West Coast Cooler

In­spired by the rad­i­cal mid-en­gine John McCor­mack Charger, West Aus­tralian Ian Dif­fen de­vel­oped a stock Charger R/T E38 into a fire breath­ing mid-en­gine V8 mon­ster to com­pete against Aus­tralia’s best Sports Sedans.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents - Kim Story: Gary Bridger Mod­ern Im­ages: Kim Bel­cas­tro

In­spired by the rad­i­cal mid-en­gine John McCor­mack Charger, West Aus­tralian Ian Dif­fen de­vel­oped a stock Charger R/T E38 into a re breath­ing mid-en­gine V8 mon­ster to com­pete against Aus­tralia’s best Sports Sedans.

Look out you East Coast sports sedan ped­allers – a big mover from the West wants a slice of the ac­tion,” be­gan a story in Septem­ber 1975’s edi­tion of Sports Car World. “Perth tyre man Ian Dif­fen is get­ting ready to take on the big boys again – in a rad­i­cal­lyre­built Valiant Charger R/T.

Ian Dif­fen was as West­ern Aus­tralian as the ‘caught Marsh bowled Lillee’ on the WACA’s score­board and Quokkas on Rot­tnest Is­land. Be­ing a smart cookie and com­plet­ing a Bach­e­lor of Com­merce de­gree, he was snapped up as an ex­ec­u­tive trainee by the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany in Mel­bourne in the 1960s and soon found him­self work­ing with the Prod­uct Devel­op­ment Com­mit­tee. This brought him into con­tact with the Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles depart­ment and his ca­reer seemed des­tined to head in this di­rec­tion un­til he de­cided to re­turn his young fam­ily to Perth in 1971. His son had de­vel­oped chronic asthma be­cause of Mel­bourne’s damp.

Dif­fen opened a se­ries of tyre shops back in the 1970s known as Ian Dif­fen World of Tyres. He was WA’s equiv­a­lent of Bob Jane and, in fact, the pair had busi­ness con­nec­tions. Dif­fen was an am­bi­tious young man who built a well-re­spected and suc­cess­ful em­pire that sur­vives to this day. Un­for­tu­nately, Ian’s health failed in later years and he passed away just over 10 years ago. He was a quiet and unas­sum­ing char­ac­ter and highly re­garded by all who knew him.

Dif­fen was a mo­tor rac­ing en­thu­si­ast, sup­porter and com­peti­tor who con­trib­uted to the sport in many ways. He is prob­a­bly best re­mem­bered on the East Coast for rac­ing two ex-Bob Jane cars, the L34 Group C To­rana and the Repco V8 To­rana Sports Sedan in its later Chevy-pow­ered form.

Then there was the Charger you see here – a car that made a huge im­pres­sion in its day, par­tic­u­larly amongst mo­tor­sport fans in WA.

It started out as a gen­uine Vi­ta­min C R/T E38 big tank car pur­chased from well-known lo­cal drag rac­ing iden­tity, Doug James of Doug James Used Cars. Doug at the time owned the im­ported Dodge Ram Charger drag car (which was quite a beast in its day and still is), now owned by his son Al James. Doug pur­chased the E38 new from Pace­way Chrysler in Septem­ber of 1971 for $4200. Six months later, he had a re­quest from Pace­way to buy the car back for Ian Dif­fen to use as a race­car. Ian sub­se­quently bought the Charger on March 14, 1972, for the princely sum of $3800.

The car was orig­i­nally raced as a stock E38 un­der the Se­ries Pro­duc­tion rules, but Dif­fen found it was un­com­pet­i­tive against the GT-HOs and XU1s. He up­graded it to E49 Group C speci cations in 1973 where it com­peted in some Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship rounds, pick­ing up a point or two here and there.

How­ever, the Charger was again largely un­com­pet­i­tive, so it was de­cided to mod­ify it again, this time to com­pete in the bur­geon­ing Sports Sedan cat­e­gory. Well re­spected lo­cal race me­chanic Terry LeMay con­verted the car, in­stalling a Chrysler 340ci V8 with a four-bar­rel carb and later, four down-draft We­ber Carbs (which sur­vive to­day un­der the bon­net of an­other lo­cally-built his­toric Charger owned by Doug Jack). Apart from that, most of the car was pretty much stan­dard, although it did have a 9-inch diff, a few sus­pen­sion and brake up­grades and some light­weight pan­els. The Chrysler tor­sion bar front end re­mained.

