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Strip to street and back: 1970 Chrysler Wayfarer

30 December 2014


From work hack, to race car, to streeter, and back again, this Chrysler Wayfarer has one hell of a story to tell

 With the nickname of ‘Mad Dog’ many may wonder about the sanity of Andy Maddox. And I must say, after meeting him I was questioning a few things myself. Not the state of his mental health, but rather how a man can show such commitment to a marque that died in this country decades ago, and for which most replacement and aftermarket parts are made of ‘unobtainium’. 

Many kids — and I’m probably referring to anyone born after about 1990 — would never have heard of Valiants/Chryslers, nor understand how big an impact they had on the car scene here in New Zealand. In a country where most cars now come in second-hand from Japan, the time when we had a huge car-building industry is but a distant memory. However, building and assembling the Ford, Holden, and Chrysler / Rootes Group products was a huge industry in little old New Zealand, and in the late ’60s and early ’70s Chrysler actually outsold Ford and Holden combined at times. It was back in this era that Andy’s passion for Mopars began.

About 10 years ago now, Andy had a real nice AP5 streeter with a tough little 360 in it. A good, tidy car that was as equally at home on the street and in the occasional show, before it started seeing a little action on the strip too. After being bitten by the race bug, a mate suggested to Andy that maybe he should look at building a more purpose-built drag car rather than flogging the AP5 to death. It was while at the Outlaw Drags in 2005 that he spotted just the thing: a Chrysler Wayfarer ute. A rare car in its day, and even rarer now, it was love at first sight; he just had to own it and build it into his new race car.

His first plan was to convert the ute (otherwise known as the ‘Valitank’) into a Super Street drag car. While the initial plan was quite straightforward, it soon became obvious that she was going to need more than just a quick makeover. Like many relationships entered into on impulse, once he started removing the layers, Andy soon found the flesh underneath was not as good as expected.

Andy’s initial fears about the minor problems rapidly evolved into major headaches the deeper he dug, with the simple conversion to a street/strip car becoming nothing short of a full rebuild. The A-pillars were rotten and needed replacing, with the driver’s door only hanging on thanks to a flimsy patch across the top of the rust. Thankfully, a donor car was soon found, and the tragic-looking pillars could be replaced. Andy fabricated a set of 75x50mm subframe connectors to help hold it together, and the rear was also cut up to suit the new ladder bar and mini-tub set-up. The tray of the ute was actually mint, but the driver’s side floor was infected with tin worm, for which the steel from the tray became the donor metal. While he was at it, he rolled up a custom transmission tunnel to give plenty of room around the much-larger 727 auto he planned to fit. An eight-point cage was installed and with a hot 383 up front, Andy was ready to go racing.

A local painter offered to blow some paint over it to finish it off. The painter must have thought that as it was an Aussie car he would make it feel at home, by getting so much dust in the paint that the ute would have felt like it was back in the outback. While unimpressed, Andy was not too bothered as it was essentially a race car, and he still had his beloved AP5 for shiny-car duties …

Then came the fateful day when Andy parted with the AP5, which he had owned and loved for the past eight years. As it turned out, the AP5’s new owner only had it 11 days before he wrote it off, which, while a tragic end for the car, was to be beneficial for Andy. The old 383 in the ute was getting tired, so Andy had decided to retire it from racing and rebuild it back into a quick street car. At around the same time, he was offered his old Valiant wreck back. Perfect! 

The 383 was given the flick and the old faithful 360 was to have a new home in the ute — but this time it would be with the addition of some boost. Collier Motor Engineers in Levin were given the task of boring it out and doing all the machining and balancing before Andy started the reassembly himself. The bottom end was put together tough, with everything blueprinted and balanced, which made the choice of stock smog heads seem strange to many. While they were given all the usual tricks like mild porting, bigger stainless valves, roller rockers, big springs, etc., they were still low-compression smog heads!

Not too long after getting the ute running in naturally aspirated form, a search on eBay revealed a Vortech V2 supercharger, which was just what he was after to wake the old girl up. It did, however, cause a few headaches, as no one locally was making a small-block Mopar mounting plate that would bolt it to his motor. Sure, he could have shelled out AU$500 for one, but rather than send his hard-earned cash offshore, he figured he’d have a go at making one. I mean, if an Aussie can do it, surely a fitter/welder from the ’Naki can do it better?

A cardboard template was made, which Andy then transferred onto MDF. He was then able to bolt everything to it, and it looked like it would work. A piece of 20mm aluminium was water-jetted to the MDF pattern and now bolts directly to the timing cover, perfectly positioning the supercharger. This did create a few water-pump problems, but nothing a Davies Craig electric unit and matching electronic pump / fan controller couldn’t fix. 

The supercharger blows air through three-inch piping and a massive front-mount intercooler to an MP ProSystems custom-built 750cfm blow-through carb. Obviously there is a bit more to it than just bolting a blower and blow-through carb onto an existing engine, with everything else having to be set up right too.
The rest of the set-up includes a complete new fuel system with a Mallory rising-rate regulator, and a full MSD ignition with boost timing control. 

As you can imagine, the first time driving it blown was quite an experience for Andy, as there was a huge power difference compared with when it was naturally aspirated. Once it had been on the dyno to sort out the air/fuel ratios and optimize everything for the new combination, it was in a different league again. 

This latest incarnation was more than just a ‘simple’ re-power though … As Andy and wife Joanne were planning to actually put some road miles on it, the old ‘outback’ paint job had to go. With a repaint on the cards, it also gave Andy a chance to get rid of the ‘pop-up toaster’ front indicators he hated so much. Other than that, it was just a basic strip-back and fix-up of the minor panel damage suffered over the past few years.
It didn’t all go smoothly though, as additional repairs were required when the engine and transmission swung on the engine crane into the door. Andy’s anger was then compounded when the spanner he threw bounced off the wall of the shed and dented the guard …

Eventually, with the body prepped, he painted it himself in a custom mix of PPG green — without the optional dust this time. With its retirement from strip duty, the ladder-bar rear end was removed and replaced with leaf springs and a home-made CalTracs system.

Interior wise, the eight-point cage was removed and a new hand-made gauge plate was fabricated to hold six new VDO gauges and an Innovate digital AFR gauge. A pair of 2006 Honda seats were installed, which look right at home with the re-trimmed door cards, kick panels and new carpets. One thing deliberately left out during the rebuild was any form of audio system, as Andy reckons the best sounds come from the exhaust, and while it only plays one tune, there’s not much that sounds better than “loud V8”!

So how does it go? Well, we caught up with Andy at the Father’s Day Drags and were impressed with not just how good the Wayfarer looks, but also with Andy’s total disregard for tyres. Apparently the Valitank has destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of rubber over the years — something that’s apparently destined to continue. Andy’s routine each pass consisted of a massive burnout followed by the old ute flying down the track far faster than most watching ever expected it to. Running a first pass of 12.9, followed by a 12.3, Andy had no idea where to dial in and settled on a safe 12.4, which is quite a respectable time for a low-boost small block. The next round saw Andy out of the competition for having run an 11.7, which is fair flying for a car that was retired from strip duty to spend more time on the street! 

Speaking to Andy following the 11.7-second pass, we got the feeling that he was keen to play with the pulleys and throw a bit more boost at the 360 to see how fast it would really go. And after running such an easy-looking 11-second pass on low boost, we’re guessing it won’t be long before he’ll be wishing he never took the cage out, as it’s got 10-second passes written all over it!