It doesn’t have a name yet, probably because it’s still got somebody elses attention grabber wet-dream dripping off the sides, but this is the Dodge, my complete about-face on the cars-as-utility-units purchase of my last new car, the Versa. The Versa, by the way, received a very nice detail from Details by Mark and was then immediately sold to a lovely college girl from Corvallis who needed a car that got good highway mileage for trips back home. I hope she likes it as much as I resented every moment inside it.
Lets face it. Human beings are animals. There’s no way to fake it when it comes to what we want, and what we like; no sustainable way. At some point in living a lie; we crack — and our lies crumble down into temptation, temptation to delayed gratification, until MUST becomes the only refrain. And when I saw this car in the flesh, and drove it down the street? WE MUST BE TOGETHER I MUST HAVE THIS IT JUST NEEDS — ok, so the last part is probably only applicable to tinkerers but we’ve all been there, seen a thing and had to have it, desired it completely. An object of desire is more significant, in my mind, it has a story, a personality – character. A character you want to discover, a story you want to learn. I’ve always been able to do this with cars. With cars it’s easy, you’re not a stalker you’re an enthusiast, you’re not crazy you’re… the guy with all the cars in his yard. Well, you’re the crazy guy with all the cars in his yard.
Anyhow, it’s a real solid driver, original as could be under the hood after I removed a PO’s duct tape insulation job and a seriously fried starter harness. While I was fixing some broken seat springs, I removed an ugly as fuck cheap ass 80’s nylon seat cover and some loose-fitting zebra-stripe headrest covers, I found a fairly solid stock seat cover both front and back, some corner-muched headrests, and because of a slipup on my part, a good sized slice on the back of the front bench. Whoopsie. It’s got no carpets, just a pair of rubber floor mats, and even after finding a secret stash of body plugs, I’m missing a few, so stuff dropped onto the floor at speed is sometimes lost forever. The door seals are pretty much ornamental, they leak air like a sieve, so I ordered a set from Restoration Specialties. It showed up marked 70-72 4dr Dart so I am anxiously awaiting seeing if they fit. The window felts are not even ornamental, all gasketing material has drifted away to dust and left a rusting steel window scraper on one side and a pathetic inch or so of cracked whiskers on the other, and the window runs haven’t had felt in them since Reagan was in office. I ordered a set of these from Restoration Specialties too, but I’m backordered on something or other. Bother. And it’s the first year for shoulder belts so it has these insane, painful, unlikely to save from injury three part shoulder belts. I tried some aftermarket bug jobbies but the reel just ain’t quite right and the high anchor presses the belt into the roof, adding too much friction, so we’re “ridin’ dirty” on the seat belts to one degree or another. I’m always lapbelted in but I’ll be god damned if I put that cantilevered-for-max-torque collarbone snapping device on my shoulder. So obviously, it’s a work in progress, but it has some niceties because of the year. First and foremost there’s no emissions in Oregon for a 73, so I can swap and bop to my heart’s content with any small block mopar on the planet, including the fuel injected serpentine belted 5.2/5.9 Magnums from any Dodge truck and V8 Jeep made from about 92 to like… last year, as long as you find a proper 360 LA car oil pan (stockers are out of stock most places but there are always Milodon big capacity pans). It was the first year for collapseable steering column, standard 11 inch power discs up front (drilled/slotted rotors and high performance pads are all pretty much available on the aftermarket for Civic head-lamp money). Rad racey shit like tubular control arms, tubular k-members, rack and pinion steering, coilover conversions are all outside of my current budget, but READILY available. Shit, it even came with a rear defroster fan (that is noisy as all fuck and doesn’t defrost worth a mouse turd but that’s fixable).