Per­for­mance was quite im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing the mod­est level of mod­i­fi­ca­tion. In this spec it lapped Wan­neroo in around 65 sec­onds – a re­spectable time for Sports Sedans in the mid ‘70s. One no­table show­ing was a dice with John Goss in his light­weight Fal­con hard­top Sports Sedan when the Syd­neysider vis­ited the Perth cir­cuit in 1974.

En­thused by the Charger’s promis­ing early speed and the re­cent ar­rival of John McCor­mack’s rad­i­cal mid-en­gined V8 Charger onto the scene, Dif­fen made the de­ci­sion to build a se­ri­ous chal­lenger to com­pete in the grow­ing num­ber of na­tional-level Sports Sedan races.

In a Septem­ber 22, 1974 Sun­day Times in­ter­view, Ian jus­ti­fied the de­ci­sion to build the Charger. “Well the car has an ob­vi­ous pro­mo­tional value, par­tic­u­larly in view of the up­surge in in­ter­est in mo­tor­sport. I might also make the point that we ex­pect this ven­ture to be self-sup­port­ing. Prize­money, par­tic­u­larly in the East, is ex­cel­lent, with one se­ries be­ing worth $100,000. But from my point of view, I think the car’s main value lies in the skills that teaches peo­ple who work for the com­pany. They also learn the value of close team­work and co­op­er­a­tion which is the ba­sis for any suc­cess­ful busi­ness en­ter­prise.”

To be com­pet­i­tive in this high pro le and lu­cra­tive se­ries, Ian would have to dig deep into his com­pany’s cof­fers and em­ploy the very best ex­per­tise that was avail­able lo­cally.

To that end, he re­tained three of Perth’s top race­car en­gi­neers, me­chan­ics and fab­ri­ca­tors at the time in Jaime Gard (con­struc­tor of the Gar­dos For­mula 5000 car), LeMay (the brains be­hind a very suc­cess­ful lo­cal Mini race team and the man be­hind the devel­op­ment of the Charger to date), and Phil Baartz, a metic­u­lous young me­chanic who was mak­ing a name for him­self and re­spon­si­ble for the fet­tling of the V8 To­rana XU-1 of lo­cal champ Brian Smith.

This was go­ing to be one very trick, state-ofthe-art car and the mega dol­lar re­build be­gan.

The en­gine was given the best of ev­ery­thing avail­able at the time, with lat­est Trans Am good­ies from the USA, in­clud­ing a gear-driven Crower roller camshaft with roller rock­ers, Weaver three­stage dry-sump sys­tem, Lu­cas timed me­chan­i­cal-in­jec­tion, Crower con­rods, light­weight triple-plate AP clutch driv­ing through an all-al­loy new process Chrysler four-speed gear­box.

The body was gut­ted and only re­tained what was re­quired un­der the rules. Stan­dard sus­pen­sion was binned and re­placed with open-wheel For­mula 5000-style ris­ing-rate fronts us­pen­sion, fully-ad­justable Koni all-al­loy rac­ing shock ab­sorbers all round, a fully-in­de­pen­dent rear-end that fea­tured a quick-change diff-cen­tre and Matich F5000 up­rights. The en­gine was moved to the mid­dle of the car, solid-mounted

and en­closed in an in­tri­cately-fab­ri­cated al­loy hous­ing. A full chrome-moly roll-cage was in­stalled, so too an on-board re-ex­tin­guisher sys­tem, along with a foam- lled al­loy fuel-cell (be­lieved to an ex-Lola sportscar tank) in the boot. All re­mov­able body pan­els (front mud­guards, bon­net, door skins and boot lid) were re­placed with alu­minium items spe­cially pressed by the Chrysler fac­tory. Wheel arches were beau­ti­fully ared in alu­minium and steel to cover the new 15x10-inch wheels all round, with 12-inch wide rear tyres and 11-inch fronts. Brakes were the lat­est fully- oat­ing race ro­tors and four-pis­ton AP al­loy cal­lipers ac­tu­ated by the cus­tom­ary bal­ance bar pedal set up.

