When you look at a machine like this and find out it’s the result of a risky, hare-brained business decision, you know you’re hanging with passionate car guys. That’s the ethos that drives Michael Hunt and Lee Clayton, the owners of TredWear. Their business revolves around permanent tire graphics that can be applied to any tire to dress them up. The best way in the automotive world to display your product is to build cool cars that embody the spirit of what you’re selling, so that’s what they’ve been doing, and as it turns out, this hare-brained idea is actually pretty business savvy.
TredWear’s last creation, the “Tarantula,” was featured in the July 2018 issue of HOT ROD magazine and debuted on the 2017 HOT ROD Power Tour. The 1939 Chevy had been turned into an open-wheel modified dirt-track racer that the guys converted back into a street car. Going into the 2018 SEMA show, a new car was needed to represent the brand. Michael said, “We wanted to do something racecar-based, but we wanted to take it to the next level.”
Their starting point again tapped into the world of circle-track racing with a 2001 Rocket chassis that they were going to use as the foundation for the build. They were also toying with the idea of building something with a Mopar flavor—something from the beginning of the smog era. End-of-the-line Challengers and mid-’70s Chargers were at the top of the list, until a 1969 Dodge Charger popped up on the radar screen. Michael was appointed the hands-on guy behind the project, while Lee took care of the day-to-day running of the business.
The Charger was located in North Alabama, so Michael went to see if it fit the profile for what they were trying to accomplish. “The guy was thinning down his collection. It was an old parts car that had been cut up and used for another car 28 years ago and it was resting on blocks out in the woods. We had to cut down three trees and use a front loader to get to it.”
It was still wearing hints of its original Q5 Bright Turquoise paint and was actually a slant six car when it rolled off the assembly line. You Mopar guys know that is a rare beast, but sadly it was so far gone and picked over that it was unsalvageable. From the floor pans to the rear tail panel, it all had been cut out. There were no doors, engine, trans, subframe, and no rear. The only thing left was the front suspension, cowl, and roof.
Time to Start Building
Once they had the body in their shop the next step was to do something with it and the dirt-track chassis. Their initial thought was to clean up the chassis a bit and skin it. “I started Googling Charger racecars and it just showed Daytonas, so that’s when it hit me that we could actually build a wing car,” he explains. The shell was then sent to Ozan Chassis Shop—owned by John Alexander— who was also responsible for much of the work on the Tarantula. When John took a look at it and started diving into what it actually took to reskin the dirt-track car to look like a Charger, his conclusion was that it was much simpler to take all the hardware from the dirt track car and build a tube frame around what was left of the car.
The frame was planned around the engine and a set of huge dirt track wheels and tires. Their challenge was to build a chassis that was narrow enough to accommodate those tires, but also wide enough to accept the engine. They were also going to tap into all the hardware from the dirt car. It donated the entire Wilwood brake setup, which included the wide-five hubs, quick-change rear, and all the bits for the running gear. Using all of these pieces meant that the Charger would end up being a wide-body design.
The change to a wing car also meant that they needed to source some very specific parts to make it happen. Original pieces were out of the question, so the guys at Janak Repros in Spring, Texas became their source for reproduction hardware. They purchased a wing, a pair of fender scoops, and a Superbird nose. “We ended up going with a ‘bird nose instead of a Daytona nose,” Michael notes. “The ‘bird nose was a little more rounded and a little more voluptuous.” Using that nose meant that a set of 1970 Coronet fenders was needed, and those came courtesy of eBay. At all four corners changes needed to be made to accommodate the larger rubber. At the rear there was still plenty of metal left of the original quarter panels to widen the body but they needed a mounting position. They didn’t want to cut and stretch them and ruin the lines, so they bought some new AMD quarters and left about an inch on the original ones to make it racecar friendly with Dzus fasteners. This gave the back end of the Charger an additional 2.5 inches on each side.
At the front, they didn’t know how to deal with the 15-inch wide rubber and thought they might have to slap on some wheel arches, which would have stylistically killed the wide-body look. One thing was clear, they weren’t going to mess with the dimensions of the nose, so Michael took a chance and did a pie cut down the whole length of the top of the fenders and welded some new metal in. That covered the rear of the front wheels, while two smaller pie cuts at the front drew the front out of the fender. This gave the front of the car an additional 2.5 inches on each side, making it a lot smoother of a transition.
As a result, the scoops from Janak were rendered useless because they were just too small. Michael had to improvise and the first thing that came to mind was to cut down some motorcycle tanks. They had a pair of Kawasaki KZ650 tanks hanging in the workshop, so he started cutting until they met that complex fender profile. Also on the table was the rear window. They didn’t want to use a Vega plug, or a fiberglass plug, because they had made a louvered Polycarbonate window, which required a bespoke piece to be crafted. They ended up fabricating all the windows from Polycarbonate and made them flush fit.
All of this stretching was in part due to the use of the wide-five hubs and the massive rubber. The problem was that there were only a few wheels available with that unique bolt pattern wide enough to mount on those hubs. That was remedied with a set of barrels they sourced from a wholesaler. They drew up a design, cut and machined them in-house, and crafted wheel centers that worked. Wrapping them was a set of Mickey Thompson SS Street radials.
Getting Under the Hood
A mill that was in keeping with the character of the car was also on the list. When it was just another budget build, the plan was to drop in a 440 with a set of aluminum heads they had purchased out of a motor home. “When we decided to do the wing car, we knew that we should step up to the plate and do something pretty fantastic,” Michael explains. “We didn’t want to do what everyone else has been doing by dropping in a Hellcrate. I knew about these R5-P7 engines that are sort of sitting around. I’ve seen them pop up on eBay from time to time and they are usually a fantastic deal.” What he was looking for was what Dodge had developed for their Winston Cup cars and are plentiful on the secondary market. That led him to Scott Eatmon at Eatmon Race Parts in Wilson, NC. Scott had an engine that was pretty fresh and didn’t need a complete rebuild, so they bought it, which included the dry-sump system and everything all the way back to the bell housing, including the Tilton race clutch. Before it was shipped out, it was put on the dyno where it pulled 740 horses at 8,300 rpm. It would be mated to a Tremec TKO 600 5-speed.
