EVERYONE loves a Hemi – especially one that makes over 1100hp! One look at those big, wide rocker covers and Charlie Touma couldn’t help himself. He plonked his hard-earned down on the ’70 Dodge Dart without a second thought. Nope, that’s not a typo; this jaw-dropping ’68 Dodge Charger R/T build started out as an engine in another car!
This article was first published in the December 2019 issue of Street Machine
500-cube Hemis are thirsty buggers at the best of times. However, with 1100hp on tap and running on a staple diet of E85, you end up with a boot dominated by a custom-made 150L fuel tank. “I’m lucky enough to have a couple of E85 servos close by,” Charlie says
“The Dart was a pure race car,” recalls Charlie. “However, I soon decided I wanted something I could drive. I started hunting around for a ’Cuda, a Challenger, a Charger – a proper muscle car that I could drop the Hemi into.”
Having dismissed several candidates (most of which were bare shells in need of extensive rebuilds), his four-month search came to an end in Melbourne.
“The Charger was really good,” says Charlie. “I’ve always loved this shape and this one was a stunner.”
Given the car’s already awesome panel and paint and mint interior, Charlie thought it would be a quick build; sell off the Charger’s 440 and driveline and drop in the Hemi – done! However, you know what they say about the best-laid plans: “We ended up re-doing just about everything,” says Charlie.
The decision whether or not to keep the vinyl roof was left to the last minute. “Glad we did,” Charlie says. “It really gives the Charger that old-school look”
The first wake-up call was trying to make an engine designed to run for less than 30 seconds run full-time on the street. So, how do you take what is basically a 10,000rpm, 1400hp, 500ci Pro Stock engine and de-tune it?
For starters, you yank the drag-spec aluminium rods, crazy high-compression pistons and spring-killing camshaft. Then re-assemble it with custom-forged Diamond pistons, Argo steel rods and a bumpstick with ‘only’ 840thou lift!
Getting the race-spec Peterson dry-sump system running on-song was another drama. With the engine only spinning to 8000rpm, the pump wasn’t scavenging the oil quick enough. Result? Oil oozing from orifices it’s not supposed to. Although the eventual fix was relatively simple (change the relief valve and pulley size), sorting the problem was somewhat of a nightmare.
“When you stand on it, it either fries the hides, or you’re looking at the sky,” says Charlie. “The biggest problem now is keeping my licence!”
Up top, the sky-high HRE sheet-metal intake, twin 1050 Holley HP carbies and hand-ported Pro Stock Hemi heads let plenty of air and fuel in. Meanwhile, custom extractors – with 2½-inch primaries dumping into four-inch pipes – allow the equally voluminous quantities of spent gasses to get back out.
Keen-eyed Mopar fans may notice the boot stripe is painted rather than a sticker. The colour of the stripe was custom-mixed to match the rocker covers
Once Bill and the crew at BK Race Engines had added the finishing touches, and Justin at Horsepower Solutions had dialled in the tune, the now-streetable Hemi was good for around 1100hp on E85 – yowzah! Backing this weapons-grade mill is one of Al’s Race Glides brutally strong, full-manual Turbo 400s.
“It’s phenomenal to drive,” says Charlie. “Even with 18-inch rears, it still fries ’em with ease.”
The Dodge Charger comes standard with cavernous rear wheelarches, but JT Performance made them a bit bigger again – they now easily swallow the massive 18in Mickey Ts wrapped around equally enormous 20×15 American Legend Thunderbolt billets
Charlie freely admits that Chris and Michael from JT Performance handled almost the entire build. “I pretty much drove it in, and drove it back out finished,” he says. “Their workmanship is spot-on. They don’t cut corners and they go above and beyond to get everything right. The hardest part was paying the bills, but you get what you pay for. I couldn’t be happier.”
Charlie, Michael from JT and Michael’s brother John Saad have all been mates for 25 years, with John also pitching in with plenty of hands-on help and invaluable advice.
One of the things the JT Performance team put a lot of thought into was making the big ol’ Dodge stop, steer and handle. Up front, there’s a complete Magnum Force front clip. This bolt-in piece from the US offers vastly superior geometry, and allowed the massive six-spot Wilwoods to bolt straight up. Unfortunately, they don’t come in RHD, with the crew having to engineer their own RHD power rack conversion – which was yet another challenge given the Hemi’s massive header pipes. To power the rack, JT utilised a boot-mounted electric pump.
Poke your head under the rear and you’ll spy more of their handiwork, including a four-link, chassis strengthening, and full exhaust that was given the full treatment by Hi Octane Performance Coatings. JT even specced the tough-as-nails Mark Williams rear end. For rear stoppers, Wilwood’s four-spot pro touring set-up got the nod.
