This article was first published in the May 2007 issue of Street Machine
IT’S a pretty big effort to get your car featured in Street Machine once but having it featured twice is something else. But then Cassie Rhodes isn’t your average street machiner — she’s much better looking for a start — and she just happens to be married to a very clever panel beater and spray painter, Sam Rhodes.
If you’re a West Aussie street machiner, you’re probably well aware of Sam and Cassie’s business, Vulcan Panel and Paint. And you’d have to be blind not to have seen his killer EK, Special K, that was featured in SM, July ’03 and runs consistent low nines. But this isn’t about him, it’s about Cassie and her mighty fine piece of Mopar muscle.
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If you dig out your August ’03 issue of SM, you’ll be able to check out its previous incarnation. It was a tidy unit, with original paint and a stout 360 replacing the factory 340. That combo was good enough for an 11.20 and probably would have gone faster had Cassie not sold the motor to help finance the latest build.
She made the decision to go for a blown motor early on in the project: “We went through a few 360s in the past but the biggest problem was finding a decent replacement. It would normally take three or four blocks to find a good one,” Cassie says.
E55 Chargers were aimed at a luxury market and this one keeps all the fancy 770 flash
Sam adds: “With the EK we went with all aftermarket gear and it’s been really good, so we thought we’d spend the extra money and get the R3 race block and Brodix heads.”
Never heard of that combination? Well it seems nobody else has either.
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“There’s no-one that knows anything about these motors in Australia. We bought the B1 BA heads as they seemed like a good choice but they didn’t fit the R3 block. You have to check absolutely everything as there are so many variations,” Cassie says.
Chrysler wheelarches are usually pretty generous but this one’s been mini-tubbed to add another three inches of space. Now there’s no problems fitting the 15x12 Convo Pros!
So how do you come up with 408 cubes from a 340 block? Cassie explains: “The stock bore on a 340 is 4.040in, while the R3 block is only 4.030in. The extra cubes come from the four-inch stroker crank [340 stock stroke is 3.31in]. We must have had the motor apart 20 times because everything hit — crank, rods, oil pump shaft … the pistons wouldn’t even fit on the rods initially!”
A lot of work went into modifying the heads to change the rocker oiling from the factory shaft system, to a Chevy-style pushrod oiling system. This involved welding up the stock pushrod holes and redrilling them at the right angle for the new rocker gear. It all sounds like a lot of work and Cassie says: “Most people get the drift if you mention that the R3 block has an unconventional 48-degree lifter angle.” The rocker gear is an off-the-shelf offset T&D shaft set-up.
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Not many race cars have engine bays this smooth. Come to think of it, not many cars at all are this nice under the bonnet. One of the best Mopar engines you’re ever likely to see. The combination of painted block, satin-finished rocker covers and polished blower makes for a purposeful look
The specs on the rest of the engine read just like a speed shop catalogue — not surprising as Cassie used to work for Chris Mills Performance and knows this stuff backwards. It’s full of Crane roller cam and lifters, Diamond blower pistons, GRP aluminium rods, Isky springs and Ferrea valves.
An Enderle 80A pump feeds the Birdcatcher injection hat with all the methanol it needs
The outside is pretty impressive as well, the most obvious addition being the BDS Street/Strip 6/71 blower that’s set up to run 30 per cent over. This sucker’s not running any fancy-pants EFI either: “Streetability wasn’t really important with this motor,” says Sam. “We’ve got other cars in the shed to go cruising in, so we built this one for raw horsepower.”
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Underneath is covered in the same Sunrise Pearl as the topside. Cassie says one day it will all be covered in rubber
Seems like they’ve succeeded, with estimates of around 900–1000hp on tap, this should be one hell of a ride when it hits the track. It’s not an out-and-out racer — that would have been easier to build — it’s more Pro Street.
With that much grunt, a bit of help was required in the traction department. To help fit 12in-wide Convo Pros under the rear, the stock wheel tubs have been moved in around three inches, and the rear leaf springs moved inboard about four inches. Underneath has all been tidied up and coated in the same House Of Kolor Sunrise Pearl as the top side. Which wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
“Underneath it was covered in all this factory rust-proofing; suspension components, everything. It saved the body but it took months to get off. The work experience guys hate me! Even sandblasting wouldn’t get it off,” Sam says. “After we got all the crap off, everything was smoothed and primered, rubbed back and primered again. I used a primer that was a similar colour to the top coat because I didn’t want to use heaps of paint under the car that no-one was going to see. It was going to get covered in rubber anyway!”
