JON Mitchell was there from the beginning. He was lucky enough to ride shotgun in one of the 18 cars that contested Street Machine’s very first Drag Challenge in 2014. “I went with Steve Reimann in his Dodge Dart, and I’ve done every Drag Challenge since,” he says.
First published in the August 2021 issue of Street Machine
That first DC experience caught Jon hook, line and sinker. At the time, this 1970 Dodge Challenger was at home in his garage, still mid-build. “It really inspired me to finish the car and get it ready for the following year,” he says.
True to his word, Jon and his bad-arse Challenger were front and centre for Day One of Drag Challenge 2015. Under the hood was a 512ci Wedge motor that was tough enough to push the hulking beast to 10.50s. But the car didn’t come out of the event unscathed.
“We destroyed a tailshaft uni,” says Jon. “We moved heaven and earth to get it fixed – which we did. Unfortunately, by the time we got going again, we missed out on making a pass by about an hour. Still, we finished the week and had a great time.
“The next year, I managed to just get past my good mate Andrew McLellan by 200ths of a second to take out Quickest Mopar and grab Runner-Up in Outlaw Aspirated.”
Unfortunately, 2017’s DC was not as kind to Jon. “We dropped a lifter and got stranded in Ararat, Victoria,” he recalls. “During the rebuild afterwards, we added the tunnel ram.”
This helped the car run a 10.59 best at Drag Challenge 2018. Jon was running third in Outlaw Aspirated until the fuel pump let him down, relegating him to fourth. Still, he did pick up Quickest Mopar for the second time. But he knew it was time to step things up a bit.
“I hurt the motor again after Drag Challenge 2018, and was looking for parts to make the Wedge a bit tougher,” Jon says. “I rang Peter Gratz to see if he had any Wedge stuff. ‘Not much,’ he said, ‘but I do have this Hemi sitting there.’”
A 605ci Indy Maxx all-alloy Hemi, in fact! “Well, I started to drool,” Jon laughs. “I always wanted to put a Hemi in it – it’s the real reason I bought the car. Besides, Andrew was stepping up his ’Cuda to run sub-10s, and I didn’t want to get left behind.”
Jon and his brother-in-law, Howard Knight, jumped in the ute and drove from Sydney to Brisbane to pick up the new acquisition.
Howard was kinda compelled to make the trip, as he was partly responsible for Jon owning a Challenger in the first place. Jon remembers the pair cruising home from Chryslers On The Murray in Jon’s stout E55 Charger and deciding between them that a 1970 Dodge Challenger would be the next project. As fate would have it, Steve Reimann just happened to have a ’70 Challenger that had received a full rotisserie respray in Plum Crazy paint. Although it was just a shell, Jon snapped it up when it was offered it to him.
The original plan for the car called for an orange exterior and stark white trim. However, given the shell’s fresh paint, a colour change was quickly ruled out. Jon did, however, convert it to RHD as part of its metamorphosis into a quarter-mile missile.
Fast-forward to the run-up to Drag Challenge 2019, and Jon and Howard had just a couple of short months to shoehorn the newly acquired Indy Maxx into the front of the Mopar. And I do mean shoehorn, as the Maxx has a one-inch-taller deck height compared to the already girthy Wedge. Indy makes a special rocker cover to help the mill fit into an E-body, but even after modifying the TTi headers, Jon still only had about 12mm clearance on each side.
“It fought me all the way,” he says. “Because of the external KB oil pump, we had to modify the sump and all the lines. But with loads of help from Russell at Dominator Engines and bit of ball-peen hammering, we made it.”
The Challenger ended up being the first car down the track at Drag Challenge 2019. Jon staged the car, took the green, stomped the throttle – and promptly grenaded the Torqueflite 727. “It was my fault,” he says. “We rushed it. The trans was never built for this engine, but I thought it could handle it. On that very first hit, it cracked the rear housing and turned the converter into a cement mixer – yet still managed to run a 10.22@137mph!”
Peter from South West Automatics stepped up to piece together a tougher, stouter ’box. With that sorted, Jon is now eyeing more upgrades, including an AlterKtion front end with coil-overs and a full rollcage, before getting the car teched for 8.5s. Jon’s aim is mid-to-low nines, so hopefully soon we’ll finally get to see what his wicked Hemi-powered Challenger can really do.
And just to ensure Jon doesn’t get bored, he’s also in the final throes of an HQ coupe build. “I’ve painted it the factory Lone O’Ranger orange and it runs a tough small-block and nine-inch,” he says. “It’ll also have a five-speed manual. Should be a fun car!”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
TOUGH cars have been in Jon’s blood from the start. “My dad, Michael, had an XA GT that he built up to Phase IV specs,” he says. “He also had a GTHO Phase I – the MM061 number plates on the Challenger came from that car. Back then, you could order the letters but not the numbers, so these were the 61st personalised plates issued in NSW.
“As a five-year-old, I can remember going to Brickies, and have since done a bit of street racing myself in a Walkinshaw Commodore with a pair nitrous bottles in the boot.
“I’ve owned a heap of other tough cars: Monaros, GTs, L34s, XU-1s, a Nissan GT-R and an 11.0sec E55 Charger, which I recently sold. I even had a full-on blown Camaro, tubbed with wheelie bars. None of them got anything like the attention the Challenger gets.”
1970 DODGE CHALLENGER
|Paint:||PPG Plum Crazy|
|Brand:||Aluminium Indy Maxx Hemi 605ci|
|Inlet manifold:||Tunnel ram|
|Carbs:||Twin 1050 Pro System|
|Camshaft:||Solid-roller, 690thou lift|
|Pistons:||JE forged, ceramic-coated crowns, Teflon skirts|
|Oil pump:||Keith Black|
|Fuel pump:||Aeromotive 1000|
|Cooling:||Alloy radiator and twin thermos|
|Exhaust:||TTi 4-into-1 headers, 2½in primaries, 4in collector, 3in system|
|Ignition:||MSD Billet distributor, programmable 6AL-2|
|Gearbox:||Torqueflite 727 reverse-pattern|
|Tailshaft:||Strange, 4in billet yokes|
|Diff:||Strange Dana, Detroit Locker centre, 4.11:1 gears, Strange axles|
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES|
|Front:||90/10 shocks, Commodore rack-and-pinion|
|Rear:||Calvert split mono-leaf springs, adjustable Ranchero shocks, CalTracs|
|Brakes:||Wilwood (f & r)|
|WHEELS & TYRES|
|Rims:||Convo Banshee; 15×7 (f), 15×10 (r)|
|Rubber:||Nexen N Blue 205/70R15 (f), Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S 295/65/R15 (r)|
Russell at Dominator Engines; Howard Knight; George Shalala at Shalala Smash; Peter at South West Automatics