Despite the four-inch exhaust and tall 20-inch wheels, the Charger rides super-low, which took a lot of work. Every square inch of available space was utilised, with JT Performance tucking everything up as hard as possible for maximum clearance.
As big as the Charger’s engine bay is, 500 cubic inches of Hemi certainly fills it out. Note the smoothed firewall and RHD conversion – all JT Performance’s handiwork. “Initially I told the boys that I wanted it all under the hood – they just laughed at me,” says Charlie
“I’ve had four big blokes on board,” says Charlie, “and nothing rubs. The exhaust doesn’t scrape; the wheels turn full lock. I didn’t just want it to look pretty – it had to be driveable! That’s why I put three seatbelts in the back; I can load up the wife and our three kids and head out cruising!”
As part of the left-to-right conversion, JT smoothed off the firewall and relocated the master cylinder and booster under the dash. This not only cleans up the engine bay, it also gave the colossal Hemi the requisite elbow room.
Although the ‘as-purchased’ panel and paint was top-notch, extensive engine bay mods and front end work meant the spray gun needed to be dragged out. Enter Danny from Custom Bodyworks. Being a perfectionist, Danny ended up painting everything from the doors forward. He also put plenty of effort into fixing up all the titbits that needed attention. To complete the stunning finish, the paint was ceramic-coated.
Oh yes, 10 points for anybody who spotted the only body mod: the custom front splitter! “I wanted the Charger to have that original, old muscle car look,” says Charlie.
This overall theme is most evident in PRO RT’s interior. Wherever possible, modified original was the go. The factory R/T woodgrain steering wheel was shipped off to NZ for restoration. The RHD dash, fashioned by JT Performance, retains the original R/T glovebox and is filled with Auto Meter American Muscle Series gauges, which look totally at home.
Sitting in the black-on-black interior, it’s like stepping back in time. Except with better seats, better gauges, better finish and a Hurst shifter to swap cogs with
Sitting in the black-on-black interior, it’s like stepping back in time. Except with better seats, better gauges, better finish and a Hurst shifter to swap cogs withDaniel at Unique Marine & Auto Upholstery took the factory buckets, bolstered them up for more support, restored the frames and covered them in a period-looking design in black leather. Same for the rear seat and side trims. Another subtle mod is how the factory centre console was cleverly reworked to make the Hurst shifter look like it could have been original fitment. It’s all very well done.
Being a street bruiser, the curvaceous Dodge was outfitted with a full-house Alpine stereo. Not that you can see any of it, as it’s completely hidden. And not that you can hear much of it once the bellowing Hemi comes on full song – a problem I bet all of us would love to have to deal with.
With an automotive past dotted with a swag of GTs, hotted-up Commodores and even a supercar or two, this is Charlie’s first full-on build. Not a bad start! “I’ve always liked restomods,” he says. “Big power, big brakes, gun suspension, all the mod cons. This has all that and more!”
All up, the build took two-and-a-half years – not bad for a car of this calibre. Better still, in four months of driving it’s proven to be almost gremlin-free.
“Because of an incorrect dyno sheet, we did struggle with the wrong converter,” says Charlie. “But that and the dry sump issue aside, it’s been very reliable.”
For such a ridonkulous ride, that’s impressive.
1968 DODGE CHARGER R/T
Paint: PPG Black
Brand: 500ci Hemi
Carbies: Twin Holley HP 1050cfm
Intake: HRE sheet-metal
Heads: Hemi Pro Stock
Camshaft: Comp Cams roller
Crank: Forged Pistons: Diamond custom forged
Oil pump: Peterson dry-sump
Fuel system: MagnaFuel ProStar
Exhaust: Custom 2½ primaries, 4in system
Ignition: MSD Grid, MSD Crank trigger, front-mounted dizzy
Gearbox: TH400, SFI bellhousing and transbrake
Converter: SDE Converters
Diff housing: Mark Williams
Diff centre: Mark Williams 40-spline, 3.9:1 gears
CHASSIS & BRAKES
Front suspension: Magnum Force full K-frame
Rear suspension: JT Performance four-link
Brakes: Wilwood six-pot (f), Wilwood four-pot (r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood
Seats: Factory buckets, extra bolstering
Steering wheel: Restored original R/T
Instruments: Auto Meter American Muscle Series
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: American Legend Thunderbolt; 20×8.5 (f), 20×15 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson SR Radial; 235/40R20 (f), 29x18R20LT (r)
Michael & Chris at JT Performance; Justin at Horsepower Solutions; Daniel at Unique Marine & Auto Upholstery; Bill at BK Race Engines; Al’s Race Glides;
Danny at Custom Bodyworks; Marcus at Hi Octane Coatings; SDE Converters; John Saad; most importantly my wife Joanna and kids Ava, Sienna and RJ