Few cars that we have ever featured here on the pages of Mopar Musclemagazine have combined good looks and high performance in such a slick and classy manner as the 1970 Challenger owned by John Kennedy of Massachusetts. A machine that looks as though it has been concours restored (because it has been) that is capable of running low 11s in the quarter mile (because it has done it) is such a rare commodity we had to share it with the rest of the Mopar-loving world. The greatest genius to this whole package? It is not filled with hidden trickery, obscenely engineered one-off pieces, or anything that we typically see in the “factory-appearing, stock tire” race classes. It is shockingly close to original specifications, yet massaged and improved in areas where such work really paid off in the end. We’ll get into that in a second, but first a history lesson.
“During WWI and WWII there were innocent looking ships that were actually armed to the teeth…”
During WWI and WWII there were innocent looking ships that were actually armed to the teeth and loaded with sailors itching to thwart the enemy at every turn. These merchant-appearing vessels had hidden guns and depth charges, and they were always at the ready. The idea was to lure an enemy ship into the proximity of their vessel and at the last second expose their weapons and make sure that the bad guys had an unfortunate end to their day. These were called Q-Ships and while their success was limited, they did score some wins along the way against unsuspecting U-boats and other vessels.
While the term has not been as popular with hot rodders in recent times, it was a big part of the lexicon through the 1960s and 1970s and it is the perfect way to describe this particular 1970 Challenger. That’s not to say that a factory four-speed, big-block, six-pack car was a slouch when new because it wasn’t, but there weren’t 11-second time slips falling from the sky in 1970 when they were rolling off dealer lots, either. This car can lure every LS-swapped belly button GM product within a country mile and leave them all crying in their beer by the end of the night. That’s the true magic of a Q-ship.
“The car really rips,” John Kennedy said with a laugh. “There’s nothing better than a pistol grip and the car is great to drive. The first time I got in the thing to take a ride, it really put me back in the seat and I was in love.”
“I bought this car for $1,000 from a friend who had purchased it from the original owner.”—John Kennedy
The appeal of early 1970s E-Bodies has long been known and it is reflected in their value. Thankfully for John Kennedy he got on board the E-Body train at the right time. “I grew up in the 1970s and there were muscle cars everywhere,” he told us. “I knew that I wanted one of these cars and in 1994 I bought this car for $1,000 from a friend who had purchased it from the original owner.”
The story of the sale is way better than just that, though. “I’m a plumber and back then I was just a kid going to school to learn the trade. One day I drive into plumbing school and I parked next to my friend who owned the car and he told me not to park there. When I asked him why, he told me he was going to set the car on fire because he needed money to buy a 1970 Challenger!” After convincing him not to burn the car and then closing the deal at a bachelor party of all places, the car was his.
Kennedy enjoyed the car for nearly 20 years before the frame started to show signs of weakness due to a life lead in the New England area, and it was parked. After socking away some dough, Kennedy believed that it was time to get the car back into shape and back on the road.
Into the shop the car went and things didn’t exactly go as planned. “I’m the typical case I think,” Kennedy said with an infectious laugh. “The first guy I brought it to blasted the car and then left the whole thing out in the rain. I got it out of there pretty quick and took it home. The next place I brought it, the guy wasn’t necessarily doing things wrong but the pace was very slow and it wasn’t to the quality I was looking for. Thank God I met Mike when I brought him the dash to restore.”
The Mike he speaks of is Mike Mancini and American Muscle Car Restorations. With work at the current shop moving at a frustrating pace, Kennedy made the best decision of his automotive life. John swapped shops a second time and the end result is the machine you see before you that looks incredible and runs even better than that.
With American Muscle Car Restorations on the build and the situation really looking up, the decision was made to restore the car back to its factory look but with some additions. This is an original R/T four-speed car so that’s great, but John wanted a couple of options this one did not come with originally. Added were things like power windows, the shaker hood, and factory power disc brakes. It is pretty fun to think about how this car was effectively born twice and the second time it was brought to life with legit factory upgrades the original owner perhaps wanted but could not afford. We dig.
“Everything that is on the car is something that was available from the factory for it,” Kennedy explained. “There were some options I really wanted, cool stuff that ended up being really hard to find. The six-way front seat was a tough one but the radio was just about the hardest thing to get.” That thumb-wheel AM/FM radio cost him $600 for a non-working model and it was a sojourn to upstate New York to pick it up. “My wife asked my son what he was doing after hockey practice and he told her going to New York,” Kennedy said chuckling. “She said, ‘For what?!’ and he said, ‘The radio!’” John’s wife, like all wives of dedicated Mopar-loving husbands, thinks he is crazy.
So we mentioned that there was no hidden whizbangery that you’d need a mechanical engineering degree to understand, but there is some stuff that’s hiding in plain sight which we think you’ll enjoy. The engine is a 446ci version of the vaunted 440 that exhibited such street domination during the 1960s and early 1970s. It makes more than 500 naturally aspirated horsepower at the flywheel and it does so while making just enough vacuum for the brakes and barking a sweet note out of the tailpipes. A full roller valvetrain using COMP products allows for better behavior than the typical old-school, solid-lifter mill. 3.91 gears in the back also aid in the major league levels of scoot this car is known for.
