“I had always been a huge fan of Dodge Chargers. As a kid born in the 80’s, I grew up on the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ and was determined to get a ’68 or ’69 Charger as soon as I could,” recalls Clayton Ross from California. He continues to say, “I was always on the lookout for a Charger growing up but never had the cash to actually get one. Once I started working full time I figured it was time to make my dream happen and started saving up to buy a project car. I was set on building a resto-mod; something that could perform well with modern cars but I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.”
In July 2008, a ’69 R/T popped up on the market that seemed to fit what he was looking for so he jumped on it. The Charger was an older amateur restoration done in the early 1990’s but overall was decent. Clayton tells us, “I was the first one to show up and make an offer. I got lucky because as I was there looking at the car, the seller had calls coming in from other people who wanted to come look at the car. It would have been sold right away if I didn’t take it on the spot.”
“When I started looking for a Charger, I never imagined I’d be able to get a real R/T let alone a complete one but the price was right. It was missing the fender tag and broadcast sheet so it was perfect for what I wanted to do,” he says. When Clayton purchased the car, it was a stock running and driving car that he could enjoy while working on it but it was worn out and showing it’s age. Regardless, he was on cloud nine finally owning a Charger.
Not knowing a lot about old Mopars, Clayton sat down and figured out what route he wanted to take with the Charger. Rather than try and get high horsepower numbers out of it, he decided he wanted it 100% reliable; something he could cruise and continue to enjoy. The first order of business was to get the engine in tip-top condition.
He tells us, “My dad rebuilt the carburetor for the 440 while I started chasing down leaks, replacing gaskets, swapping out old parts and fixing electrical issues.” Over the next while, Clayton installed an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake, new March pulley system, a new A/C compressor and different valve covers to make the car his own.
The Mopar orange box ignition was the first part to fail so he installed a whole MSD system with a 6AL ignition box, Pro Billet distributor and plug wires that completely woke the car up. He also installed all new ground straps, Autometer C2 mechanical gauges to monitor the temperature and oil pressure and lots of other small parts that were missing to make everything nice and clean.
To keep the 440 running cool, Clayton installed a Milodon water pump, Mancini Racing aluminum water pump housing, Griffin aluminum radiator and Flex-A-Lite dual electric fans. TTI headers were installed as well along with a full 3-inch exhaust system with Dynomax mufflers. “It has an old mild .509 cam but I’m not sure of the specifications. It also has mildly ported 346 heads. I have a set of Sidewinder aluminum heads but I haven’t installed them yet,” says Clayton. The 440 is backed by a 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission and an 8 3/4 rear end with 3.55 gears.
With the engine work complete, he moved onto the next mess; the wiring. To say the car had some electrical gremlins would be an understatement. When he hit the brakes, the stereo would cut out, none of the interior lights worked and the headlights would dim at idle. With that, all of the wiring was replaced with American Auto Wire harnesses and the gauge cluster was sent over to Redline Gauge Works to be refreshed and have the ammeter converted to a volt meter. Clayton redid the remaining gauges in white and refinished the bezels to match. Power comes from a Mechman 150 amp billet alternator.
Once the Charger was reliable, it was time to make it comfortable. The stock seats were well past their prime and were completely worn out. Instead of restoring them, Clayton decided he wanted to switch them out for something that would hold you in place better. He installed a pair of Corbeau GTS II seats that were done in leather with suede inserts. For added comfort, a ’67 Charger center console armrest was cushioned up with extra padding and then wrapped in matching leather and installed along with a Lecarra steering wheel.
The Charger’s white paint was in dire need of some polishing and clear coat touch ups to make it shine so he had the clear coat fixed at a local body shop and then the entire car was polished. The grille had seen better days so it was pulled out, fixed and repainted. Out back is a bright red R/T stripe that stands out beautifully and up front is a custom front spoiler made from two ’69 Camaro spoilers to span the entire front valance. The entire lighting system has been upgraded with LED tail lights, Dapper Lighting LED headlights, Illumin8 LED parking lamps and every other bulb has been replaced with cool white LED bulbs.
Underneath the Charger, the suspension was a complete mess which caused it to wander all over the road pretty badly so all new Moog parts went in along with Edelbrock IAS shocks. “It was better but it still felt pretty bad on the road. I drove it around for another year or so but remained unhappy with the way it felt on the road. That’s when I decided to redo the suspension again with much better modern parts. I knew I wanted to keep the factory torsion bar set up but get adjustable parts,” shares Clayton.
Around this time, Hotchkis started releasing their TVS system for Mopars so Clayton decided to go all-in and purchase the entire set up which included tubular upper arms, strut rods, 1.1 inch torsion bars, subframe connectors, Hotchkis/Fox shocks, front and rear sway bars and lowering leaf springs. He also boxed the factory lower control arms and installed a Firm Feel Stage 3 steering box along with US Car Tool torque boxes and a lower radiator support to stiffen things up more.
The entire braking system was upgraded with a Baer Track-4 set up upfront with 13 inch rotors and a Baer Ironsport set up in the rear with 12 inch rotors. Everything is powered by a Hydroboost brake booster. The Charger rides on Intro Wheels V-Rod wheels measuring 18×8 (front) and 18×10 (rear). They are wrapped in Falken Azenis RTK615 tires sized at 245/40/18 (front) and 295/40/18 (rear).
Eventually, he would switch the carburetor out for a Holley Terminator Stealth EFI system that was fueled by a Tanks Inc. fuel tank with an electric fuel pump. “Years went by and the car was finally feeling great. I was driving it constantly but I got tired of the car show scene really quickly and wanted to turn more towards driving events. I played around at autocross events and loved getting to actually use the parts I put on. That’s when the EFI came into play. I never thought I would modernize it as much as I have but to get it to perform as I wanted, it was necessary. I have kept everything bolt-on though (except for the subframe connectors) so I could return it back to stock if I ever wanted to.”