Working as a restoration tech on exclusively Mopar offerings of the late 60’s and early 70’s honed the skills to build what I consider the most prestigious make of American cars of that era. The iconic slant six, behemoth 426 Hemi and everything in between shaped my view on the automotive world. I’ve translated those skills towards vehicles that “everyman” has access to enjoy and Mopar influence still plays a significant role.
I gained an appreciation for vehicles and motorsports of all types at a young age. Riding dirt bikes and home built go-karts as a kid in Maryland started an obsession with pushing machines to the limit and then figuring out how to fix them with little-to-no money when they inevitably bit the dust. The only toys I played with past the age of two were gas powered and often ended up as a bucket of bolts with a garage floor covered with tools at one point or another. In the before times without Google and Youtube, Dad always showed me how to get them back together. My father operated on a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it - and when it does break, you gotta fix it” mentality that taught me a tremendous amount of work ethic and ingenuity. Rebuilding engines, backyard motor swapping go-karts for triple the horsepower and piecing together screaming two-stroke scooters to compete with my friends while terrorizing the neighborhood were the best parts of my childhood.
Fast forward a few years to age 16 and finding a deal on my first car was all I could think about. I ended up scoring one of the coolest cars that I didn’t even know existed at the time for exactly what I had saved up. My dad found it in the local paper. The ad was obscure and poorly written with no picture. If I remember correctly, all it said was “1985 Porsche - $2,500” I figured it had to be a basket case, but I called the guy anyway and went to look at it that morning. When I went to look at the car, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. A clean, white 1985 ½ Porsche 944. It had black leather interior, 5 speed manual, phone dial wheels and only 70,000 original miles. The paint on the hood was chipped and faded but it was exactly what I was looking for. It was a unique and good-looking car in the high school parking lot. It was sporty enough to get an adrenaline rush every time I pushed the edge of my driving abilities around corners and banging gears any chance I got. Even though it was in reality, painfully slow in a straight line.
That car got me to Florida where I spent the summer with my mother who had recently moved within walking distance to the beach. With the start of the new school year quickly approaching I decided the warm weather and sun kissed southern girls were too good to leave. I decided that I’d give school a shot in Broward County. Soon I was at the beach almost daily and even delivering pizzas in the old 944 (It was a job I kind of fell into, but I did get good tips from those who knew and appreciated the car) but it was beginning to cost me more to upkeep than I was making. A friend of a neighbor who happened to be a Porsche mechanic in the 80’s recognized the car and stopped by to ask me about it one day. He offered to let me use a lift at his home shop to do some much-needed maintenance which he gratefully obliged. I had no idea how much I would eventually learn from him and that it would be the start of a great mentorship for me that would last about 5 years.
His home shop ended up being a 2,000 SF warehouse with 3 lifts, double stacked with some of the most pristine (mostly cloned) examples of ’70-’71 Mopar history. 1970 Plum Crazy Hemi Charger (originally 383), 1970 B5 blue Hemi Road-Runner Convertible (originally 383), 1971 Triple-Black 440 Challenger Convertible, 1970 B3 blue Barracuda Convertible with the original 225ci slant-6 with floor shift auto that he owned since the late 70’s, and two projects in progress: another 1970 Road Runner convertible with a 440 and a 1970 FE5 red Barracuda Gran-Coupe convertible that was being restored to be a Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible clone. Needless to say, I was instantly hooked on Mopars and wanted to get into any classic Dodge, or Plymouth I could find and hopefully afford.
After doing a ton of research and scouring the internet classifieds I found a car that fit what I needed. A 1972 Dodge Dart “Swinger” with a slant six. The car was originally gold with green interior and almost no options at all. It didn’t even have a radio optioned from the factory. It was poorly painted black on the outside but did have a decently re-done bench seat interior, also in black. The Dart had its fair share of typical rust and crust but it was exactly what I needed. This car was drastically different from my Porsche in many ways, but I loved its straight lines, rugged-ness and mechanical simplicity. Luckily the gentleman who introduced me to the Mopar addiction also saw potential in me as a protégé and offered to teach me about his business in the pool industry and as the local Mopar restoration expert. I started working as a pool boy during the day and a Mopar mechanic’s apprentice at night. I exchanged my day labor for a living wage and after-hours and weekends for an education working hands on with some really cool cars.
The opportunity to use my Dart as a learning tool arose when my mentor decided he wanted to do high level sheet metal and body work for the rest of his projects. I had already spent a lot of time on welding and fabricating growing up, never for anything that had to look pretty, but I was up to the challenge. It took a ton of trial and error, but we replaced the lower quarters, rear window corners, and other miscellaneous metal on the Dart. We spent hundreds of hours prepping it for paint. It was a painstaking process that taught me a lot but the final product was phenomenal. We shot the car Hemi Orange, eventually built the slant-six with a custom turbo kit, converted it to a 4-speed manual, upgraded the suspension, swapped the front drums for a later year disc brake kit and installed a 8.75” rear with 4.10 gears and limited slip unit. It was my dream car at the time, but tragically I would later roll the car off the side of the highway on a rainy evening, narrowly avoiding life threatening injuries which eventually led to the downturn and demise of my relationship with my Mopar mentor.
I gained a tremendous amount of experience from that time and translated it into endeavors later in life, never shaking the love for Mopar muscle history. Naturally, I have enjoyed many other vehicles since then, and sort of by coincidence, they’ve mostly been from the Dodge and Jeep family.
More recently my interests have been in Jeeps of all types. The first was a budget build ’93 YJ Wrangler on 35” tires that I loved to abuse off road, a much nicer 2000 TJ Wrangler that we bought for my wife to daily drive a few years and it's even classier successor: our 2018 2-door Rubicon in Granite Metallic with the new 2.0 turbo and 8-speed auto transmission. In between those I have owned, wrenched on and sold nearly a dozen Jeep Wranglers and Cherokees, mostly with the famous 4.0 inline six and even one healthy 5.7 Hemi Grand Cherokee Limited. Admittedly the wife and I miss the TJ Wrangler and are considering going back to that for her vehicle of choice.
My current favorite Mopar product, mostly for utilitarian and adventure purposes, is my ’97 Dodge Ram with the all mechanical 12-valve Cummins. I have owned two of these trucks in the past and have turned several friends on to the platform with nothing but positive experiences. The truck I have now is a 4x4, long-bed, extended cab 2500 with an auto trans. It was quite literally a “barn find” truck with zero rust and perfectly patinated two-tone green and silver paint. I have owned the truck for about 4 years now and have done a ton of maintenance and upgrades to get it where it is today. It’s currently set up with modest 33” BFG KO2 tires, an aluminum flatbed, as well as lots of steering and suspension upgrades.
As of last year, it started duty carrying our ’02 Starcraft truck camper and serves as our adventure rig that my wife and I have taken from the east coast to the west coast and many places in between. We have also consistently documented our trip on Instagram which has accumulated a small following of truck and adventure enthusiasts fairly quickly.
Roughly 10,000 miles later on this U.S. trip, I have fallen even deeper in love with my Mopar roots and plan to continue this journey, wrenching with my own two hands to keep the journey alive.