Nine-second, 418ci Chrysler VH XL Charger

When Billy Papas witnessed the might of a W9-headed R3 Mopar donk, he bought a VH Charger to house one

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

BILLY Papas’s tough ’72 VH Charger was built around his desire for a furious powerplant. “When I saw how well the R3 race block with W9 heads breathed and ran in Rob Bergamin’s VF Valiant (SM, May ’18), I wanted a pump-fuel, naturally aspirated version of my own,” says Billy.

This article on Billy’s Charger was originally published in the March 2019 issue of Street Machine

No mucking about back here; there’s a CDS-built 9in packed full of tough stuff and held in place with CalTracs, mono-leaf springs and Viking Performance double-adjustable shocks

“Rob and his brother Frank came across this R3-W9 engine package, half-complete and disassembled,” he continues. “They were going to build me a 418ci stroker for my stout AP6, but after many discussions we all agreed that the motor needed to go into a roomier engine bay.”

Billy wasted no time in moving the race-inspired AP6 on to make way for a suitably large car to house the R3/W9 donk. “I was looking for coupes – VJ and VH-series Chrysler By Chryslers or Chargers – when this car caught my eye,” he says. What Billy procured was an extremely tidy, one-owner, original VH XL Charger, complete with a stock 245ci six-cylinder, column auto, whitewalls, hubcaps and even mudflaps.

Now that a worthy engine recipient was sorted, Billy had time to cruise the coupe for a good 12-18 months while the Bergamins were wielding their mechanical mastery on the race block. But he couldn’t help adding some spicy sauce thanks to an upgraded driveline and a tubbed rear.

“It copped a 340ci V8 with 904 Torqueflite trans and a rebuilt BorgWarner diff with 3.7s and all of the good gear, making 430hp at the flywheel,” Billy says. “But I kept the car all stock-looking, like a sleeper. It was a good little drag car and street cruiser that I could have a bit of fun with.”

Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve heard of such a relaxed, easy and straightforward build, or maybe that’s just Billy’s demeanour. Perhaps he trusted that the Bergamin Brothers would deliver a hard-hitting package.

Eventually, Billy bid farewell to the mild 340ci to allow the Bergamins to slot into the ’bay a stinking hot Mopar 48-degree R3 race block, stroked to 418 cubes thanks to a sturdy Callies DragonSlayer stroker crank. Scat rods and custom JE Pistons fill the bores and do their part to provide the 11.7:1 compression ratio with the alloy W9 Mopar heads. Inside the W9s are Isky Red-Zone lifters and T&D rockers, with Smith Brothers pushrods, all helped along by a custom solid-roller street cam.

The beadlocked RC Comp Exile 10in-wide rears scream dragspec, and are matched with 15x4s up front. Behind the fronts sit VH discs paired to VJ Valiant calipers, while Wilwood discs and calipers stop the rears

Bolted above is a tall Mopar NASCAR 420 manifold, rightly paired with an APD 950cfm 4150 billet Enforcer carby. And while the compression is high, the 418ci still runs on PULP, which is fed forward via a MagnaFuel 500 pump, with the ample pressure managed by a MagnaFuel regulator.

All told, there’s 650 neddies of motivation at the fly, with a twisty 585ft-lb.

Behind the impressive get-up, Billy has kept with a 904 trans, but beefed it right up so that it can handle the abuse.

“One of the main reasons behind the build was the different driveline package of the R3 with W9s paired with a 904 – most people run a bigger trans,” he explains. “But I kept the 904 as the VH isn’t really a heavy car.”

Underneath, CDS Engineering & Body Repairs added a nine-inch packed with a Truetrac, 4.56s and 35-spline axles, then slotted in Viking Performance double-adjustable shocks, mono-leaf springs and CalTracs for added assistance at the track.

Aesthetically, Billy has done very little to the car, apart from bolting on race-ready 15-inch RC Comp Exile rims with 10-inch-wide beadlocked rears. Pro Paint ’n Panel buffed most of the Fountain Blue duco to a shine, then did a tight colour-match of the fibreglass reverse-cowl bonnet and tidied-up engine compartment.