If that sounds like a lot of work, skip this next bit. Sam wasn’t happy with the engine offset in the engine bay and the blower sticking out of the bonnet was only going to make it more obvious, so a lot of work went in to centralising the drivetrain. This involved creating a whole new firewall and shifting the trans tunnel. It’s one of those things you wouldn’t notice unless someone told you, but makes all the difference when it comes to building a car to this level.
Interior is mostly stock with the exception of Kirkey race seats and six-point ’cage
Inside, the Charger is fairly unmolested; only safety and engine-monitoring equipment has been added. Lightweight Kirkey racing seats, a six-point ’cage and Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges and tacho add to the race feel, while the rest of the trim has been redone in the original black vinyl.
Stock tank has been replaced with a more purposeful fuel cell but the super-cool fuel cap remains. Rollcage is painted in a metallic grey that contrasts with the HOK Sunrise Pearl
The crowning glory on all this hard work is without a doubt the flawless bodywork and amazing finish of the HOK Sunrise Pearl. At first glance it doesn’t look that different from the original finish, but get it in the sun and the pearl really starts to work. Even Sam was surprised how similar the Charger looked to the factory finish.
That’s what makes it special: as modified as it is, there’s no doubt about its roots. Super Charger indeed!
Ahh! Who’s this? Car looks familiar too. That’s because the Charger was Cassie’s dad’s. Dad did a ton in it bringing his girl home after she was born. It also carted her off for her first day at school. Cassie convinced Dad to hand it over to her when she was 16 after it had languished for 10 years in the garage. For shame!
THE one that got away — whatever brand you love, you know that story. For the Ford fans it’s the Phase IV; the General has the V8-powered LJ Torana; and for Chrysler fans it is the R/T E55 Charger.
Yes, they were sold to the public but they were mere shadows of what they could — or should — have been. When it left the factory, it was a much softer and luxury-oriented Charger than Chrysler race fans had hoped to see.
Auto only, restrictive single exhaust, open diff and very sedate looks were not high on the agenda when it came to winning at Bathurst.
The 340 engine was something else, however. Race proven in the US, it came to Australia fully loaded — well, maybe they could have chucked the Six-Pack on it — and is one of the major pieces of evidence supporting the idea that the E55 should have been much, much more.
In December 1972, Modern Motor stated: “The car is the result of the company’s aborted Series Production racing programme, using the hot-shot Stateside 340 V8 […] ”
It seems that back then, the intended use of the E55 was pretty obvious, but 35 years later the memories are starting to fade and even former Chrysler employees can’t remember what the real story was. One thing is certain though: the whole supercar scare was an absolute load of crap. A lot family wagons are just as quick these days!
CASSIE & SAM RHODES
1973 VALIANT CHARGER E55
Colour: HOK Sunrise Pearl
Brand: Mopar 340 R3 race block, 408ci
Induction: BDS 6/71 supercharger, 30 per cent overdriven
Injectors: Enderle mechanical injection with Birdcatcher hat
Heads: Brodix B1BA, modified
Cam: Crane roller, custom grind
Valves: Ferrea Comp Plus 2.055(in), 1.6(ex)
Valve springs: Isky Rad
Lifters: Crane Pro Series roller
Pistons: Diamond blower
Rings: Clevite Perfect Circle plasma moly
Conrods: GRP aluminium 6.123in
Crank: Mopar steel, four-inch
Bearings: Clevite Tri-Armour
Oil pump: Mellings
Sump: Hi Energy Pro Bracket
Fuel pump: Enderle 80A
Radiator: Brown’s Radiators custom alloy with 16in thermo fan
Exhaust: Andy’s Exhaust Werx, custom
Ignition: MSD Programmable 7, MDS billet dizzy, MSD HVC II coil, Eagle 11mm leads
Gearbox: 727 Torqueflite with TCI manual valvebody
Diff: Strange carrier, full spool, pinion support and yoke, 3.9:1 Richmond Pro gears, Moser Billet 35-spline axles
Tailshaft: Final Drive 3in custom
Converter: Coan 10in Race Blower
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Torsion bar (f), Lovells leaves moved inboard four inches, Cal Tracs (r)
Shocks: 90/10 (f), Koni (r)
Brakes: Stock (f), EA Falcon (r)
Calipers: CL Chrysler (f), EA Falcon (r)
Master cylinder: VG Valiant (non power-assisted)
Seats: Kirkey race
Mods: Back seat shortened
Cage: Six-point moly
Trim: Black vinyl
Instruments: Auto Meter Ultra-Lite
Shifter: B&M Pro Ratchet
Seatbelts: Simpson five-point harnesses
WHEELS & TYRES
Tyres: M/T 26x4.5x15 ET (f), Hoosier 29x12x15 drag slick (r)
Wheels: Convo Pro 15x4 (f), 15x12 (r)