In the early 1990’s, the Mopar hobby was taking off in a big way. The muscle car popularity explosion of the late 1980”s had turned a lot of people on to Road Runners, Challengers, and the like. To feed information to this mass of enthusiasts, no less than six Mopar magazines were on the newsstands at that time. One of the “big four” magazines was the recently deceased High Performance Mopar; and that’s where our story sort of begins.
Longtime Mopar devotee Jeff Bauer was editor of HPM in its early days, and it was Jeff who enlisted Dave Ferro of Totally Auto fame as tech editor for the mag. During a brainstorming session, Jeff told Dave he wanted the magazine to build a small block E-body for an on-going restoration project car. The plan was to publish photos and details of the restoration, step-by-step, in order to help the little guys out there working on their own restorations. That sounded like a good idea to both, and the search began for a suitable starting point.
Several months of looking at potential cars went by, but they were having no luck finding the right car. Then, one day in 1992, Jeff spied a horrible blue ‘71 Challenger convertible sitting in the corner of Dave’s shop, “What’s that?”, Jeff asked innocently enough. To which Dave informed him the derelict ‘71 had been his teenage cruiser and he intended to restore it some day. After telling Jeff the car was an original 340. 4-speed. Plum Crazy car, Jeff was adamant - this was their car! The machine they had been looking for had been sitting in Dave’s shop all along. This was the starting point for what became HPM magazine’s “Plum Crazy Project” (better known as PCP).
Dave bought the convertible on February 13, 1985 (A Friday the 13th), from the original owner in northern New Jersey. Interestingly, had it not been for the insistence of a friend, Dave would have never gone to look at the car, as the ad in the trade paper simply described the car as a “Challenger convertible” and offered few details.
The two inspected the car sitting in the owner’s driveway with a considerable amount of snow piled on it (they drove nearly a hundred miles in near blizzard conditions). Dave’s attention was immediately pulled to the rear valance with the exhaust cutouts, and on looking in the window, he spotted a Pistol Grip shifter - what was this? At that time, the car was wearing a respectable blue paint job, so when they popped the hood and saw a 340 sitting between Plum Crazy inner fenders, Dave’s jaw hit the ground. Less than a week before, he’d told Jimmy and a group of his friends that his dream car would be a 340 powered four speed Plum Crazy “71 Challenger convertible! And here it was; his literal dream car!
Via some quick financing wizardry, Dave scrapped together the $1,300 it took to buy the car, then drove it home with wife Diane; top down, in the middle of a blowing snow storm! Oh yes, and lest we forget to mention, the ragtop only had 23,000 original miles.
For the next several years, Dave did his utmost to kill the Challenger. The boy had a heavy foot! And, Dave drove it morning, noon, and night, rain or shine, snow or sleet. This was not a pampered car! In street races, the convertible was beating cars that ran in the low 13s, and still got him back and forth to work. An additional 33,000 miles were rolled up on the odometer, and the Pennsy winters took their toll.
The convertible already had some rust problems when Dave bought it in '85, but things deteriorated rapidly. The rear shock absorber top mounting bracket rusted and fell off, the floors rotted away, and the rear sub-frames started looking like Swiss cheese. When a structural problem arose, Dave merely welded a piece of angle iron onto the frame and kept on driving! The quarter panels rusted heavily, and one snowy afternoon he leisurely kicked the lower quarter to knock the accumulated snow out of a large hole. To his surprise, most of the lower quarter panel fell off - not good! Finally, after an outing to a local park, the shift linkage fell out from under the car thanks to the retaining clips breaking off. Dave took off his shoe laces and used them to tie the shift linkage back together. With this done, he got the convertible back home, but that ended the car’s days on the road.
Almost 3-decades ago, Dave started his parts and restoration business, Totally Auto, so the convertible was shoved aside and forgotten briefly as their workload increased. Still, since this was his dream car, rotted or not, Dave knew he would someday restore the Challenger. That being the case, he began gathering NOS parts. Little did he realize the fame his rust bucket would eventually attain.
