNC-ported factory aluminum cylinder heads provide 370 cfm of flow to the short-block, and a custom COMP Cams 230/234-at-.050 hydraulic roller camshaft kicks open the valves. For the full late-model effect, a FAST XFI engine management system controls the fuel and spark delivery. The net result is 505 hp in a package that weighs hundreds of pounds less than the original Gen II Hemi big-block. “So many cars these days are getting built with GM LS-series motors, but the new Hemis are great engines as well,” Curt opines. “They make a ton of power, and get great fuel mileage. In a few years I think they’ll really start catching on.”
As RPM’s May 2012 deadline loomed, and the Challenger was scheduled to be on display at the Goodguys Nashville Nationals, Curt and company worked 24 hours a day for a week to get the project wrapped up. A testament to the meticulous engineering and fabrication that went into the Goodguys Missile, the car exceeded all performance expectations right out of the box. “To be honest, the first miles we put on it were on the autocross at Nashville,” Curt says. “The car sticks, handles, and performs just like a modern sports car should. The fastest lap of the weekend in our class was 35 seconds, and we posted 38- second laps without any tuning or practice.”
Anyone who followed professional drag racing during the muscle car heyday fondly remembers the cars of Chrysler’s Missile program as the wild creations that beat up on Chevys and Fords, only to vanish into obscurity once the company pulled back its sponsorship budget. It’s a shame that the Missile program represents just a blip in the annals of drag racing history, and perhaps that’s why the Goodguys Missile has been such a hit on the show circuit. “It looks very much like the original Motown Missile drag car, but with a modern twist,” says Goodguy’s Ed Capen. “Steve Stanford did a phenomenal job with the design concept, and the positive response from people at events has been overwhelming. Everything about this car, from its power and handling to the way it sits, makes it a very well-balanced package.” So regardless of whether the subject at hand is a straight-line or corner-blazing machine, when a team of skilled car builders pushes the limits of technology, it’s hard to go wrong.
Win This Car!
The only thing better than a retro, 505hp, Pro Touring ’71 Challenger is a retro, 505hp, Pro Touring ’71 Challenger that you can win for free. Best of all, signing up for the grand prize is easy. “There are three different ways to do it. All current Goodguys members, or anyone who signs up by October 12, 2012, will automatically be entered to win,” explains Ed Capen of Goodguys. “The second way to sign up is by entering your car at any of the 2012 calendar year events. The third method is by filling out an online entry form at http://www.Good-Guys.com. The Goodguys Missile has been so popular that we’ve had spikes in membership just because people want to win the car. The winner will be announced at the Southwest Nationals in Scottsdale, Arizona, on November 18, 2012.”
By The Numbers
1971 Dodge Challenger
Curt Ukasik, 39 • Coraopolis, PA
Type: Chrysler late-model Gen III Hemi
Block: factory 6.1L bored to 4.090 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, custom windage tray, stock pan
Rotating assembly: Compstar 4.050-inch forged steel crank and rods; Mahle 11.0:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: factory aluminum castings with 2.08-/1.60-inch valves ported to flow 370 cfm
Camshaft: custom COMP Cams 230/234-at-.050 hydraulic roller; .547/.563-inch lift;114-degree LSA
Valvetrain: Manley beehive valvesprings, retainers, and locks; stock lifters and rockers
Induction: Indy Mod Man dual-quad intake manifold, dual FAST 4150-style throttle bodies
EFI: FAST XFI stand-alone engine management system
Ignition: FAST XIM
Fuel system: custom Rick’s Hot Rod Shop tank, FAST 42-lb/hr injectors; Aeromotive pump and pressure regulator
Exhaust: TTI 1.75-inch headers, custom X-pipe, dual 2.5-inch Flowmaster mufflers
Output: 505 hp
Built by: Indy Cylinder Head
Transmission: Tremec TKO 500 five-speed manual, Centerforce twin-disc clutch
Rear axle: Roadster Shop 9-inch rearend with 35-spline halfshafts, 3.89:1 gears, limited-slip differential
Front suspension: Roadster Shop Fast Track front clip with custom upper and lower A-arms, splined sway bar; C6 Corvette spindles and hubs; RideTech coilovers
Rear suspension: Roadster Shop IRS with custom cradle, upper and lower A-arms, splined sway bar; C6 Corvette spindles and hubs; RideTech coilovers
Brakes: Baer 14-inch rotors with 6-piston calipers, front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Billet Specialties Vintec 19x9.5, front; 20x12, rear
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 275/30R19, front; 345/30R20, rear
This Challenger is awesome. What's even better? It could be YOURS!!