The now rad­i­cal new Charger, nished in a deep shade of bright or­ange, with black in­te­rior and much pol­ished al­loy, was pre­sented to the pub­lic for the rst time at the an­nual hot rod show, held in the Pagoda Ball­room in South Perth. Fel­low WA racer Craig Mars­land at­tended the show and can, to­day, still vividly re­call his rst im­pres­sions.

“When I saw it for the rst time I can only de­scribe my feel­ings as ‘gob­s­macked’,” Mars­land says. “At the time, this car was like no other; no ex­pense had been spared. A large ther­mome­ter-style plac­ard be­hind the car, with thou­sand­dol­lar in­cre­ments in­stead of de­grees, proudly

an­nounced that $63,000 had been spent up to that time. This was a phe­nom­e­nal amount in the mid 1970s.”

The Charger, be­fore even ven­tur­ing onto on the track, cer­tainly achieved its rst ob­jec­tive as a pro­moter for Ian Dif­fen World of Tyres, par­tic­u­larly in WA. There was much lo­cal pride in this state-ofthe-art car en­tirely de­vel­oped by lo­cal ex­per­tise. The Charger was promi­nently fea­tured in both the lo­cal and na­tional me­dia with lit­tle doubt that it was go­ing to be a se­ri­ous con­tender on the track.

Writ­ing for the afore­men­tioned Septem­ber 1975 is­sue of Sports Car World mag­a­zine, WA writer John Rudd gave his im­pres­sions of rid­ing in the Charger dur­ing early test­ing around Wan­neroo Park. Rudd noted the mas­sive ‘ele­phant trunk like in­takes’ that pushed air from the ra­di­a­tor grille to the mid mounted V8. Rudd found crawl­ing into the car quite dif­fi­cult with the in­evitable head bang­ing with his crash hel­met and roll-cage. The driver had a full safety har­ness and pad­ding around the mid mounted en­gine hous­ing to in­su­late him from the enor­mous heat the en­gine gen­er­ated. No such lux­ury for the pas­sen­ger, who had no safety har­ness and no en­gine in­su­la­tion on his side! The re­sult was an ex­tremely hot, un­com­fort­able but ex­hil­a­rat­ing ride. Af­ter some warmup laps, Ian opened the Charger up and gave Rudd the ride of his life! Rudd wrote: “Round the right an­gle left han­der at 80mph... then Dif­fen cracked open the gap­ing full in­jec­tion throt­tles again and hurled the car and its new-found pas­sen­ger to more than 100mph in al­most as many yards. “Watch­ing a mo­tor race was never like this. Cor­ners driv­ers seem to take in one long grace­ful sweep dis­solve into a se­ries of small slides, each cor­rected with a slight move­ment of the steer­ing wheel, each lead­ing into the next un­til Dif­fen again sends that (tacho) nee­dle dash­ing around the dial as we hur­tle onto the next bend. And the times on the board that Gra­ham MaCale holds out af­ter each lap are drop­ping...from over 70 sec­onds to 69.4, 68.4 and the quick­est 68.1.”

Rudd noted that to be com­pet­i­tive, they would have to lap Wan­neroo Park at around 63 sec­onds, a time Ian was con dent the Charger would achieve.

How­ever, the Charger proved to be quite a dif­fi­cult beast to tame and con­stant is­sues pre­vented it from achiev­ing its main ob­jec­tive: to be com­pet­i­tive against the best from the East Coast.

Hav­ing de­buted the re­worked car in a mi­nor meet­ing on May 4, 1975, Dif­fen’s rst op­por­tu­nity to take on the big guns came on June 8 that year, via the Win eld Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Chal­lenge, an event pro­moted by his own mar­ket­ing com­pany. Among the stars mak­ing the trek west were Mof­fat (Capri), Jane (Monaro), Geoghe­gan (Monaro), Frank Gard­ner (To­rana) and John Har­vey (Porsche).

A bro­ken rose-joint in the morn­ing warm-up ne­ces­si­tated a mercy dash by crew to a fac­tory 30km away to fab­ri­cate a re­place­ment. Their ef­forts were ham­pered by traf­fic jams caused by the huge crowd drawn to the track, the part ul­ti­mately be­ing he­li­coptered-in and tted to the car in time for the third and nal heat. Dif­fen was re­warded with a fth place, post­ing a fastest lap of 65.7 sec­onds in his pur­suit of race win­ner Mof­fat.