“As NHRA stock eliminator drag racers have proven thousands of times over the years, there’s a ton of power to be had even in largely stock engines…”
The heads are Edelbrock Performers painted to match the factory look of the car. The aluminum heads work better than the factory stockers, take weight off the nose, and provide the perfect pillow for the Edelbrock Six Pack intake manifold to rest comfortably on top of. Mike’s Motor Service in Blackstone, Massachusetts was in charge of the build and it sure sounds to us that this mill got the full executive treatment of precision machining operations. As NHRA stock eliminator drag racers have proven thousands of times over the years, there’s a ton of power to be had even in largely stock engines when the machining tolerances are taked to their limit. This big-block is not so much a study in throwing money at an engine but spending smart money with a good engine shop and reaping the rewards. The result is a truly cool power plant that combines the best of old-school engine building and new-school technology and development regarding the heads and roller valvetrain. One thing you will not see on the heavy breathing engine? Headers. “I wanted to keep the underhood look as close to stock as possible,” Kennedy said. “The manifolds just work and as loud as this thing is now, it would be deafening with headers on it!”
“John’s Challenger has run a best of 11.23 down the quarter mile and we love the fact that he has resisted messing with the car in the hunt for quicker elapsed times.”
John’s Challenger has run a best of 11.23 down the quarter mile and we love the fact that he has resisted messing with the car in the hunt for quicker elapsed times. How many people have you seen take a really nice car and make it less and less drivable by adding race part after race part to their driver or cruiser? Could there by a couple of tenths on the table with more racy suspension than the factory Hemi torsion bars and big-block rear leaf springs? You bet. Would it make the car better in any way other than stopping a drag-strip time clock? Negative. It takes some real self-control to not chase those numbers on a score board. Speaking of rear springs, you may notice that this car sits a little higher than a normal 1970 R/T. There’s good reason for that. It is the look that John wanted, so to achieve it, the rear springs were made with about two inches more arch than stock and that’s why things are elevated over where they would have been from the production line. Another neat touch.
“This one was done the right way by Mike Mancini and American Muscle Car Restorations…”
Here’s the part when you are expecting us to tell you about the acid-dipped body panels, the fact that every bolt on the car is aluminum, or that every seat other than the one the driver sits in is no stronger than your kid’s paper mache volcano science fair project. We’re not telling you that because none of it would be true. This is a truly beautiful restoration and one that has been done true to the factory letter. The coded hoses, the right spark plug wires, proper place-ment of decals and logos, etc. This one was done the right way by Mike Mancini and American Muscle Car Restorations and it just so happens to have a thundering heart that can eat up the road like no one’s business.
With 510hp on tap, a four-speed transmission, and 11-second time slips to prove its mettle, this is one tough Challenger wrapped in the coat of a stellar restoration. Rumbling through TTI pipes and Flowmaster mufflers, it roars like the beast that it is.
1970 Challenger | John Kennedy | Mansfield, Massachusetts
Type: 446ci Chrysler RB-Series big-block V8
Bore x stroke: 4.35 (bore) x 3.75 (stroke)
Block: factory steel block, decked, blueprinted, line honed, plate bored .030-over
Rotating assembly: Chrysler steel crank, Chrysler Six Pack connecting rods, 11:1 compression
Cylinder heads: Edelbrock Performer
Camshaft: COMP hydraulic roller camshaft
Valvetrain: COMP roller rockers, COMP pushrods, COMP roller lifters
Induction: Edelbrock six-pack intake manifold and correct Holley 2bbl carbs
Fuel system: factory Chrysler-style tank, mechanical fuel pump
Exhaust: factory big-block exhaust manifolds, TTI tubing, Flowmaster mufflers
Ignition: Chrysler electronic ignition, timing locked at 44 degrees
Oiling system: Chrysler factory wet sump
Cooling: stock big-block radiator re-cored by Glenn Ray Radiators
Output: 510 hp at the flywheel as recorded on the dyno
Engine built by: Mike’s Motor Service
Transmission: Chrysler A833 four-speed, Pistol Grip shifter, McLeod 11-inch clutch
Rearend: factory style 8 ¾ axle, 3.91 Sure Grip
Front suspension: factory-style shocks and springs, big-block torsion bars
Rear suspension: re-arched factory-style big-block leaf springs
Steering: stock factory steering system, Rim Blow steering wheel
Brakes: front disc brakes, rear 11-inch drum brakes
PAINT & INTERIOR
Color: factory Rally Red
Painter: Mike Mancini at American Muscle Car Restorations
Interior: Chrysler factory leather interior
WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels: factory 15×7 Rally wheels front and 15×8 Rally wheels rear
Tires: BFGoodrich Radial TA tires 245/60R15 front 275/60R15 rear