While that addressed the mechanical side of the equation, the visual side was undefined. When they initially did the renderings they planned to do a full livery on the car that was aged just like the Tarantula. Michael says, “As the pieces came together they spoke to us. The ugly brown fenders, the red and yellow door, and the rusty trunk lid started to speak to us and told a better story of how the car came together than we could tell people verbally.” He adds, “The main body was the only thing that I had to add color to, but when I did it, I wanted to do it in the most legitimate way possible. I went to Lowe’s and got them to mix up some enamel tractor paint matching the original color and got the closest match I could. I wanted to have that rough look so I laid down a lot of paint at once using a paint roller, so in one afternoon I just got in there and rolled the whole body. On the fenders I did the same thing. I blended in brown where new metal was.” They spent a lot of time blending it all in. On the turquoise they added white, black, and brown in strategic areas and blocked it to bring out all the existing patina. He notes, “You have to cover up the new and enhance the old.” The same treatment was done on the Le Mans style livery they chose. It was vinyl printed and treated to some steel wool. They hand-rubbed every decal to give it an original richness that went with everything else.
All of this was taking place days prior to SEMA. It was coming down to the wire and they didn’t have a hood. Part of the original design was to craft a large shaker hood. On their second option rendered by Pfaff Designs, they had the idea of using an inverted wheelbarrow on top of the engine. He states, “We put it on top, looked at, and knew right away there was no way to make it look right. We already had a couple of carbon fiber air cleaners so we went with that. We had a big enough piece of Polycarbonate left behind and we were already so pleased with the way things had turned out on the windows that this would be the perfect way to show off all the hardware and also give the car the finished look it deserved. We got some square tubing, built a frame, and worked the extractor into the hood just in time for SEMA.”
The final product was christened “Scraptona” and debuted in Las Vegas, where it was well received for its irreverent approach to a classic shape. Topping this one might be a tough act to pull off when Michael and Lee start planning their next build!
1969 Dodge Charger “Scraptona” Build Details
Engine: The engine of choice was a departure from the expected mills used in most Mopar-flavored builds. It is an R5-P7 that was developed by Dodge for their return to Winston Cup racing back in 2001. It is an open-decked, deep-skirt engine with the block, heads, and intake specifically designed for racing. Petty Racing Enterprises built this particular engine in 2005. It displaces 358 cubic inches with an 11.5:1 compression ratio. It features a Jesel belt drive instead of a timing chain, and also has Jesel roller rocker arms, roller keyway lifters, a Comp solid-roller camshaft, and a dry sump oil system.
Induction: On the top end a ported Dodge aluminum intake is crowned with a Holley XP 750 and a carbon fiber air cleaner.
Electronics: Sparking the engine to life is an MSD distributor, MSD 6AL ignition box, and an MSD Master Blaster 3 coil.
Gearbox: The use of a 5-speed was set in stone as a key element of the road race theme. TredWear opted for a Tremec TKO 600 sourced from American Powertrain to mount on the Tilton bell housing. The clutch is a Tilton 3-stage semi-metallic unit.
Rearend: The rear is a classic Winters quick-change unit stuffed with a set of 3.55:1 gears.
Chassis/suspension: The chassis for the Scraptona was built around the Charger body and is a tube frame design. The front suspension consists of Aldan coilovers with 550-pound springs, Rocket chassis upper A-arms and two-piece lower arms, Afco severe-duty ball joints, a Speedway 1.25-inch sway bar, and a Woodward steering rack. At the rear, Aldan coilovers with 300-pound springs are also used. It’s a three-link setup with a torque arm and a magnesium tube that houses a Winters quick-change rear.
Brakes: The braking system was lifted directly from the dirt track car. It was upgraded to include new Wilwood 13-inch rotors up front and 12-inch rotors at the rear. Calipers are forged Superlite 6R units.
Wheels/Tires: Wheels and tires were a key component that influenced other aspects as the car came together. The wheel barrels were selected as the foundation for the massive tire size. The wheel centers were custom made to allow mounting onto the Wilwood wide-five hubs. The end result was a set of 20 x 12 wheels that were the wrapped in 29×15.00R20 Mickey Thompson SS Street radial rubber.
Paint/body: The Scraptona foundation is a 1969 Dodge Charger shell infused with 1970 Coronet fenders and an array of Superbird and Daytona reproduction pieces. The fenders were mounted on the car and modified to keep the massive rubber tucked within the body. They were sectioned with metal added giving them an additional 2.5 inches of width. At the rear, AMD reproduction quarters were cut down and installed with Dzus fasteners for quick access. The addition of these added the needed 2.5 inches at the rear to also keep the rubber tucked inside the body. The rear window plug was fabricated to accommodate the louvered Polycarbonate rear window that has inspired a new product line that will be available from TredWear in 2019. The headlights are a wing car departure in that they are fixed using a set of BMW E30 headlight buckets. The nose was hung using an internal structure built from .5 inch square tubing. Paint on the body is a mixture of original factory applied color and tractor paint from Lowe’s. The tractor paint was applied with a roller and was distressed with additional colors, steel wool, and Scoth-Brite pads. This technique was carried over to the livery.
Interior: The interior is very basic; a pair of Kirkey Vintage Class 18-inch bucket seats was installed along with 5-point Simpson harnesses. Instruments are minimal, consisting of a RacePak IQ3S display.