“I can re­call go­ing to Wan­neroo on pri­vate tun­ing days to see the car be­ing di­alled,” Craig Mars­land says. “Like any new race­car, es­pe­cially one as rad­i­cal as this, it had its share of is­sues, in­clud­ing some very quirky han­dling

char­ac­ter­is­tics, but when it went boy did it go!

“Un­for­tu­nately, the is­sues con­tin­ued and get­ting it up to speed and to be re­li­able at the same time was prov­ing very chal­leng­ing for Ian and the team. It showed mo­ments of bril­liance and com­peted in a num­ber of events but with­out the re­sults re­quired to jus­tify the huge in­vest­ment made.”

By the time of Wan­neroo’s round of the in­au­gu­ral Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Cham­pi­onship, in Au­gust 1976, the Charger had been parked in favour of the ex-Jane To­rana.

“I think it got to the stage where Ian even­tu­ally said enough,” Mars­land con­tin­ues. “He just wanted to go rac­ing. The Charger was shelved and he pur­chased the ex-Bob Jane Chevy To­rana and en­joyed quite a bit of suc­cess cam­paign­ing that over the next few years.”

The en­gine gen­er­ated a claimed 530bhp. This was achieved by rad­i­cally mod­i­fy­ing the cylin­der heads, mainly the in­let port tracts and lo­ca­tion and size of the in­let valves. Mov­ing the in­let val­ues to op­ti­mise the in­let tract com­pro­mised the val­ve­train ge­om­e­try to the point that the rocker arms were plac­ing side force on the top of the valve stems. Head-gas­ket seal­ing was an­other prob­lem.

Dif­fen sold the Charger to Brian Smith, who takes up the story.

“I pur­chased the car at the end of 1976 af­ter sell­ing my very suc­cess­ful – and highly re­li­able – To­rana Sports Sedan, which was 302 Wind­sor Ford-pow­ered.

“I took de­liv­ery of the Charger mi­nus the in­de­pen­dent rear-end to re­duce costs. A bad move, in hind­sight! But I couldn’t re­ally af­ford the ex­tra ex­pen­di­ture and thought a live 9-inch rear-end would be ad­e­quate. Phil Baartz, who main­tained my To­rana and who I re­spected as a highly-tal­ented race me­chanic, jumped in at the deep-end and put the car to­gether with the live rear-end and off we went to the track early in 1977 for a test day. Ev­ery­thing seemed to go well for a rst out­ing, but when Phil got the car back to the work­shop, he dis­cov­ered we had a cylin­der head gas­ket is­sue.”

It soon be­came clear that the huge power out­put from the Mol­loy En­gi­neer­ing-sourced en­gine was pro­duc­ing more heat than the old 340 head cast­ings could dis­si­pate.

“The re­sult of this was that the head sur­face would ex­pand and try to ‘bal­loon’ away from the block deck,” Smith ex­plains. “Phil, ded­i­cated to the cause, tried ev­ery­thing to cure this prob­lem, with­out suc­cess.

“Clem Smith (no re­la­tion) in Ade­laide faced a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion with his 340 Charger Sports Sedan. Clem also tried ev­ery­thing to over­come the head gas­ket is­sues. He pur­chased a pair of Chrysler W2 head cast­ings that were sup­posed to cure the prob­lem, but this was not to­tally suc­cess­ful. The best x was to pull some horse­power out of these 340 mon­sters. We never tried that, but should have.

“So, we lived with the head gas­ket is­sue for the pe­riod of time I owned the car through to 1981 when I sold it to Craig Mars­land. Craig was fully aware of the head gas­ket prob­lem but felt he could over­come it. To his credit, I think he had fewer fail­ures than Phil and I ex­pe­ri­enced. Re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues aside, I did man­age to win the 1977 state cham­pi­onship in West­ern Aus­tralia.”

Mars­land, who’d had good re­sults with his home-built E49 Sports Sedan, bought the Charger in 1981. His spon­sor, Pizza Hut, as­sisted with the pur­chase and Mars­land was very pleased that Phil Baartz was able to con­tinue with his sup­port. Some rear-end modi cations and in­ter­nal fab­ri­cat­ing was per­formed in or­der to ad­dress some of the han­dling is­sues, which did help, but like its pre­vi­ous own­ers, Craig ex­pe­ri­enced mo­ments of bril­liance and on­go­ing frus­tra­tion with its nig­gling is­sues.

