CULT HIT —
A REAL HEMI VALIANT
When you think of Hemis and Valiants, the first thought is always of the screaming sixcylinder tower of power that gave the cars their fierce reputation in the 1970s. Despite being a few slices short of the V8s of the time, the cars could readily deal to the opposition on racetracks, including the famous Mount Panorama. This 1976 Charger isn’t packing that triple-carbed screamer but something a whole lot more modern that also wears the famous Hemi name. However, the name is where any similarities end between the engines that made Chargers popular and that which is rapidly making this specific car popular. Kevan Dudson, the owner of this Charger, is no stranger to these pages, or to building, restoring, and collecting cool old cars. Even for him, though, this one came as a bit of a shock.
“It originally came into our possession as a tired, wellused old vehicle that was at the end of its life. It was deregistered, rusty in all the usual places [the other thing that Valiants are famous for], and essentially destined to be put in the back of the shed, to be used as a parts donor for another Charger we have,” states Kevan. With many other cars on the go (check out the shed feature we ran on Kevan’s place back in Issue No. 130), the Valiant sat waiting for some love, or a trip to the scrapheap, for a full eight years, until Kevan and his daughter Tanea were out cruising in their other Charger. “Out of the blue, she mentioned that she really liked these cars, and that it would be great if we could do up the old one in the shed for her!” Kevan recalls. That idea played around in Kevan’s mind for a while, as he weighed it up. Sure, the car had rust, and plenty of it, but he also knew the right people, and, of course, encouraging the next generation’s love of old cars is something that needs to be done. Eventually, Kevan mentioned the idea to good friends Gavin and Rick Miller. With both of these guys being heavily involved in Kevan’s previous projects, the conversation was only ever destined to have one outcome, especially since the team were adding the
finishing touches to another project at the time. Everything had fallen into place to do another build, and what better starting point than a car that was already sitting in the workshop? “At this point, I must say that we all got plenty of advice about the car not being worth saving, as it was going to be too much work, etc. — all of which just made us realize [that] we had made the right decision and gave us the focus we needed to get our teeth into things!” laughs Kevan. “The car was stripped, then the grinder and cut-off discs came out, and, in no time at all, the boot floor was cut out, a new floor made and welded in, and hey presto! — the advice we started to hear was that, yep, maybe the car could be a good one to save!” he adds. Of course, this was only the beginning of a long and, at times, frustrating process, but, with the experience and passion of Gavin and Rick, along with the mechanical expertise of Scott Miller, the crew just knuckled down and worked through whatever challenges were thrown up each week. With the bodywork taking shape, Scott asked what he should do with the old 265 motor, as clearly it, too, would need some attention. However, a comment from Tanea about how she wouldn’t mind putting the car down the strip soon, combined with Scott’s background in drag racing, made the team realize that the 265 would never cut it. What could be better to power the car than a Hemi — a real Hemi? The fact that the team hadn’t heard of anyone local performing the conversion only added to the appeal of making it happen. After a bit of hunting around, a latemodel 5.7-litre Gen III mill was sourced, and Gavin was kept busy fabricating headers and engine mounts to make it all fit. Of course, the fab work went much further than that, to include a multitude of body panels, such as both door skins, being completely remade from scratch. From
there, Gavin turned his attention to the rear guards, both sills, and the front left indicator panel, where new steel now replaces most of the factory offering. “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and the conversion threw a few challenges our way that, in hindsight, have added to the fun we have had in completing this car,” Kevan recalls — now that the head-scratching is a thing of the past. Finally, the day came when all the bodywork and engineering had been completed and the car was handed over to Rick, who spent many handpunishing and finger-punishing hours preparing the body and applying the paint to achieve a finish that speaks volumes for his abilities. With the flawless coat of paint added, it was now up to Scott to get the car driving. Part of this, due to the factory Hemi engine’s complexity, was to remove all the original engine-management systems. Instead of the OEM offering, an aftermarket Holley EFI setup was fitted, along with an MSD ignition system. The engine was backed with a 727 Torque Flite transmission and a Chrysler 8¾-inch diff, both of which Scott was responsible for. With the added power and weight, the brakes and suspension on the car were wisely also upgraded, albeit without going too wild. Likewise, the interior; it may at first glance appear stock, but plenty of hours of work have gone into making it look this good. Nic Trethewey was the man responsible for it, and he hit the brief of keeping it looking like an old-school sleeper perfectly. Kevan explains, “While no proper plan was ever laid out regarding the final look of the car, through previous projects [that] we had all worked on as a group, we knew the look we were after, and the reason we were doing the car, so it was pretty easy to keep on task and sort things out as we went along. Robust discussion around smoko and the benefit of Gavin, Rick, and Scott’s many years of working on cars sorted any of the ‘what if’ scenarios and kept the processes of what to do and when right on track.” The interval between Tanea and Kevan’s initial conversation and the car’s completion was three years, during which time Tanea would get her licence and develop a stronger affinity with the car. “All in all, we couldn’t be happier with how it’s all turned out, and, with a school ball coming up later this year, I guess the keys will be handed over and a lucky young lady will get to drive herself there in her very own pretty cool and unique car. Now that we’ve finished this car, we are all thinking about that 1934 Hudson Roadster — let’s talk about stock, or LS1 powered and modified!” Kevan muses. Something tells us it won’t be long before you’re seeing more Dudson creations on these pages!