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My '66 Charger Saga So Far

CherryBomb

Well-Known Member
Local time
9:19 AM
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Jul 9, 2023
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Location
St.Petersburg, FL
Hi all! As many of you know I am pretty new here, and new to classic Mopars in general. Fair warning, this is on the long side as I am laying out months of work all at once. Skip through and look at the pics if you don’t feel like reading all this nonsense.

My last car was a '59 Chevy Bel Air barn find, which I had tons of fun with for a few years. I sold that about six months ago and went on the hunt for my next classic. I had been eyeballing a Charger, Challenger or Cuda, but to be frank, all of those were out of my budget. While searching for Chargers, I did come across the car you see me with today. My father gave me an appreciation for the first gens and the price was within my range!

I reached out to the seller who was up in South Carolina, and struck a deal via phone. Within a couple of weeks I was on my way up with a trailer. Predictably, it was drizzling and the car was on a relatively rural piece of property so it was pretty muddy. We arrived, chatted with the seller for a bit and looked at a few of his other Mopars, before loading up. I also struck a deal for a 440 and a 4 speed, so we tossed those in the bed of the truck, then loaded up the car on the trailer after giving it the best look over we could.

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After a night in a crappy motel and a breakfast at waffle house, we had a pretty steady run the whole way back to the Tampa Bay area with a total round trip time of about 30 hours. Being new to Mopars, I started poking around the car and building a preliminary parts list. The good news was that 99% of the unobtanium pieces of the car were present, and the seller had even installed new seat covers and carpets. As you can see from the second pic, the car has been repainted. Sad, as the original color scheme was white with burgundy interior and I would have honestly preferred that! I will say though, I normally dislike red cars and this one really carries it nicely.

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Step one ended up being the fuel system, as I wanted to get this thing running reliably. The seller noted that it had a new tank and new fuel lines, but it was currently running off of a jug in the engine bay. I figured I should check everything out and see what was needed to get it all liked up. While he was telling the truth about the new tank and lines... that was literally it. The filler neck assembly was all in terrible shape, riddled with rust and incorrect rubber components. Then when I reached up to check on the fuel sending unit, there was simply a hole. Yep, new tank fully installed, with no sending unit at all. So I dropped the tank and cleaned it out, replaced the filler neck and vent tube top to bottom, installed a sending unit and connected up the lines. I also replaced the fuel pump making the fuel system 100% new from front to back.

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I coaxed the car to life again running on the tank this time. It smoked HORRIBLY and even when I got it to idle relatively ok, it broke up really badly coming up off of idle. I figured it would most likely either be the carb or the ignition, so why not take care of both. I got the basics on order. Plugs, leads, cap, rotor, points, condenser and a rebuild kit for the Stromberg. I built a Tri-Power setup for the ’59, so I knew my way around a 2bbl relatively well. The rebuild and cleaning went smoothly. After that, installed all the ignition bits and got to work setting the base timing.

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Except it refused to register on the timing light. I wondered if it was the leads, but confirmed it was not that. Maybe a weak coil? Unlikely, but I replaced it with a nice new one and deleted the ballast resistor per the instructions. Same thing still. I figured it had to be something with the remainder of the distributor as that was the only part that was untouched. Turns out the mechanical advance was toast and the rotor was all over the place which would explain the issue with the timing light. One new distributor later, and boom, she idled happy. I made a temporary exhaust to keep my neighbors happy and let me run the car long enough to properly set base timing and dial the carb in.

