Reader Question: Rebuilding the Perfect Car?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Mark asks: I enjoy your posts and have come to believe that we share the same values and concerns about this great country of ours. As you point out, the CART rule, safety mandates and arbitrary restrictions are reducing the availability of a great affordable car.

So, I am setting out to build one.

My basic requirements are V8, quiet interior, electric windows/locks, good AC, and especially… a car that I want to look at and feel good getting into. Here is one idea:

Purchase a high-mileage, late-model Dodge Challenger 2008-2012, for about $15K. Remove engine, transmission, wheels, front seats. Add Crate Mopar 340 or similar with matching transmission, new wheels/tires, Recaro or similar front seats. Continue with new carpet, paint, and modern sound system. Results: I think it would be a very nice V8, perfect car for less than $30K. What do you think? Other considerations: I like riding high – maybe start with a Durango or Explorer.

My reply: I think it’s a great idea, but I’d reach back farther in time for the donor car. Here’s my reasoning:

In the first place, the swap you propose is hugely illegal from the standpoint of emissions control laws. If you live in a state or county that has smog check, you’ll never be able to register the car – regardless of its actual emissions. Any “tampering” with or “modification” of federal emissions control is not allowed. A crate 340 in a 2008-2012 Challenger would never fly.

In the second place, the 2008-2012 car will have all the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety garbage we loathe, including seat-mounted air bags and air bag sensors – which you cannot legally replace because they are part of the factory and federally mandated saaaaaaaaaaaaaafety equipment. The car would fail saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety inspection and so be illegal to drive. You could modify it to be legal, but it will not be easy or cheap.

In the third place, the 2008-2012 Challenger will be laden with integrated electronic systems. Even though you plan on replacing the drivetrain, that leaves the rest of the car. Many people don’t realize that in newer cars, even the power windows and other peripherals are integrated with the ECU through body control modules.

Your concept strikes me as much more doable – and the end result far more desirable – if you were to start with a ’70s-era car, free of any computer controls and with virtually no saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety garbage, except seat belts.

Yes, you may still have to pass emissions, but it’s much more feasible to do so with a crate-type engine because these are essentially the same kinds of engines as the original equipment engines and so literally bolt right in and there are no issues or worries with computer control/compatibility.

Example: a crate 345 hp GM 350 is hard to tell apart from a factory 180 hp 350, as in a ’70s Nova or Camaro Z28. It would only fail inspection if obviously not stock, as for example with headers and no cats (if the car originally had cats).

But no ECU and need to spend literally thousands on just the fuel injection system – because you can legally use a carburetor. No $4,000 computer-controlled transmission, either. You can install a non-computerized overdrive automatic for about $1,500. Or go with whatever manual floats your boat and fits – no worries about computer compatibility issues.

Also, these cars are also old enough to be exempt from emissions testing in most areas.

No peripheral electronics to deal with, either – unless you want to add them. No ABS, TCS or the rest of it!

The end result would be much more fun, I think!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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