“Where Route 66 meets the Autobahn,” was the tag line for the 2004 Chrysler Crossfire. The Crossfire was developed jointly by Mercedes and Chrysler several years after the merger of the two companies. One of the goals of the Crossfire was to capitalize on synergies between these two companies in the creation of new vehicles. It featured a proven Mercedes chassis that included SLK components that was married to a sleek Chrysler designed body. The Crossfire was a sporty two seater that, like the Viper, was offered in both coupe and roadster configurations. While the concept was impressive, vehicle production only lasted a few years, and by 2008 the Crossfire was little more than a footnote in history.
On the other hand, the 1963 Dodge Polara that is featured on these pages is an excellent example of a vehicle that navigates a different intersection, in this case “where classic meets modern.” This rebirth of this vintage Polara quarter mile warrior is a perfect illustration of the restomod approach that is so popular with many of today’s enthusiasts and leading show car builders. In this case, a 51 year old Max Wedge Super Stock that was rode hard and put away wet more times than one can count has now been completely restored, and along the way, upgraded with numerous modern components. The result is ground pounding Mopar muscle that showcases the best of both yesterday and today.
The Polara is the vision of vehicle owner, John Creekmore, who wanted a Mopar with classic 1960’s looks and performance, but with the ease of operation and amenities that we take for granted in today’s modern high performance vehicles. He also wanted the vehicle to incorporate a subtle design theme that would celebrate Mr. Norm’s 50th Anniversary, so there was no doubt that it had to be a Dodge. Enter Mike Staveski, whose shop Rods Mods and Restos (RMR) in Hudson, Florida has built several vintage and late model muscle cars for John and is well known for building Mr. Norm’s branded performance vehicles.
After brainstorming with Mike, and looking at a wide variety of possible candidates, John decided on a potent Super Stock from the golden era equipped with all of the go fast goodies that made them so exciting. The caveat was, he wanted the vehicle refined, so that it would not only be blindingly fast, but also a comfortable, dependable cruiser with the full range of creature comforts. While thinking like this would have been considered an oxymoron back in the sixties, an era when you could have one or the other, but not both, today it’s virtually expected and absolutely achievable.
After sleuthing like Indiana Jones for several months, John and Mike found a genuine 1963 Dodge Polara Super Stock for sale that was not only equipped with the vaunted 426 Ramcharger dual quad “Maximum Performance” wedge engine and push button TorqueFlite transmission, but also wore a rare factory aluminum front end ensemble, including the fenders, hood and front bumper. The Dodge had been a race car for most of its life, rolling up the miles a quarter at a time. It was in extremely good condition and still wearing its racing livery. The body was nearly rust free, and with a refresh, the Dodge could have been back out on the track and racking up some more class wins in short order. However, the new owner had other plans for this warrior.
The first step was to disassemble the former super stocker down to a bare body shell, put it on a rotisserie, go over every inch from top to bottom and restore it to better than new condition. While this was being done, the 426 Ramcharger engine was machined by Scott’s Racing Engines in Spring Hill, Florida and assembled at RMR. A buildup that would make the most seasoned racer envious, it includes 11:1 compression Diamond Racing forged pistons, rebuilding the original Max Wedge connecting rods and machining the original crank to exacting tolerances. A new set of Edelbrock Max Wedge aluminum cylinder heads not only provide enhanced air flow, but the additional benefit of lighter weight, while the hydraulic roller camshaft and roller rockers are Comp Cams pieces. Four tube exhaust headers, engine mounts, torque strap, and the engine gasket set were all sourced from Schumacher Creative Services.
Bolted to the Edelbrock aluminum cylinder heads is a Hilborn stack injection system prepared by Bob Ream of Imagine Injection that replaces the original ram-induction intake manifold and dual Carter four barrel AFB carbs. A Fast EZ EFI, with an Imagine Injection harness insures that the engine runs perfectly every time the owner spins the key. The sweet sounds of the injected Max Wedge are provided by Dyno Max mufflers, while open headers always remain an option in the event that a call to duty for some quarter mile action beckons.
