VANISHING POINT

— THE LAST AMER­I­CAN HERO’S DREAM MA­CHINE

NZV8 - - CONTENTS -

Like Kowal­ski, the main character of the cult hit movie Vanishing Point, Nick Ross has driven his share of im­pres­sive cars, at speed. But, un­like Kowal­ski, who was a paid car-delivery driver, Nick is a true racer. Hav­ing started in karts back in 1991 and pro­gressed to For­mula Ford in 1997, and on to NZV8s from 2001, he’s had suc­cess in each class as he’s stepped up the ranks. The rise and rise of his rac­ing ca­reer saw the team at Mitchell Race Xtreme (MRX) build a Nis­san Al­tima tour­ing car from scratch for the BNT NZV8s class a few years back. It was at the launch of this ve­hi­cle that Nick’s dad, Mike Ross, who’s al­ways sup­ported Nick’s en­deav­ours both fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally, got talk­ing to MRX’s Nick Mitchell. Nick Mitchell re­calls: “Mike started talk­ing to me about build­ing a new mus­cle car for him and his broth­ers. Straight away, my thought was to­wards some­thing that wasn’t a Chev or a Ford. As a mas­sive Chal­lenger fan my­self, I made the sug­ges­tion of the Dodge Chal­lenger. That was it; game on.” The Ross broth­ers are no stranger to mus­cle cars, with Mike and his broth­ers Tony, Tim, and Si­mon hav­ing be­tween them quite pos­si­bly one of the most im­pres­sive col­lec­tions in the coun­try. In­cluded within that is a Dodge Chal­lenger, so they didn’t re­ally need a whole lot of con­vinc­ing. The un­re­stricted ap­peal of GTRNZ was cer­tainly tan­ta­liz­ing, but a mus­cle car — even a thor­oughly mod­ern­ized ver­sion of one — de­serves to be raced against other mus­cle cars. So, with this in mind, Enzed Cen­tral Mus­cle Cars (CMC) was the class of choice. Although a theme wasn’t es­sen­tial for the build, the plan was to cre­ate some­thing that stood out. A replica of the lime green Chal­lenger driven to Nascar suc­cess by Sam Posey back in the ’70s was the first plan, but, since there was al­ready one of those in the class, they had to think out­side the square. What’s the next most fa­mous Chal­lenger? The star car of Vanishing Point, of course — white on white.

With the brief there­fore be­ing lim­ited to white and fast, MRX set to work to make it all hap­pen. With zero in­ter­est in rust and the re­al­ity that only a body shell and no other gen­uine Chal­lenger com­po­nents were re­quired, a brand-new body shell was sourced. This, in it­self, proved to be a touch more com­pli­cated than ex­pected, as Nick re­mem­bers: “I saw on­line at that year’s SEMA Show that a US com­pany had re­pro­duced a brand-new Chal­lenger shell. I shared the news with Mike — his re­sponse: ‘Get it!’ So we did, but, as that shell at SEMA was the pro­to­type and Mopar hadn’t of­fi­cially signed off on the sale of the new shells as yet, we had to wait, then wait a bit more. About nine months later, all the while keep­ing in touch with the Yanks, our order was taken for the new shell and all-new outer body work and trims.” And, just like that, the first com­mer­cially avail­able body shell was theirs. Dur­ing this wait pe­riod, MRX or­dered the rest of the com­po­nents, mean­ing that, once the shell was in the team’s pos­ses­sion, es­sen­tially, it’d be a giant jig­saw puz­zle — one that just needed a few as­sem­bly hours and a few hun­dred more spent on fab­ri­ca­tion. On that, Nick Mitchell states: “When we started this build, I al­ways en­vi­sioned the com­pleted car sit­ting in­side the fam­ily’s mu­seum, so our aim wasn’t just to build an­other mus­cle car but a show piece for all in­volved, some­thing that would re­ally get peo­ple talk­ing.” Getting peo­ple talk­ing seems to be some­thing that MRX has a knack for, and this car is no ex­cep­tion.

