— THE LAST AMERICAN HERO’S DREAM MACHINE
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.