Pro­file: Frank Badalson and Amer­i­can Per­for­mance

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Jerry Heasley

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 Jour­ney


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.”

In Busi­ness

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.

Restora­tions, Too

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...

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