Gallery: Luther Metzger’s ’65 Belvedere II Returns to the Street

“The Roaring ‘65s” was an ad campaign started by Plymouth in mid-1964 to introduce the newest Plymouth models. The Chrysler brass had great hope the ’65 models would continue Plymouth’s recovery after its huge debacle of 1962, which sent perspective buyers rushing to GM and Ford to escape the downsized “full size” cars and the dubious styling cues of the ’62 models.

The ’65 B-body was designated Belvedere, a name that dates to 1954. The new “mid-size” line was similar to the 1964 “full-size” Plymouth; however, the cars had redesigned front fenders and stylish chrome touches. Many of the ’65 Plymouth model lines used Roman numerals to designate the car’s trim level. The Belvedere line was separated into three classes: the base model Belvedere I, the more refined intermediate model Belvedere II, and the top-of-the-line Satellite.

On top of the new model lines, Chrysler discontinued the push button automatic selector (aka “the typewriter,” “dial-a-winner,” or “the buttons”). Did Chrysler’s adjustments have an influence? In 1965, Plymouth experienced a nearly 20 percent increase in sales over 1964, with 683,456 units sold. It was Plymouth’s best sales year since 1957.

Luther Metzger Sr. of Milton, PA, recently picked up one of the Roaring ‘65s, a Belvedere II. While the Belvedere is new to him, he is not inexperienced with high-performance Mopars. Luther has owned many notable Mopars, including a 1972 500 cubed Duster featured in Mopar Action June 2010, and when time is available, he is restoring a 1968 340, 4-speed Dart.

The Belvedere II’s story started at the Los Angeles assembly plant when it rolled off the line sporting a copper hue and motivated by a 273 V8. While little is known about its early days, the utilitarian B-body beautifully performed its tasks in the California sun without error for approximately 25 years. In the early 1990s, the Plymouth was relocated to Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, by its new owner.

The Belvedere remained a family car, but its future changed greatly in 1995. During what was originally a planned restoration, things got out of hand. The 273 gave up its spot in the engine bay and was replaced with a stout 440. The 904 Torqueflite was swapped for a big-block 727 unit, and a narrowed Dana 60 was fitted under the chassis.

A Griner trans-brake and low-band apply valve body accompanied a bolt-in sprag to fortify the 727. The torque converter selected was a Frank Lupo’s Dynamic 9-inch piece with a 4000-rpm stall speed. To keep the transmission fluid cool, a B&M Super Trans Cooler was installed in front of a Griffin aluminum radiator.

To match the seriousness of the transmission, a set of 4.30:1 Richmond gears spun 35-spline axles through a full spool. A homemade pinion snubber was attached to the Dana’s housing, and an in-house built driveshaft loop was located between the frame rails. The frame was tied together with weld-in subframe connectors.

The Belvedere’s 46-inch narrowed Dana was attached to 3300 lbs. E-body Super Stock springs moved inboard three inches on each side. To accommodate the huge rear slicks, homemade wheel tubs were constructed.

The front suspension remained stock apart from the installation of lightweight torsion bars. The factory hood, trunk lid, and bumpers were replaced with fiberglass parts to bring the Plymouth’s weight down to 3160 lbs. Wilwood race calipers and rotors were installed on all four corners to help slow down the slimmed-down Belvedere.

The interior received a new pair of A100 seats and a Chromoly, tig-welded 10-point roll cage. Aftermarket gauges were installed so the driver could track the big block’s vitals. The interior and exterior of the Belvedere were painted in a medium green pearl.

The Belvedere was drag raced from 1995 to 2021 in multiple bracket-style and Nostalgia Super Stock (NSS) classes with excellent results. As the years passed, the engines built for the Belvedere became more radical. Eventually, the Plymouth’s quarter-mile elapsed times dropped into the low 10-second range at 130+ mph.

Then after the 2021 season, for reasons unknown, the Belvedere’s 440+ cubed engine was pulled, and a “milder” 451 engine was installed. The Belvedere was taken to a few cruise-ins and visited the drag strip once or twice, but the thrill was gone, and the owner slipped a for sale sign on the dash.

When Luther discovered the Belvedere in April 2023, he called his cousin, a fellow Mopar enthusiast, Wayne Cawley, to ride with him from central Pennsylvania to Michigan to check it out. Upon seeing the car, Wayne emphatically told Luther, “You better put this on the trailer and haul it back to PA.” The Belvedere was that nice. It still had its original body panels (except the hood and trunk lid), floors, and frame rails.

The Plymouth still has all the parts from its racing days with the 451 being the only non-holdover, but it is no slouch. It is filled with Icon 10.65:1 forged pistons, a custom ground LSM hydraulic roller camshaft with a 0.640-inch lift, and a 258/262 (intake/exhaust) duration at 0.050-inch. Howards Max Effort hydraulic roller lifters were also installed.

Trick Flow 240 aluminum cylinder heads with 2.19-inch intake and 1.76-inch exhaust valves sit on the block. Harland Sharp 1.6:1 rocker arms actuate the valves via Trend 3/8-inch custom length 0.080-inch wall thickness pushrods. Lastly, a Pro Systems 1000 cfm carburetor custom-built for the engine and fed by an Aeromotive fuel pump sits atop a Victor 440 manifold. The engine runs comfortably on 93-octane pump gasoline yet pumps out 640 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque.

Since the purchase of the Belvedere, Luther has had the plexiglass windshield removed and a factory-tinted glass installed with new clips and a rubber gasket. He fitted Mickey Thompson Street tires (26×4.5×15 front and 29x15x15 rear tires), mounted a playback Autometer tach, and repaired the exterior lighting. That was just the beginning; he has great plans for the Plymouth.

Among the changes will be the installation of a Tremec 5-speed with a hydraulic throw-out bearing and Lakewood bellhousing, and a new Strange Engineering SR60 Dana 60 with a Trac-Lok will replace the Dana 60 and spool. The front and rear suspensions will be swapped for coil-over shocks.

Luther plans to reinstall the wiper assembly, add a Vintage Air air conditioning/heat unit, and rewire the car with a Ron Francis kit. Additionally, he will refit the back seat, tint the windows, and modify the roll cage sidebars to swing out.

Once a steel trunk lid is located, Luther will paint and install it on new hinges. The fiberglass front and rear bumpers will be replaced with chromed steel bumpers. New interior and exterior door handles will be installed, and although the Belvedere did not come with side mirrors, he intends to mount them. A 1-inch taller hood scoop will be added to accommodate a properly sized air filter housing. The Weld Drag Lites will work for now, so wheels will be one of the last things to change.

Although the plans for the Belvedere are aggressive, Luther will systematically work through the list. If you want to see the Belvedere in its current state, it will be at the 2023 Carlisle Chrysler Nationals, so be sure to check it out.

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Chris Holley

Technical Contributor Chris has been a college professor for 25 years; at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. for the last 20 years. Chris instructs automotive classes in HVAC, electrical/electronics, and high-performance, including using a chassis dyno, flow benches, and various machining equipment. Recently, he added a vintage vehicle upholstery class to his teaching assignments. Chris owns a '67 Dart, a '75 Dart, a '06 Charger, and a '12 Cummins turbo diesel Ram, and he is a multi-time track champion (drag racing) with his '69 340 Dart, which he has owned for 34 years.

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