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The thing STILL smoked like crazy, so I pulled the valve covers. Gave them a quick clean and paint job while they were off. The drivers side head was FULL of oil and made a huge mess when I pulled the cover. The return passages were 100% blocked, worst I have ever seen! After poking around in them, I found a chunk of a valve stem oil seal. All starting to make sense now. At the same time, I decided to run a compression test. Got great numbers on most, but cylinder 4 was a bit low and 2 was notably down. During all of this, I bumped a rocker arm and it moved… A LOT. After poking around I found three of them which had a huge gap. So much for “Just needs a tune up and it’ll be a great driver.” I pulled the intake manifold and predictably…

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So this put me in a tough spot. I originally swore I would not spend more than a couple of hundred bucks on this little 318 to get it going so I could drive the car, then I would focus on getting the parts for the body/interior and engine swap. Don’t forget, this whole time I have had a 440 on an engine stand and even scored a dual quad setup for it! Either I was faced with pulling this motor and trans out and basically selling it as a core, or I could commit more money and keep trying to get it going.

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I guess I am a sucker for lost causes and I have a soft spot for this little thing, as I pressed on. I pulled the heads and did a quick check of the valves. Confirmed leaks on 2 and 4 which would explain the lower compression. I dropped them in at a local machine shop along with new valve seals and they are currently being worked on. They should come back 100% solid, clean and ready for paint. That should fix the compression issues on 2 and 4, as well as the exhaust valve issues on 3, 5 and 6, PLUS stop the thing smoking like Cheech and Chong were driving. At this point, gloves are off and I have decided to make this little thing real nice. The cylinder bores and pistons look really clean so there is no reason this wont be a lovely little engine when it is all back together, so why not make it look nice?

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MORE TO COME IN THE NEXT POST!
 
I stripped the three layers of paint off the intake manifold. The crappy blue paintjob had been done with nearly zero prep work, I could scrape most of it off the block and the heads with my finger nail. The intake took a bit more elbow grease, but we are almost there. Turns out someone had painted it silver at some point, I’m guessing to make it look like aluminum haha. My plan is to remove the oil pan and timing cover as well, allowing me to thoroughly clean, prep and paint everything outside of the car. Before you ask me why I didn’t just pull the whole motor, remember I decided to do this AFTER the heads were out at the shop, plus the car is parked on dirt and close to a fence where I can’t really get an engine crane to it. Even with all of that, I am 100% confident I can do 10x the paintjob it had before, and it is going to be proper Poly-red. Should look close to stock when I am done with it.

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That leads to today’s discovery. I had bought new engine mounts as the motor moved quite a bit while idling. To my dismay, I discovered some lovely redneck engineering had been done to the motor mounts. So much for this being the “original numbers matching engine” to the car as the seller had claimed. The upper mounts on this engine were the same as my dads ’63 440 wagon, plus it has an AC crank pulley and a vacuum port designed for a brake booster. My car was not specced with AC or power brakes… Rather than just sourcing proper upper mounts, the guy… Well I will just show you…

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Yep. He welded a piece of hacked up angle iron on the passenger side and used an old A body style mount he had laying around. On the drivers side, it was even funnier. He had actually bought the correct lower mount, but then proceeded to weld it directly to the crossmember higher up. I am all for redneck engineering, but for crying out loud, don’t turn around and try to sell it like it is an up-together original car! Just like the drivers side headlight motor that was “not working because of a broken wire”, which I discovered was actually just ENTIERLY MISSING! The headlight assembly was held in with bailing wire. Thankfully I purchased a couple of cores and will be having Topher rebuild them in the near future.

Anyway, if you read this far, thank you. This is going to be a big project but I am rounding the corner on it and feeling better already. This forum and it’s members have been a huge help already, both with information and parts sourcing. You guys are great and I hope to contribute what I can.
 
In a similar situation since Valentine’s Day, bought the 66 in avatar, small fire under hood, factory 361. As of last week after engine running & updating parts, burnt valve #2 cylinder. Engine pulled Monday. Still waiting on parts for 400 build, been slowly getting parts for build. Tomorrow its attention to cleaning soot from engine bay. In the end, will be bitter sweet Cherry Bomb

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Nice looking ‘66! That will be a great combo. Soot cleanup can’t be fun, I’m guessing every nook and cranny will need attention. This is almost exactly the same amount of effort, actually slightly more than I put into my ‘59 and that was an amazing cruiser, so I know it’ll be worth it.

