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SEMA 2011 Highlights

Reginald Kelley, Detroit, Michigan

Reginald Kelley
View full set on flickr

1970 Dodge Challenger Convertible

The final 2011 Mopar "Top Eliminator" winner, Reg Kelley, was named at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Royal Oak, Mich. in August, in honor of his immaculate 1970 Dodge Challenger Convertible. The project included a long list of Mopar parts and also extreme metal restoration. Handmade A-pillar inners along with many other areas required fabrication. "I'm thrilled to be named a Mopar 'Top Eliminator,'" said Kelley. "I've never been to SEMA, so I'm very excited to go."

View full specs on Reg Kelley's 1970 Dodge Challenger Convertible Why did you decide to restore/modify your vehicle?

I had worked for Jim Hale Racing from Fort Smith Arkansas in 1969 and 1970. Jim campaigned two HEMI cars. One was a 1968 RB Code Barracuda Super Stock HEMI Automatic. Second was a 1969 HEMI Road Runner. The runner was set-up as a 4-speed or automatic depending which record we were chasing.

Did you have previous knowledge about modifying/restoring Mopars before this project, or did you "learn as you go"?

I did have experience changing out engines, transmissions, & rear ends from 1969 and 1970 while with Jim Hale Racing. I had also built a couple of street rods during the 90's.

Why did you choose a Mopar vehicle for your project?

My love for HEMIs that started when I worked for Jim Hale Racing out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, was the primary factor. I choose to recreate the 1970 Dodge Challenger HEMI Automatic Convertible due to its extremely low production number of four. A convertible was a must as well.

I had originally planned to build the HEMI engine from a block up but Mike Reihl's Dealership offered a great deal on a complete 472 crate motor. Saved a lot of time and effort. I have had "Zero" problems with the MOPAR 472 Crate Motor.

Did you come across any serious setbacks while trying to build your vehicle?

The amount of rust deterioration that the Challenger had experienced in its early life near the ocean in the Cape May, NY, area was extensive. Media blasting of the uni-body revealed far greater rust damage than I had originally thought. Sheet metal replaced included floor pan, seat pan, trunk pan, trunk pan extensions, rear frame rails, rear header, trunk lid, trunk lid drip rails, A pillar inners, left front inner fender, right side radiator support. Major repairs were required to the torsion bar cross member, A pillar outers, A pillar hinge reinforcements, lower door inners, cowl upper plenum section, and windshield frame.

Who assisted you in this project?

Metal replacement / repair, body work, and paint portion of the project was done with my neighbor, Allen Perry. Allen has been in the auto body repair business for 26 years and currently works for a local Dodge dealership. Allen happens to have a 5-bay home shop that we worked in on Tuesday & Thursday evenings, plus every other Saturday morning. This portion of the project required approximately 16 months.

During reassembly of the Challenger, a Mopar buddy, Frank Basiley, assisted with chassis, engine, and window mechanisms. Frank is a Gratiot street racer from back in the day and really knows his Mopars. He still has his first car, which is a 1970 Cuda.

During the search for various parts I met Kevin Haranczak. Kevin has been buying, swapping and collecting Mopar parts for the past 25 years. After getting to know Kevin pretty well, he provided several critiques and suggestions how to improve the quality of our Challenger project. In other words, there were several items I had used on the car initially that were not correct for a true vintage look. Mopar Kevin's suggestions had a lot to do with the appearance of our Challenger that caught the eyes of the Mopar Top Eliminator Selection Team. He was the first person I called after receiving the award at the Woodward Dream Cruise.

What is your favorite feature of your restored/modified ride?

Looking through the windshield with the top down while listening and watching the Mopar 472 Crate HEMI shake the Shaker Bubble.

At what car shows have you displayed your vehicle?

First car show for our Challenger, aka "Thumper," was in 2008 at "The Red Barns" in Hickory Corners, Michigan, where a 2nd Place Award in the E body Class was received. Later that year a 2nd place at the Mopar Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, was obtained. During the past four years, we have traveled to several dozen car shows as far away as Branson, Missouri. During 2010, we traveled to St Louis, Missouri, for the Mopar Monster Mile event. Several Best of Show, Best of Class and Best Mopar awards have been received. I would like to point out that this past season of 2011, a major face-lift was performed on the Challenger based on suggestions from Mopar Kevin. These changes included replacing an aluminum radiator and shroud with an original, replacing serpentine aluminum pulleys on the engine with original v-belt style, painting engine aluminum intake and water pump correct HEMI Orange, installing correct date-coded black spark plug wires, and changing the wheels to body color steel rims with Dog Dish hubcaps. This season, with these changes, an incredible amount of people have stopped and offered many compliments on our Challenger. I credit Mopar Kevin and his passion for Mopars for guidance to dramatically improve our car to the level it is today.

What sets Mopar vehicles and Mopar fans apart from the rest?

I truly believe the passion for the brand runs deeper than just the vehicle. In general, there were fewer Mopar Brand Muscle Cars built so parts and cars are harder to find, but Mopar fans are willing to reach out and share with others in the Mopar collecting and restoration hobby. The fact that the Mopar Brand continues to be supported and promoted by Chrysler Group LLC helps keep recognition of the brand on the forefront of our auto industry.

What was your reaction to your car being chosen as a Mopar "Top Eliminator" and being included in the Mopar display at SEMA?

Wow what a deal! Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I begin to think our Challenger project would be worthy of being selected for display at SEMA. Sure glad we followed Mopar Kevin's "Facelift List of 11 Items" earlier this season to dial "Thumper's" condition into what she is today.

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