Profile: Frank Badalson and American Performance
Profile: Frank Badalson and American Performance
“Mopar, that’s all I know. That’s all I’ll do. I just don’t know anything else,” Frank Badalson says. We were in his restoration shop, American Performance, in Richmond, Virginia.
“The majority of my business is survivor,” Frank says, and to his left on a lift was a jaw-dropping example: an 1,800-mile 1971 Challenger Hemi that had been in the possession of its original owner until it sold in January 2015 at the Mecum Kissimmee auction for $600,000.
“This Challenger has its original battery. I have it sitting there on the bench. There are a minute handful of cars, especially Mopars, with original batteries.”
The battery was dead but useful for show. Frank is immersed in its details. The part number, 69, corresponds to the build sheet code, which contained the plant of manufacture, the Kansas City Cold Battery Storage Company, indicated by KC, and 11-0 for the date of November 1970. The red caps were original, having five vent holes in a Group 27 battery.
Frank was showing us elements of what he calls “extreme preservation and extreme detail,” which become very important on cars such as this Challenger. His work is more like that of a curator than a restorer. This Challenger has to remain original and unrestored. Few people in the world could be entrusted with this museum-worthy piece of history, so owners find Frank. He doesn’t find them.
The more we talked, the more specialized I understood American Performance to be, and the more I realized how much his life and work have been a Mopar journey, right from his very first car in high school. Frank got his license in 1969. He wanted a Hemi right away, “but it didn’t happen,” he says.
“In May 1971 I got back from military school and my father said, ‘You’re going to work. I got
you a job, but you got to drive to D.C.’”
They went to a used car lot owned by a friend of his father’s named Vince. There were two Mopars. Frank recalls an F4 green 1970 Hemi Challenger with a shaker, and a
1970 Lemon Twist Barracuda powered by a 318. Of course the enthusiast and all-American horsepower-loving teenager wanted that Hemi. He started it up and remembers thinking, Oh man, this would be great if I could swing this.
“They send them to me to run right so they can enjoy the car”
“I went to make sure the car was original. In a couple minutes, my father came storming out and started cursing. ‘You ain’t getting that car! Vince says it goes 200 miles per hour and gets 4 miles per gallon. You’re not getting that car!’”
No pleading could change his father’s mind. The disgruntled teenager got the 318 Barracuda, which at least was a sporty E-Body.
Frank’s Mopar enthusiasm had begun with the introduction of the 1968 Plymouth Road Runner. “My older buddies started buying them, and we went to the dealership all the time looking at them. That’s just where it grew.”
Frank would have to wait for his father to get out of the way of his Mopar dreams before he could get his first Hemi. That didn’t keep him from trying. His father canceled a 1970 Hemi ’Cuda purchase in April 1973.
“He walked around it, and saw Hemicuda on the shaker. He looked at that, stared at it, and said, ‘Hem-a-cuda. What the hell is hem-a-cuda?’” And then he recalled the name Hemi from a few years earlier.
With money borrowed from his mom and stepfather, Frank bought a 1969 Road Runner for $900 in May 1973. That was followed by an A4 Winchester Gray Metallic 1971 Hemi ’Cuda that he paid $1,900 for to use in his junior year in college. This is the same Hemi that sold for $950,000 plus commission at the Mecum Kissimmee Auction in January 2016. Frank was not the seller at Kissimmee. He had sold the Hemi ’Cuda many years earlier for far less and bought more Mopar muscle cars.
After graduating from college he became a police officer and started his own accident investigation business in
1991. He has bought and sold “well over 90 Mopars,” which included “a little bit of everything.” He has never had a convertible Hemi, “but other than that, I’ve had pretty much anything you could name.”
Since his first Mopar, Frank has helped friends fix their Mopars, an activity that turned into “a part-time business that was almost a second full-time job.” The depth of his expertise grew over the years.
In the late 1980s he became friends with famous muscle car restorer Roger Gibson through a technical car magazine article Gibson wrote. “He posed a question in the tech article and I answered it,” says Frank. “We started a parts business around 1992 called Auto Restoration Parts Supply.”
By 2008 he’d had his fill of “depositions, traveling, and constantly going to court.” Meanwhile his Mopar business was engulfing him. He decided to “retire and do cars full time.”
American Performance is very nondescript and unadvertised, located in a plain building
in an industrial complex. Aside from a normal desk, Frank’s office consists of shelves filled with parts and resource material that spills onto the floor in several storage rooms.
“Everything here is N.O.S. There’s nothing reproduction back here.”
Frank has been gathering N.O.S. parts for years, and he knows what’s what. He pulled out a large album that he said is “one of my many volumes of engine and number tracings.”
The tracings started “in 1976 when I first became a cop. We had a class, taught by the FBI, that centered on motorcycle fraud. They taught us how to get these engine numbers and frame numbers off Harleys, and that sparked me into thinking. All these Mopars that I had my hands on, I needed to start checking them.”