There’s a heater/defroster hose that needs clamped up under the dash which just drapes on the floor right now. The gas gauge and temp gauge don’t work (already have the 5V regulator to fix that problem). That’ll hopefully fix the fact that there is ZERO internal illumination as well. For some unknown reason the reverse lights are wired to a switch and if the switch is left out/off, the reverse lights stay on in drive, if it’s left on, they don’t come on at all. Still trying to piece together that mystery, it almost sounds like a bad neutral safety/reverse switch on the trans. Easy and cheap enough to swap it and see. It stumbles off idle, especially at speed (the Carter BBD two barrel has a whole host of enthusiast fixes for what amounts to designed-too-small-prone-to-clogging idle emulsion tubes), it uses the weather/temperature/ghost sensitive Chrysler electronic ignition (a big step up from points but I have a nice HEI coil/bracket I’m gonna do this fix on her soon). Three separate
retard previous owners have wired it for sound, each using their own retarded unique perspective on wiring, alternately using speaker cable for power and ethernet cable for speaker wire, but I’ve gotten a nice amp and iPhone cable setup that should tuck nicely into the glovebox and under the seat to provide 300 some odd amps to a pair of 6″s up front and some 6×9’s in the back and a good spool of real speaker wire that’s already run through the channels. I somehow collected a set of 7″ H4 housings a while back which will be getting some hi/lo HID’s (in the human visible light spectrum thanks, no pinkies/goldies/blueys for me) as soon as I get a nice mountable relay holder. Ma Mopar, in her infinite wisdom, continued using the Model-A esque “everything runs through the ammeter” wiring ethos well into the late 70’s, but it appears that I have “fleet/taxi wiring”, which at least runs a decent gauge cable through the firewall instead of hitting a big fire-prone bulkhead connector, so I think I can step up the alternator to a Denso/mini, which will give me two to six times the amps (depending on how ambitious I am and how difficult the bracketry/pulley is). I already picked up some 17×7 steelies from a 2005-on Dodge Magnum, which are getting outfitted with some 205/50R17 Federals as I type. Along with some Amazon chrome trim rings and some ebay NOS center caps (or some more expensive Wheel Vintiques center caps, depending on if I win this auction), I will have some 17″ rallye-alikes with 50 series rubber for under $200 a corner (seriously, these 17×7 steels are the shit, check the center cap look out here and imagine these on the outside lip). I already have my graphite-impregnated motor mounts and transmission mount, waiting for a sunny day to get put in. I have my heart set on a narrowed Explorer 8.8 (which are about Optima-yellow-top priced from a yard, complete with bigger-than-the-front (might have to fix that I guess) disc brakes and a limited slip in a variety of gut-wrenching gear ratios), but that will probably have to wait a minute, it’ll require a custom drive shaft (Denny’s Driveshafts is up the street and as long as I measure twice I think I can get a good deal) and a custom e-brake cable (gonna tap a local 4×4 shop to see if they have an ideas). One of the bigger things you can do to improve handling on these guys is tie the front and rear subframes together (there’s a subtle difference between unibody [which your civic is] and unit-body [which my dodge is], the short version is back in the 70’s we were pretty dumb and didn’t realize how to brace stuff good, which made a bunch of cars that started off loosey goosey and got looser and goosier with age), which is likely something I’ll want to do before I get too serious about an interior or the rest of the body work (dig those wicked kinks in the rear doors BOTH SIDES). There are a bunch of options, from bolt-in kits (which are probably just fine for anything I’d do but I hear they can creak. I hate creaking.) to shit you have to trim floor pan out to fit (NOT my cuppa), but I think the coolest option is these weld-ins from US Cartool, which tack all down the bottom of the body and bridge some of the gap between the unit body and what amounts to a convertible unibody chassis. No floor cutting, no dippy bolts. Probably not something I’d want to weld in myself but I can’t imagine it would be too dear to get done at a body shop. I’m also giving some serious thought to buying a 5.2 Magnum now, setting up a Megasquirt on the bench, and then doing a one-weekend swap to fuel injection. Ambitious but you must understand that when I say one weekend, I mean I’ll take a whole week off and do it at some point in the week. If I keep my budget real strict and shop smart for the engine, I bet I could get into a programmable EFI motor with a nice little cam in it for under $1500. Shit, at that price I could take the motor and the car to a shop and just have THEM swap it in. Even if I stick with manifolds I bet I could get a real sleepy grocery getter manageable 250 horses, and 17-18 miles per gallon. And I do feel like sticking with manifolds. If I could find a set of 360 manifolds for the car I’d do it, I hear they’re a little bigger and flow a little better. Then I’d just get some 2.5″ downpipes made up (I hear that’s a good match for the stock manifold outlet, but I’ll measure when I get ready to do the exhaust, if I can run dual 3’s that’s great too. Mopar headers are either expensive as fuck and screw up starter access, expensive as four fucks and hit steering components, or cheap and you smash them the first time you go into a parking lot. Oh, and some are expensive and you smash them the first time you go into a parking lot. And you always have that clangy exhaust sound, pating pating. So headers are fucking out. I’m keeping an eye on the Craigslist and some forum for-sale for a 360 or 340 header. I’ll get my die grinder out and gasket match them/clean up as much flash as I can, and that’ll be that.
Oh, and it looks like this.
That’s with the 185/75 R14 and 205/70 R14 in the back (and the stock hubcaps).
This is with the 17×7’s and 205/50R17 Federals. Backs look like rubber bands but I don’t want asymmetrical tires, you can’t rotate them and it just sucks. Hopefully the trim ring makes it look a little less roller-skatey.
Trust me, when those trim rings and center caps are on it’s gonna be like a hot-wheels rallye rim.
I’m pretty excited about the future of this car, and the nice part about A-bodies is that if you’re not a prime-pony-years whore (and I am not) you can probably find a deal on a nice-bodied shell on Craigsbay, and all your swank parts and gee gaws just swap over. So while I’m modifying “just a four door” today, maybe these badass parts will fill up a Swinger or a Scamp some day. Or maybe just a four door with a better front end (the hyper badass bumper/in-bumper taillights are still intact in a 73, apparently they moved up to dork-squad placement in 74, but the front end of a 72 and earlier is miles and miles ahead of the kinda derpy predecessor-to-the-le-baron nose of the 73). HOORAY!
Update: Here’s a sneak peek of what the 17’s look like with the trim rings. Center caps won on eBay and being slow-boated to me soonest.