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You can say I grew up in a Chevy family. My grandfather was a Chevrolet parts manager most of his life & pop was a Chevrolet tech for 20 years. When I was very young/small my grandmother had same make/model but in a wagon, bronze in color like your 59. She had a paper route, I would sit in the back, wrap the papers with rubber bands & throw them up front to her, lmao. I don’t know how I remember that pops said I was very small. Pop is 79 now has a 55 Belair, 454, 4spd., with those exact wheels.
Pop tells everyone, my likeness for Mopar’s must have come from the mailman. He fessed up a while back…. I don’t know why I never tried a HEMI, maybe cost, if I had, probably would have went on to be a Plymouth man, but it only would have a HEMI

That 59 is a nice looking ride!

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The car looks really good underneath.
You've made good progress in a short amount of time.
For being a hunk of metal these cars have a way of becoming adopted children.
 
Similar history here. Grampa was a dyed-in-the-wool Chevy guy. Two of his kids follow that path. But my mum broke the mold and bought a '74 Gold Duster, so that's what I grew up with starting at 7-years-old.
About two years later we moved across town and a neighbor up the street had a 71 Super Bee.. I was in love! Every time he fired it up, I would run out to the street to watch it go by.
Then came The Dukes of Hazzard... oh man, I had it bad! I didn't stand a chance; Ma Mopar had me wrapped around her finger.
Welcome to the clan, CherryBomb; you're already a great addition.
 
Looks like you are making good progress. Shame what some people do to these cars... Good thing you are making these discoveries. You are going to have a nice car in the end. I'm very thankful I was able to find an un-molested 66 Charger 12 years ago. It needed a few things attended to but nothing was bastardized by previous owner.
 
Nice.

Let's see more of the car.
 
Nice looking ‘66! That will be a great combo. Soot cleanup can’t be fun, I’m guessing every nook and cranny will need attention. This is almost exactly the same amount of effort, actually slightly more than I put into my ‘59 and that was an amazing cruiser, so I know it’ll be worth it.

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I had a blue white roof 59 4dr 327 power glide Impala. Boulevard ride, helped a little for handling when I put heavy duty coils from a 409 Pontiac Safari wagon under it. Still wouldn’t handle as well as my friend’s 57 Mayfair.
 
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Small update, got word back from the machine shop about the heads. They needed a lot of help but are going to be very nice when they are done. 8 new valves, all new springs, knurling the guides, new valve stem seals, etc. Definitely a chunk of change but it will make this little poly quite nice. At this point that makes the entire top end essentially 100% like-new. Since I have gone that far, I am going to drop the pan and inspect the bearings.

Proper upper engine mounts are en-route and this weekend I hope to finish repairing the crossmember mounting points. I love working with the death-wheel, my favorite. At this point, I am hoping to have the car back on the road at the end of August. That should give me time to get everything nicely painted and carefully reassembled, plus get the kickdown cable installed. From there, just got to go through the brakes and see what the heck he did and didn't do haha. I will try and post more pics soon.
 
The car looks really good underneath.
You've made good progress in a short amount of time.
For being a hunk of metal these cars have a way of becoming adopted children.
Thank you, and you nailed it. I just want to take care of it and treat it right!
 
If it still has the single pot master I strongly suggest tossing it in the scrap pile.
Get a 1967 style, a distribution block and a couple new lines.
I can help point out the required parts if need be.
You probably should replace the hoses as well.
 
