1969 Dodge Charger Project Chronicles: Updated Steering and Outdated Induction
This rusty slab is starting to take shape.
I ended my previous 1969 Charger project car update by mentioning that a big investment was in store. Well, it turned out to be the most money I’ve ever spent. It's also a massive improvement in my ability to tackle automotive tasks. This big purchase will reshape the Charger’s course as well as any future projects I take on.
My lovely partner in crime and I bought a garage. We got a house out of the deal too. Finally, the Charger has a roof over its hood, and I can now get some real work done.
I already took advantage of the concrete pad, four walls, and a roof overhead by updating the induction system. The new workplace also revealed some unknown issues. While the gravel driveway used to hide stains well, the clean pavement revealed some leaks that needed to be dealt with, leaks that led to yet another steering upgrade.
Big Induction Moves
I’ve been looking to improve the 440's driving characteristics for some time now. The single-plane intake pulling air through an 800-cfm Holley Double Pumper left a lot to be desired at low rpm. That setup also gave me the worst fuel economy yet, with an average 7 mpg on a roundtrip to New Jersey. Do you know how much gas still costs?
The plan was to swap the intake for a dual-plane with an Edelbrock Performer RPM as my target. I wanted to replace the cam for something a little more mild. Neither of those things happened.
I'm not ashamed to say that 90 percent of the parts I throw on this car are used. My hunt for anything for this car starts at swap meets or the classifieds. Many new parts are hard to find at a reasonable price or are on back order. When I began my hunt for intakes, I went straight to my usual sources and struck out. That’s not that weird considering this is a Mopar and parts sources are limited, but it can still be pretty frustrating.
Then it happened.
I made my way to the Mopar Madness show in central New York. This show always brings in some great cars. You can spend hours checking them all out. This time, I ran right past them and directly toward the swap meet. Only a few vendors set up shop, and things weren’t looking all that good when I stumbled upon an Offenhauser 360 intake with two 600-cfm Carter Competition Series carbs sitting on top. The dual-quad setup was used and in unknown condition with a price so low that it led me to suspect something was terribly wrong with it. I jumped on it. While I wanted something new, it turned out to be the right move.
Bolting a multi-carb system onto a Chrysler RB engine—yes, Chrysler had one, too, Nissan people—as the first project in my new garage was about the best experience I could ask for. Getting to work on two Carter AFBs sitting atop a 440 was like stepping back in time to the golden era of muscle cars that I missed out on. And when I took that first test drive, I realized that meeting your heroes isn't always a bad thing.
I felt performance benefits across the board. Power comes in almost instantly, and it winds out to the redline in one strong, steady pull. The 440 spins those 275 Mickey Thompson Sportsmans with ease and puts a smile on my face every time a light bark lurches the car forward. It feels and smells like what a dirty, homemade hot rod should, and I can't get enough of it.
Street manners are far better with this setup as well, and that's a plus. I want to say fuel economy is better, and I have been genuinely impressed so far. I have yet to conduct any real testing, however, as I need to spend a little more time dialing it in. I also can't keep from burying the pedal into the carpet. It’s like my right foot got a whole lot heavier right around the time I finished bolting the system together.
Steering, Steering, Steering
I'm dying to do more, but the stains on the garage floor were a cold slap from reality that kept me from spending more time fine-tuning the new setup. I feel like I’m always chasing leaks.
The first leak I dealt with was at the fuel tank sending unit. Filling the tank past half full was risky business, and with fuel going for a premium these days, I figured that's the best place to start. Luckily, the repair was easy. While I was in there, I also replaced the fuel filler neck seal.
The other leak I found was at the steering gearbox: specifically, the Pitman arm seal. I already replaced that a while back, and a persistent leak made me suspect bigger issues. I ordered a new seal and popped it in, only to find that the leak got worse. At this point, I could’ve tried again and kept making a mess of my garage floor—wasting even more power steering fluid—or I could replace the entire assembly. I chose the latter.
My original goal was to replace the steering gearbox with a factory unit. Similar to the intake manifold, I couldn't find any replacement in stock at a decent price.That’s when I found a Lares Firm Feel steering gearbox for only slightly more than I'd pay for a factory-style unit. With the opportunity to modify my car in unprecedented ways being the common theme here, that’s what I did.
I said in a recent update that upgrades aren’t always better. Well, some really are. This gearbox works perfectly in combination with the longer steering arms and pump-down modification I made previously. Everything came together to create that firm steering feel and tight ratio I'd been chasing. It feels great to know that, at least for the time being, I can move on from my steering issues and focus on the many other challenges standing between the Charger and its final stages of refurbishment.
Collect and Tinker
It's almost time to start thinking about winter. I know it's still early, but I plan to make the most of the garage. My goal for the snowy season is to paint the car, but there's still a little bit of rust that I need to deal with first. It's also a good time to start collecting parts to get the interior together.
I’m still driving the car on a daily basis, with the primary goal to get the tune right. Now that there are two carburetors on top, there's a good chance for things to get messy if I don't.
I'll be sure to report my progress. Oh yeah, I also “inherited” two old motorcycles (Ed. note: ONE OF US, ONE OF US). Be on the lookout for those in the near future.