For the past 40-plus years, Frank has been gathering tracings and photos of high-performance Mopar engine, transmission, and body numbers “I did it for my own education and for myself, to make sure I didn’t get taken in any sort of fraud.”
His database is massive. It would be hard to imagine anybody else who could match this level of both expertise and sheer volume of specialized information.
Frank talked about handstampings on cars. “What are they supposed to look like? What period on the [assembly] line did they do this kind of thing?”
Having this information is what helps Frank authenticate cars, another large part of his business. He also authenticates drivetrains in cars. By having hundreds of tracings and photos, he knows what is factory, right down to anomalies that could easily fool other Mopar experts.
For example, 1968 was the first year the assembly line starting putting VINs on major components, meaning engine and transmission. Frank pointed to the rear of an engine, top rail, opposite the oil sending unit. Some stamps done by hand look like mistakes, but they are real. Frank does not release the intimate details of these stampings, but he does have to discuss them when he is authenticating Mopars.
Adjoining the office in the same building is a shop where Frank works on cars. He also has a second building behind the shop, where he stores Mopars.
A 14,000-square-foot body
“Everything here is N.O.S.”
shop is off-site, owned by
Stuart Jackson. “American Performance does full, ground-up restorations,” Frank says. “I also have an engine shop, owned by longtime friend Charlie Morris. But my specialty, my preference, are survivors. We do great restorations. Every [car] receives the same amount of detail as any survivor, if the customer is willing to go along. But we are known for survivors, which is why there are so many survivors here at the shop.”
Frank labors alone on cars he loved in his youth. His shop is large but secluded, a hideout in a sense, a lair that is a sanctuary to safeguard, preserve, and restore aging Mopar muscle cars.
“I have so many cars come in here, like Hemis, with the carburetor linkage hooked up improperly. They send them to me to run right so they can enjoy the car.”
Frank fired up, first crank, a 426 Hemi in a 1969 Super Bee to dispel misconceptions about how a Hemi sounds and how it runs—not balky, but smooth.
His daily driver is a 1972 Satellite Sebring Plus with 100 percent original paint and interior. It even has its original trunk mat. His dad, who passed away in 1983, would approve of this car. It’s a 318.
We couldn’t help asking Frank what his father would think today about his son owning so many high-performance Mopars and making a business of them, becoming a master Mopar restorer.
“My mom had a lot to do with this. My mom was always supportive. There was a gold Hemi Charger that I stored at
“My mom was always enthusiastic about the cars and the Hemis”
my mom’s house because I didn’t have a garage in 1977. My mom’s car died one day, and she drove the Charger to the grocery store. Everyone was whistling at her and asking if that was a real Hemi. She had so much attention. My mom was always enthusiastic about the cars and the Hemis.”
We asked, “Did your father ever understand, once you got in business?” In other words, did his father finally realize his son’s fascination with Mopars was much more than a kid looking to raise hell with a hot rod car?
“Never, no, no. My dad died in 1983 while I was still a police officer. This was all still a hobby then, which he very much hated. He also didn’t like me being a cop.”
Later, Frank added, “Today I think my father would be amazed at how something he considered to be a losing proposition—cars and high performance—has turned into a good business. I think he would be amazed at that.”
n In his college days Frank Badalson posed for this photo in the engine bay of the 1971 Hemi ’Cuda he’d bought for $1,900. Forty years after Frank sold it, it sold again in 2016 for $950,000 plus auction commissions, which brought the total price to...
This is Frank as a teenager with his first car, a 318-powered, Lemon Twist Yellow Barracuda.
n Frank showed us Mopars parked in a second building in the same industrial complex as his office and shop. He had completed work on the yellow 1969 Hemi Super Bee, a car we featured in “Not Really Restored,” June 2018.
n Frank organizes tracings and photos of Mopar driveline stampings and VINs in loose-leaf notebooks he has gathered over more than 40 years. This original research helps him authenticate Mopar cars and drivelines. n Frank got interested in Mopars when...
n Frank was working on this 1,800-mile 1971 Hemi Challenger R/T when we arrived.
n His daily driver is this 1972 Plymouth Sebring with a stock 318.
This shelving in Frank’s office holds a treasure trove of N.O.S. and original Mopar parts.
n He became a police officer after college, as seen in this photo from 1979.
n Frank bought this 440 Six Pack/four-speed Superbird with 20,000 original miles and original paint and interior from the original owner in 1978. His 1978 440 police car is in the background.
This vintage print shows Frank’s silver 1971 Hemi ’Cuda in the parking lot of Moore Hall dorm at Richmond University with college buddies Butch Bell, who drove a 1968 Chevelle SS396, and Stuart Cordish, who drove a 1972 Dart with a 225 Slant Six and...