Cherry, I totally dig your methodical approach and can do attitude. Like you, as I get into my project (your red twin) I'm finding undisclosed issues. A frame problem, for instance, that I couldn't detect poking with a large screw driver during my pre purchase "inspection". No worries, I ordered a replacement torsion bar crossmember (waiting on back order) and will get that hurdle out of the way. I'll find more I'm sure, but these first gen Chargers are so cool and quirky that they are totally worth it IMO. Very happy not to be in the 68-70 crowd. (Though I do like their looks.) BTW, I did read all the way through your thread and pics. You do a nice job showing and explaining. Easy to understand for an amateur like myself. This site is the best I've ever used. Red
 
If it still has the single pot master I strongly suggest tossing it in the scrap pile.
Get a 1967 style, a distribution block and a couple new lines.
I can help point out the required parts if need be.
You probably should replace the hoses as well.
I would greatly appreciate the help! Definitely want to scrap the single circuit brakes. I found a dual circuit power setup on ebay, what are your thoughts on this? 8" Dual Bendix Style Power Brake Booster Conversion Kit w Valve FITS 66-70 Mopar | eBay
 
Cherry, I totally dig your methodical approach and can do attitude. Like you, as I get into my project (your red twin) I'm finding undisclosed issues. A frame problem, for instance, that I couldn't detect poking with a large screw driver during my pre purchase "inspection". No worries, I ordered a replacement torsion bar crossmember (waiting on back order) and will get that hurdle out of the way. I'll find more I'm sure, but these first gen Chargers are so cool and quirky that they are totally worth it IMO. Very happy not to be in the 68-70 crowd. (Though I do like their looks.) BTW, I did read all the way through your thread and pics. You do a nice job showing and explaining. Easy to understand for an amateur like myself. This site is the best I've ever used. Red
I am sorry to hear that, but glad you are ready to tackle the issues! Thank you for the kind words, cars are my "therapy" and I enjoy sharing what I am working on. Next post with updates and pics is coming very soon!
 
On todays episode of “WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING?”… It’s actually all positive news!

First up, engine mounts. Through methodical grinding, I was able to remove the nonsense you saw in the previous post without damaging the factory mounts beneath. Some cleanup is still needed to smooth down the areas where welds were blobbed on, but I managed to do it without cutting into the factory metal! Now for pics of what 1966 Charger engine mounts are SUPPOSED to look like…

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During this odyssey, my local machine shop was working on the cylinder heads. I got the post-inspection phone call and was met with “So I have good news and bad news…” The good news was that the heads were not cracked and were 100% serviceable. The bad news was that the poor things needed a lot of help. I already knew it needed a valve job, and had them lined up to knurl the guides, machine the seats, and install the new valve stem seals, but there was a bit more needed than that. Turns out, there were 8 valves burnt beyond repair, so those needed replaced. Also, the valve springs were VERY tired, and reading at less than half the closing force they should be providing. Possibly what bent those pushrods? I gave the greenlight to do the work, and man am I glad I did. I just got them back and they look fantastic!

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The combination of the above two successes should fix every remaining issue I had with the engine, making this little poly nearly 100% serviced. I did a preliminary inspection of the bores and it looks like everything is still in good shape on that front. I will soon be inspecting the bearings as well. There was no noise, and the car had very good oil pressure, so I am optimistic that they are in decent shape too.

From there, she is getting a fresh coat of paint in Poly red, and will be looking very fresh very soon! I even picked up a factory style air cleaner from a fellow FBBO member that I will be refinishing. Once she is back together, she should look close to factory original with just a couple of small tweaks. I will probably paint the engine crossmember while I am in there as it will be the best access I get for a while. So much for not spending any money on this “little Poly”…

More updates to come!
 
Before you buy the MC and booster on that link, I suggest some research before you decide.. It's a "Bendix style" unit, not genuine Bendix and likely made in China. I have read many threads over the years where folks have had problems out of the box with these units. With this unit you will need to make a bigger hole in the firewall. Not saying all had problems but many did. Think you will be able to do some searches on this and other sites that will have opinions on these units. Many years ago I was able to find a remanufactured Midland style from Cardone. Fit it up with a proper dual pot MC and been working perfectly ever since. If you can find either a used good physical condition Bendix or Midland there are rebuild kits available for both.
 
Is it manual or power brakes originally?
I kept mine manual and it works fine with the right setup.
 
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