Brent Murray transforms a local ugly-duckling Val into a stunning Summernats Top 20-placing Dodge Dart replica with a blown 440

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

IS THERE anything an Aussie Valiant hardtop can’t do? Whether it be a cool cruiser, tough streeter, circuit racer, gasser or convertible, the ever-versatile VF and VG coupes are the masters of morphing from one style to the next. Boasting genuine Yankee heritage and sold locally in decent numbers, there are still a few up for grabs and their prices have remained fairly subdued when compared to their Aussie two-door brethren.

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 20 Nw“I was never a hardtop fan,” says 44-year-old panel beater Brent Murray, builder of the Top 20 Elite-placing Dart replica you see here. “We’d be cutting laps as young blokes and always see this same white VF coupe getting around and joke that it was ugly! I was into Monaros at the time and had a tidy HT; Holdens were more my thing.” Fast-forward to 2000, and Brent was called on by his mate Matty to sort the body and paint on a VG hardtop project. “Matt’s purple coupe converted me,” he says. “I spent that much time on it, I had no choice but to fall in love with the shape.”

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 17 NwBrent had drifted away from his own project cars, but in 2009 he felt it was time to get back in the game. He put the feelers out for a hardtop. “The very next day another mate, Raymond, rang to say he’d found one, and you wouldn’t believe it, it was that same bloody white VF I’d bagged out years earlier!” he laughs. That’s right, irony bit Brent on the butt, and after coughing up $1000 he was the proud owner of his ‘ugly’ VF.

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 19 Nw“It was a wreck. The body was like Swiss cheese but the original Slant had been swapped out for a V8, so it had a few things going for it.” The stripped shell was the first port of call for panel man Brent’s talents to shine. “I wanted the car to have a solid US flavour so I decided to go down the Dart path and make it look the real deal,” he says. “I also find the VF and VG front guards a little too long for my liking; the earlier Dart and VE Valiant sheet metal is shorter and visually pulls the overall proportions back into line.”

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 18 NwThe Aussie hardtop and US Dart bodyshells are damn-near identical from the firewall back, but converting the front clip isn’t a bolt-on deal. Brent bought a cheap VE Valiant sedan as a donor and sliced off the inner guards, radiator support panel and outer sheet metal, and transferred the lot onto the VF. “It was a straightforward job but required a few small bracketry changes to mount the ’68 Dart grille and headlight surrounds,” he explains. “I then got onto reworking the engine bay sheet metal and continued rearwards, raising the transmission tunnel and tubbing the rear.”

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 10 NwBrent sorted the remaining exterior panels by fabricating his own repair sections for the plenum, sills and rear quarters, with the doors and windscreen metal also repaired to better than new. While he was at it he fitted flush-mounted Charger door handles, modifying all of the linkages and lock rods to suit. They caused a lot of extra work but Brent says it was worth it. “They help to ‘flatten’ the sides, whereas the old handles stick out and break up the clean lines of such long, flat panels.”

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 12 NwWhen perfectionist Brent was satisfied that the coupe was up to spec, he entrusted workmate Trevor Sherwell to lay down the silver base coats before spiking the Spies Hecker clear topcoats with SEM-brand Candy Apple Red. The finish and depth of colour on all surfaces is nothing short of superb, while the black boot stripe, along with genuine Dart bumpers and stainless trim, contrasts perfectly.

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 1 Nw“It was meant to be a sedate family cruiser but things just grew bigger and better,” Brent says. “I always wanted a big-block under the bonnet and found this blown 440 online. I just Googled ‘blown big-block Chrysler’, and the next minute – well, you know the deal!” Brent lucked onto a supercharged 440 that had been freshly built by CNC Motorsports in South Dakota; a dyno-proven 910hp motor seemed more than adequate for his needs. “The original customer was wiped out by the Global Financial Crisis and CNC were looking to recoup their costs. I made some calls, finalised his bill, then had a blown big-block heading Down Under. I got it for a great price and the Aussie dollar was strong, so it was a win-win for me.”

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 4 NwThe cast 440 block was filled with a Scat forged crank and H-beam rods, while JE blower pistons keep the compression at a supercharger-friendly ratio. The valvetrain comprises a Comp solid-roller cam and lifter set, with Edelbrock RPM alloy heads heavily ported to match the impending forced induction. An 8/71 Dyer’s supercharger mounts to these via a Blower Shop intake and is topped with twin Holley 750 Double Pumper carbs. Custom pipes feature 2.25-inch primaries feeding to four-inch collectors, before a twin three-inch stainless system and rear-mounted Magnaflow mufflers whisk the exhaust gases out of harm’s way. A full MSD ignition system was chosen to keep the fire lit in the 440’s belly; an aluminium Be Cool radiator has an opposing effect for the big-block’s running temp.

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 15 NwThe original Torqueflite transmission made way for an ATI SuperCase Pro Glide, which is fronted by an ATI nine-inch Tree Master converter and has its two forward speeds selected via a B&M Pro Bandit shifter. Rounding out the driveline is a 3.50-inch Strange chrome-moly tailshaft that spins back to a nine-inch diff running 4.11 gears and Moser axles along with a Detroit Locker centre.

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 8 NwThe standard Chrysler torsion bar front end has been retained, albeit improved for Brent’s requirements with one-inch torsion bars and QA1 adjustable shocks. The original leaf spring rear was turfed in favour of a triangulated four-link rear and adjustable QA1 coil-overs, engineered by Brent and chosen to make better use of his impressive tub work and boot floor redesign. A VB Commodore rack-and-pinion set-up works in conjunction with a modified Valiant steering column, with the VB and Valiant pairing again selected for the front brake calipers and ventilated disc rotors respectively. Ford discs and calipers were chosen for the rear, with the complete system activated from a Get Boosted inline master cylinder and booster.

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 6 NwThe interior combines race and show, and centres around aftermarket front buckets and the factory rear seat, which, along with the dash and door cards, were trimmed in black leather by Harry at Anderson Motor Trimmers. An eight-point rollcage was fabricated by Brent and mate Kevin Dark, which also provides anchorage for the RPM harnesses. A SAAS sports wheel fronts a custom dash fascia that houses a plethora of Auto Meter Carbon Fiber-series gauges.

Dodge Dart 440 Valiant 23 NwEVL68 wasn’t quite finished in time to debut at Summernats 28, but made up for lost time at ’Nats 29, scoring an Elite Engineered Super Street gong and a spot in the Elite Top 20. “I’m over the moon,” says Brent of the car’s haul. “My wife Tiffany and son Cale love the car and are proud of my work. They’re both Mopar fans and I was conscious to add a couple of their ideas to the build to make it a true family affair. We’ve already started to gather ideas for our next project: an AP6 sedan for Cale.”