A huge crash in the 1982 ASSC round at Wan­neroo re­sulted in sub­stan­tial frontal dam­age. With a lot of ef­fort, it was re­paired and the car re­turned to the track a month later. It recorded one of its best times to date, which iron­i­cally was its last race. It was a time in the 65-sec­ond bracket – where it had been lap­ping be­fore its ma­jor re­work ahead of the 1975 sea­son!

The fol­low­ing month at Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way, a cam fol­lower broke dur­ing prac­tice and caused a con­sid­er­able amount of en­gine dam­age. It was trail­ered home and parked, Mars­land’s funds and pa­tience hav­ing been ex­hausted.

The car was even­tu­ally sold, and has changed hands a num­ber of times since and, apart from be­ing re­turned to its Dif­fen-era paint scheme and sign­writ­ing, is pretty much as sold by Mars­land. The ex­cep­tion is the en­gine, hav­ing been re­built, and the Lu­cas timed-in­jec­tion me­ter­ing units be­ing sold off along the way. Mars­land said Michael Aich­e­son in Queens­land did get it go­ing some years back and be­lieves it may have com­peted in an his­toric-type meet­ing at the time, but as it so of­ten did, it en­coun­tered en­gine is­sues.

Cur­rent owner Shane An­der­son from Perth has a col­lec­tion of rare Aussie Chryslers in­clud­ing the beau­ti­ful VJ Charger XL E49 fea­tured on the cover of AMC #95 last year. An­der­son said he had been keep­ing track of the his­toric Charger for a few years and even­tu­ally pur­chased it off a Bris­bane owner 18 months ago.

To­day, both Craig Mars­land and Brian Smith re­mem­ber the Charger with a mix of af­fec­tion and frus­tra­tion.

Mars­land: “The fuel-in­jected en­gine with its light ywheel and small clutch had in­stant throt­tle re­sponse and ab­so­lutely barked very loudly through its four­inch un­muf­fled drain­pipe ex­hausts, which ex­ited just be­low the doors on ei­ther side. You sat right along­side the mid-mounted en­gine and the me­chan­i­cal and ex­haust noise at 7500 rpm was some­thing else and had to be ex­pe­ri­enced; not to for­get the heat emit­ted by one an­gry en­gine. It was not the eas­i­est car to drive but when on song it went like a cut snake, stopped quite well and de­spite all its idio­syn­cra­sies I thor­oughly en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The car showed great po­ten­tial, but was tem­per­a­men­tal, frag­ile and very ex­pen­sive to run, as it was push­ing the lim­its of devel­op­ment and the tech­nol­ogy at the time was just not there to sup­port it. To­day with a re­build us­ing mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, I am con dent it would ac­quit it­self very well.”

Smith adds that de­spite the car’s un­re­li­a­bil­ity, it was a great car to drive: “Very fast and very chal­leng­ing with that live rear-end! And it’s still one of the sex­i­est race­cars ever seen on Aussie race­tracks.”

Ian Dif­fen’s ‘World of Tyres’ Charger was WA’s an­swer to John McCor­mack’s Repco-Holden pow­ered Charger. It ul­ti­mately came up short, but it was none­the­less a unique and spec­tac­u­lar ma­chine.

1972 Wan­neroo

Ian Dif­fen bought a sec­ond-hand E38 Charger from Doug James Used Cars (see sales book ref­er­ence above) and went rac­ing. It be­gan as a Se­ries Pro­duc­tion car, was then mod­i­fied to Group C (right), and then de­vel­oped into a wild mid-mounted 340 Mopar...

AMC is in­debted to Craig Mars­land and Brian Smith for their en­thu­si­as­tic help in pre­par­ing this story. Also thanks to cur­rent owner Shane An­der­son and to Kim Bel­cas­tro for his in­put and ex­cel­lent pho­tog­ra­phy.

The Charger is back in orig­i­nal or­ange liv­ery but apart from an en­gine re­build it re­mains un­re­stored, as it was when Craig Mars­land last raced it. Phil Baartz (in­set), part of the Charger’s orig­i­nal brains’ trust, re­mained in­volved with the car af­ter...

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