YOU could say Max Phillips jumped in at the deep end when, as a young bloke of just 20 years, he made the decision to fly across the country and buy a big block-powered, left-hand-drive US muscle car.
First published in the July 2021 issue of Street Machine
“I had a VX Clubby as a P-plater and got sick of that,” Max says. “It was pretty expensive to modify, it made no power and it was slow, so I thought, ‘I’m getting rid of this and getting an older car and making it fast.’”
Enter this ’74 Dodge Dart, which Max tracked down via an internet forum, when they used to be a thing. “It was for sale a few months earlier, but I hadn’t sold my other car at the time, so I couldn’t buy it,” he says. “Lucky for me, the new owner sold it within a few months after doing some ‘improvements’. I bought it as quick as I could and used all the money I had as an apprentice to fly me and a mate, Mike Roycroft, over to NSW to go look at it.
“I couldn’t afford a rental car or accommodation, so we just winged it on public transport and slept at the airport on the floor. Looking back, that was such a good trip and basically how the build has gone – just winging it and spending all my money.”
While the owner claimed the 440 in the car made 500hp, Max and Mike knew the guy might have been stretching the truth a little bit when it couldn’t even spin the tyres on gravel. But Max didn’t care; he’d already fallen in love with the car and it was heading west.
It took a few months before the car arrived in WA, and Max started putting his own touches on it shortly after, adding a 750 Holley, replacing the Mallory ignition with an MSD 6AL-2 (now upgraded to a 7AL-3), fitting a MagnaFuel pump and regulator as well as an electric water pump. After those changes, it was time to have some fun.
“I took it to Gazzanats and Good Fryday and had a lot of fun, but I ended up breaking the front suspension and came to the realisation that the car needed more power and had to handle a lot better,” Max says.
At this point Max decided to park the car up for a bit and put together a plan. He was now a tradesman and working FIFO, so it was time to get a bit more serious. “I ordered a new sheet-metal nine-inch, some 15×10 Pro Star rims and an engine plate. The diff ended up with 35-spline Moser axles, a full-spool Strange centre and 3.25 gears,” Max recalls. “I took the car up to Cronic Customs and they mini-tubbed it, built the diff to suit the new rims, installed some chassis connectors and mounted the engine to the new engine plate.”
With the back half of the car underway, it was time to start on the front. Max opted for a Reilly Motorsports AlterKtion kit, which removes the torsion-bar suspension and replaces it with tubular A-arms, coil-over shocks and rack-and-pinion steering. The kit had the bonus of freeing up a lot of space in the engine bay, making fitting a big-block with a decent set of pipes a much easier proposition. He also went for Wilwood discs on all four corners – a massive improvement over the drum brakes the car originally had!
One major change Max made that most people wouldn’t even notice is the smoothed and reshaped inner fenders. When Max bought the car, the engine bay had been chopped up to fit fenderwell headers, and he was never a fan of how it looked. The new sheet metal follows the factory shape fairly closely but deletes the shock mounts and helps free up more engine-bay real estate.
Somewhere along the way, Max decided the 440 the car came with just wouldn’t cut the mustard, so he bought another 440 that had been stroked to 500 cubes. However, once again, it was on the other side of the country. “I had issues with getting a company to ship it to WA,” he says. “They wanted to know 100 per cent that it didn’t have oil in it or it would be classed as dangerous goods. Plus the old owner had to have a forklift at their house to load it. It was all too much to deal with, so Mike and I loaded my F6 ute up with jerry cans of 98, put Sydney into Google Maps and drove to NSW and back in five days to go get it.”
By now it was 2018 and the car was starting to come together, but getting the engine bay painted really set the ball rolling. Marriner Smash Repairs did an awesome job blending the Green Go paint into the engine bay, which had previously been black, and it started to look like a different car. A lot more happened through 2019, with George Separovich from Blown Motorsports freshening up the engine and Glen from Nelg’s Ali Mods fabricating a new fuel cell.
“It took until April 2020 to finally wire, plumb and assemble all of the parts back into the car, including a newly re-trimmed interior by Rob Sellen,” Max said. “It was a pretty big job doing all of it in my garage on jack stands, but it was worth it knowing that I built the majority of the car myself.”
While initial plans for the Dart were to use it as a burnout and events car, Max has been bitten pretty hard by the drag-racing bug and has decided that will be its main focus. He finally hit the track in November 2020 and went 10.80 straight off the trailer, with a PB on the night of 10.60@131mph.
Since then, Max has fitted a 200hp nitrous kit, and now has well over 700hp at the tyres. “Hopefully the nitrous brings the 60-foot times down and I can finally run a pass in the nines,” he says.
Sounds like a pretty solid plan.
1974 DODGE DART
Paint: Chrysler Green Go
|500ci Chrysler RB big-block
|1050cfm Pro Systems
|Nitrous Express 200-shot
|2.19in (in), 1.81in (ex)
|Aluminium radiator, twin EL thermos
|Custom 21/4in headers, twin 3.5in exhaust
|MSD Pro Billet dizzy, MSD 7AL-3, MSD HVC2 coil
|Paul Rogers Reid-case Powerglide with transbrake
|Converter Services 4500rpm stall
|9in, 3.25:1 gears, 35-spline Moser axles
|Reilly Motorsports AlterKtion K-frame, coil-overs
|AFCO shocks (r)
|Reilly Motorsports rack-and-pinion
|Wilwood discs (f & r)
|Weld S71 17×6 (f), Weld Pro Stars 15×10 (r)
|Continental 175/55R17 (f), M/T ET Street 275/60R15
My good mate Mike Roycroft; George Separovich at Blown Motorsports; Glen at Nelg’s Ali Mods; Terry at Shift Transmissons; Adam at Cronic Customs; my other mates who helped whenever I needed it: Josh Herridge, Matt Haines, Josh Barron and the boys; whoever else I have forgotten