The W9-headed R3 block is a neat bit of kit, finished off with a high-rise Mopar NASCAR manifold and APD 950cfm 4150 Enforcer carb – both suited to this combo. “The DragonSlayer stroker crank is $4000 new, but we got it at a good price, and it hadn’t been out of the box,” Billy brags

“The interior was a little shabby in a few places, so I just had those areas re-trimmed,” Billy says. “The dash is in mint condition, while the hoodlining is all discoloured; I kept the old wear-marked carpet and had it cleaned. I like to see the age, as it shows that the car is used.

“The Bergamin Brothers built the whole car; it was drive in, drive out,” he says. “I supplied all of the running gear and the boys did their magic.”

Billy couldn’t be happier with the end result, and he’ll use the car mostly as a street cruiser, with a little bit of racing.

“Any excuse will have me out there cruising it,” he says. “I have several 60s and 70s cars in the 500-600hp range, with this being the highest horsepower of them all. Yet its street manners are impeccable, as it doesn’t overheat in traffic and it’s a pleasure to drive; that’s why I use the car a lot.”

Chrysler got the interior spot-on from the outset, so Billy only added Auto Meter gauges for the vitals and had a B&M Quicksilver shifter poke through the factory console. “The red switches are for the thermo fans, fuel pump and water pump, with one spare – maybe for nitrous!” he laughs

Billy bought the Charger in early 2016 and had it on the strip at Swan Hill by September 2018.

“I ran a 10.08@132mph on the first pass, and basically in street trim. Then it broke an axle on the second pass, as it still had the BorgWarner diff with 4.11s and no traction aids,” he says.

Being oh-so-close to the nines, Billy now has a score to settle.

“I needed lower gears and bigger tyres to get it at peak revs crossing the line. I’ll be testing the new combo of the nine-inch with 4.56s, mono-leaf and CalTracs soon.

“I think when it gets back out there it’ll be a lot firmer; it’ll pop a better mono anyway,” he laughs. “But I’m more about the fun, not about the numbers – it’s not really a race car.”

UPDATE: Billy cracked the nines at a private test day at AIR in June 2019.


The Mopar R3 block was available with a 48-degree lifter angle (as well as the more typical 59-degree angle) which places the pushrod more in line iwth the lifter for better valvetrain geometry and higher rpm.

As for the alloy Mopar W9 heads, they are high-flowing wedge-style race heads usually used in sprint cars that match 48-degree-lifter bore race blocks like the R3. They also have two extra head bolts around each cylinder, equating to a tighter head gasket seal.

What does all this mean? More horsepower!


Paint: Fountain Blue

Brand: 418ci Chrysler R3 block
Carby: APD 950cfm 4150 billet Enforcer
Manifold: Mopar NASCAR 420
Heads: W9 Chrysler alloy, Isky Red-Zone lifters, T&D rockers, Smith Brothers pushrods
Compression: 11.7:1
Cam: Custom street solid-roller
Conrods: Scat
Pistons: JE Pistons customised for a 250-shot of NOS
Crank: Callies DragonSlayer stroker
Oil pump: Melling high-volume
Sump: Milodon 8L
Fuel system: MagnaFuel 500, MagnaFuel regulator, 57L cell
Fuel: PULP
Cooling: Meziere electric water pump, custom Ford Courier radiator, twin thermos
Exhaust: Custom 1 7/8in headers, twin mandrel-bent 3in system, Magnaflow mufflers
Ignition: Crane HI-6 digital

Trans: 904 Torqueflite, billet internals, full-manual, reverse-pattern
Converter: TCE 5000rpm
Tailshaft: Custom 3 ½in alloy
Diff: CDS 9in, Truetrac, 4:56:1, 35-spline axles

Front: Comp Engineering 90/10 shocks
Rear: Viking Performance double-adjustable shocks, mono-leaf springs, CalTracs
Brakes: VH discs and VJ Valiant calipers (f), Wilwood 4in discs(r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood

Rims: RC Comp Exile; 15×4 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Michelin 175 (f), M/T ET Street 325 (r)

Rob and Frank Bergamin of Bergamin Brothers Racing; Pro Paint ’n Panel; Michael Lazos; CDS Engineering & Body Repairs