Backing up the revitalized Max Wedge is a near bullet proof Chrysler A-727 TorqueFlite equipped with a Hughes 2800 rpm stall torque converter. Carbon fiber accents on the Max Wedge provide the perfect visual complement to the old and new approach utilized on the engine build. The Hilborn injection, the Mr. Norm’s 50th Anniversary logo valve covers and master cylinder cover all feature carbon fiber accents that are repeated throughout the vehicle.
Adding to its dual personality, the Polara is now equipped with a Gear Vendors Under / Overdrive, which provides it with something of a split personality. Discretely located on the floor above the standard headlight dimmer switch is a second dimmer switch that actuates the Gear Vendors. One tap of the switch and the overdrive is engaged, tap it again and it’s disengaged. Thanks to the Gear Vendors, with a simple tap of the toe, the Polara can be ready for another blast down the track or life in the fast lane on the freeway, certainly something it never was able to do its last life. Out back, a Chrysler 8 ¾ rear end runs a Sure Grip with 3.55:1 gears, a near perfect choice for both street and strip duty.
In a nod to tradition, the suspension has been completely rebuilt, and utilizes conventional Chrysler torsion bars up front, with leaf springs in the rear. Rolling stock begins with a set of vintage styled Coys C5 chrome wheels in a staggered fitment consisting of 15 x 7 in the front and 15 x 8 wheels in the rear. BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires provide the grip, with 225/60R15 and 275/60R15 on the front and rear respectively. Master Power disc brakes provide safe sure stops, and the power booster requires only modest pressure on the brake pedal for the binders to pull the Dodge down from high speed. A stock Chrysler power steering pump makes spinning the steering wheel back and forth in the twisties easy.
The body and paint on the Dodge is flawless and the Sherwin-Williams Planet Color Kona Blue looks a mile deep. The stainless trim was polished to a high luster and in a salute to its underlying modernistic theme, just as with the engine, subtle carbon fiber accents abound. From insets in the grille trim and head light rings, to the original accents on the quarter panel trim and even the chrome Dodge emblem on hood and trunk lid, carbon fiber has been tastefully applied.
Inside, the interior is beyond the scope of what anyone could have dreamed about when the Polara was built on the assembly line at Hamtramck. Glove soft saddle tan leather and suede covers nearly every surface, including the comfortable ’68 B-Body bucket seats. The surfaces that aren’t covered are painted Kona Blue and match the exterior. Like the engine and the exterior, carbon fiber accents provide the perfect detail for the show car quality interior.
The dash, controls for the push button TorqueFlite, the tachometer cup and even the horn button on the Grant Industries wood steering wheel all benefit from the judicious use of this modern day accent. A Vintage Air system keeps the interior cool, calm and dry while a Kenwood tuner, Alpine amplifier and Polk Audio speakers from Crutchfield provide the sound quality far beyond what the standard AM radio of the day offered.
Reflecting its original career as a Super Stock, the Dodge is still equipped with its original multi-point roll bar that’s now upholstered to match the interior, and as with most super stockers of the era, the rear seat has been deleted, giving the interior a purposeful look. This is reinforced by the no-nonsense stock factory dash that’s complemented by an Autometer American Muscle tach strapped ‘60’s style to the Ididit tilt steering column. Additional gauges monitor engine functions, and are neatly integrated into a custom console that runs between the bucket seats.
The Polara was shipped to us directly from its debut at the SEMA Show where it was displayed in the Atech Motorsports exhibit. And while we only had a short time to drive and photograph it before it left for a premier placement in the Mr. Norm’s 50th Anniversary Exhibit at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Chicago, the time was well spent. We immediately scheduled the photo and road test sessions, knowing time was of the essence.