The usual ex­ten­sive chro­moly cage is in place, as are fab­ri­cated chro­moly arms, a three-link, and a nine-inch cam­bered rear end — but these are just the start of the fea­tures of the build. “Each body shape throws up its own chal­lenges — ex­cuse the pun — in the de­sign process,” claims Nick. But one thing that didn’t need a whole lot of ex­cess thought was what the power train would con­sist of. Nascar power was the only op­tion — 358ci of Gil­lett Evern­ham ori­gin to be ex­act. Dirk Dirt (ap­par­ently his real name), a US-based Nascar sec­onds dealer, not only sup­plied the Gil­lett Evern­ham engine but also a spare that was orig­i­nally used by the Penske team. As these en­gines used within Nascar are so sim­i­lar, teams gen­er­ally don’t let the car­bu­ret­tors out of their sight, which was the case with these two, so Dave Mills in Pukekohe was called on to set up a carb to suit, filled with his own al­most-as-se­cret horse­power for­mula. The engine in the car was mated to a Hollinger five-speed H-pat­tern dog­box as­sisted by a Til­ton triple-plate clutch. Of course, fit­ting that was sim­ple com­pared with the work re­quired to set up the rear end — where plenty of cus­tom fab­ri­ca­tion was re­quired to turn the nine-inch diff hous­ing, Win­ters al­loy third-mem­ber, 31-spline spool, and Win­ters solid axles into a func­tion­ing com­bi­na­tion. Be­sides the big AP Rac­ing four-pis­ton calipers on each side, there are also En­de­vour En­gi­neer­ing cam­bered hubs to assist with han­dling. Mind you,

the bulk of this is taken care of by the three-link, ad­justable Watt’s link, and Penske three-way ad­justable shocks. The front sus­pen­sion and steer­ing sys­tem is more com­plex again — re­mem­ber, there were no Dodge parts here to be­gin with, so ev­ery­thing’s cus­tom, but built to match the CMC rules — which means that the sus­pen­sion ge­om­e­try must re­main as per the orig­i­nal ve­hi­cle, and the steer­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion must also meet spe­cific re­quire­ments. A Wood­ward steer­ing col­umn and Sparco wheel send the driver’s in­put through to a left-hand-drive Subaru rack, while TIG-welded sus­pen­sion arms en­sure that the ge­om­e­try is as good as can be. At the pointy end, a set of six-pis­ton AP Rac­ing calipers, fit­ted with End­less pads, works in con­junc­tion with 330x32mm ro­tors to slow down the 800-plus-horse­power pack­age. These brakes are set be­hind 17x10-inch Forge­line G43R wheels wrapped in 275mm wide Hankook tyres — the largest the class al­lows. Nick’s pretty proud of his choice of wheels — and with good rea­son too, as they’re some­thing that we’re yet to see on an­other street car here, let alone a full blown race car. Kris, Hay­den, and Luke at Boss Pow­der coat­ing in Hamil­ton were an equally es­sen­tial part of the build, be­ing called in to coat the roll cage, chas­sis, sus­pen­sion arms, and diff. Like­wise, high­per­for­mance coat­ing (HPC) has been ap­plied to the high-temp and high-wear­ing com­po­nents, with any­thing not coated pol­ished to a near-mir­ror fin­ish. The ded­i­ca­tion to the white-and-pol­ished theme crosses over to the in­te­rior, for which MRX had Racetech cre­ate a pair of cus­tom white gel-coated seats. But, of course, it’s the pol­ished spoil­ers front and rear that re­ceive the bulk of the comments! With all eyes on those, it’s easy to over­look the fact that the bon­net wears a far-larger-than-stock hump in it, thanks to Fi­bre con­cepts in Tau­ranga — the busi­ness also re­spon­si­ble for the com­pos­ite doors, guards, and boot lid. All of this com­pos­ite good news was hid­den by the hard work of Ken at Cam­bridge Panel works and his spray gun. As yet, the car hasn’t gone through the scru­ti­neer­ing process or hit the track in anger, but it’s al­ready gar­nered a solid fan base. Once Nick Ross gets be­hind the wheel, it’s sure to be­come a thing of leg­end, much as the other white Chal­lenger that in­spired it.

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