We were juiced to get behind the wheel of the Dodge and see what it was like to drive this super stock that had been injected (no pun intended!) with an alter ego cruiser personality. With a twist of the key, the fuel injected Max Wedge immediately came to life. No fuss, no priming the carbs and hoping that it wouldn’t be cold blooded and cantankerous until it had sufficiently warmed up. The Bob Ream tuned Hilborn injection worked perfectly, and makes this once high strung race car very easy to live with.
The rumble of the potent big block was unmistakable and sounded just like a Super Stock Dodge should. Operating the Push Button TorqueFlite was easy, and in its day was considered a novel approach to gear selection. The push button assembly was rebuilt by Schumacher Creative Services and functioned flawlessly. Sliding the parking brake lever over released the lock on push buttons, and as soon as we pushed the Reverse button on the TorqueFlite, it immediately shifted into gear. After backing out of the garage, we pushed the Drive button it shifted instantly into gear and we were off.
The Max Wedge made all of the appropriate noises, our adrenaline was up and we headed down the road. The TorqueFlite shifted automatically into second and third crisply, and at the appropriate times. Driving down a two lane country road in a Super Stock Dodge is great fun. The steering was tight and responsive. The big (by today’s standards) B-Body had a taut feel and handled the turns and hills effortlessly.
If we didn’t know better, it would have been easy to make the assumption that the suspension had been upgraded to upper and lower control arms up front and a four link out back with coil overs at all four corners. The fact that the suspension remains as Chrysler originally designed it speaks volumes about engineering that dates back over a half century and still works great. Thanks to the electronic fuel injection, the power band of the Max Wedge was extremely broad, and regardless of whether it was at low or high speed, the engine was always ready and eager to plant you in the seat. It almost seemed as though the Polara actually enjoyed the driving sessions, and was always ready to come back for more.
While our time with this amazing Max Wedge was brief, it was time well spent. Like a phoenix rising, this Polara has been reborn into a vehicle that conveys a vintage, near restoration like appearance that belies the state of the art technology hiding just beneath the surface of the classic sheet metal. And since all of the modern upgrades are bolt on parts, it wouldn’t take much to return the Polara back to its former status. As an example, by retaining the original suspension, it would be easy to revert back to a set of Cragar Super Tricks, Moroso front runners, Goodyear wrinkle wall slicks, a set of Lakewood 90/10 shocks and in no time flat, hit the track for some serious passes.
The beauty of this Dodge is the fact that while it has been up-fitted with a wide range of modern conveniences, it has not been stripped of its fundamental character. First and foremost, it’s still a Super Stock Dodge, much like the ones Mr. Norm sold when this Polara was new, and serious racers like Dick Landy or Bud Faubel would have felt right at home behind the wheel.
A word of warning to the BowTie brigade, Big Chiefs and Blue Oval guys along with members of the rice rocket and Euro tuner set; whether you’re at the wheel of vintage or late model iron, think twice before taking on this Dodge. It may look like a relic from the old days, but it will kick your ass and leave you standing as though you were chained to a telephone poll. As one of my drill sergeants in basic training was fond of saying, a word to the wise should be sufficient.”
Above far left: The Dodge when it rolled into Rods, Mods and Restos. A warrior for many years it’s ready for a makeover. Above center left: Disassembly of the Dodge in preparation for the next chapter in its life. Above center right: Completely disassembled and mounted on the rotisserie. Above far right: Working over the body to make it better than new.
Above far left: One of the few areas of rust on the vintage B-Body before it was repaired. Above center left: The Dodge is in the booth and the first coat of primer has been applied. Above center right: The aluminum front fenders and hood have been hung for final check fits before they are removed that the Dodge is painted. Above far right: The Kona Blue has been sprayed and the paint is curing in the booth.
All images courtesy of Toshi Akatsuka and Larry Weiner. “When Worlds Collide” was published in March, 2014 of Pentastar Power Magazine.