At the request of Jeff Bauer, the HPM restoration project got underway in the early part of 1993. The shoestring shifter linkage was still in place, and there was so much rust, Dave tells us you could literally sit in the driver’s seat and see the front and rear tires through the rotted floors and firewall! This thing looked like it had been used to pack caustic acids to the lower level of a salt mine!
Disassembly began at Totally Auto’s old shop, and one mystery soon presented itself. Dave took the straps and bolts loose to drop the gas tank, but the crazy thing wouldn’t come down! With nothing visible supporting the tank, it absolutely would not fall! Puzzled, they tore into the trunk floor, which was covered with super thick goopy speckled trunk paint. As this stuff came off, the mystery was solved - the trunk floor had been replaced by a roadside stop sign! Apparently, before the car’s blue repaint, the original owner patched the rotted trunk floor metal with a bright red stop sign, and in screwing the sign onto the rusted original floor, the long attaching screws had gone straight into the gas tank! Pretty high tech stuff, eh?
All that aside, the Plum Crazy Project made its national debut in HPM in early 1993, and immediately the articles generated a lot of interest. It was slow going for the restoration, as each step of the process had to be well documented and photographed. And, since the magazine was a bimonthly, the progress of the restoration was deliberately slowed to keep pace with the magazine’s schedule. After all, they didn’t want the finished product showing up at a major show months or even years before the finished product appeared in print. So, slowly, tens of thousands of hobbyists watched Dave’s ‘71 Challenger take shape every other month.
Then came the first of several shakeups at HPM, Jeff Bauer was out, and the new editor had less enthusiasm for the project. There were some disagreements, and shortly after the naked shell was painted purple, the PCP Challenger vanished from the pages of HPM, after having been featured in whole or in part in no less than 26 articles.
Busy restoring customers’ cars, Dave pushed the Challenger off to a corner of his shop again, and once more, the car sat. Then, along came Greg Rager with Mopar Muscle, who expressed a strong desire to document the car’s restoration as an on-going feature with MM. Things were looking good when printing world politics intervened again and Greg was out as well. So, the Challenger continued to gather dust.
Finally, along came long haired MCG editor Robert Wolf to complicate Dave’s life once more. While getting photos of his ‘68 Satellite convertible, which appeared in our May, 2002, issue, Rob commented he wanted to feature the purple convertible; only this time, there would be no tech build-up stuff, just a cover shot and feature of the finished product. That was the straw which broke the camel’s back, as wife Diane, friend Carl Abbott, and his entire crew had been pestering Dave to finish the car.
So, after sitting dormant since the summer of 1995, the Challenger was pulled back to the forefront of activity and it became the holy cause of all concerned to make the convertible so far over restored it would astonish everyone.
With amazing speed (six weeks to be precise), the pieces and parts came together. One could make the case that this car is a NOS Challenger, because there are so many NOS parts here it’s unreal! From the grille to the taillights, to the dipstick (really) practically everything you’re looking at is NOS! We’re talking windows, glass, trim parts, gauges, you name it! Within two months of starting the convertible’s reassembly, the rare ‘71 Challenger was sitting on the ground again looking like a million bucks.
Having not cranked or driven the Challenger in over ten years, it was a big time moment when everyone gathered around and Dave turned the key last February. Incredibly, the 340 cranked immediately, despite having been built and placed on an engine stand eight years before! The expected carb tuning and tweaking of the timing and ignition didn’t need to be done! The 340 ran great instantly!
Dave’s detail man spent countless hours under this one, detailing, painting, polishing, and making every nook and crevice sparkling clean. Threatening Dave with a slow painful death if he dared mess up all his hard work, He was terrified when Dave pulled the freshly restored convertible onto the street in front of the shop, revved up the 340, and dumped the clutch! A long hairy burnout announced to the world that PCP was back among the living, and Dave came back from his shakedown cruise grinning from ear to ear. Luckily, the crew let him live and they ALL cleaned the rubber and road film off!
Here’s the story on PCP as far as number crunching is concerned. This is a TRUE one-of-one, a factory 340, four speed, 3.23 Sure Grip rear car, and it left the factory with the white top, interior, and side stripes. This is NOT an R/T Challenger convertible, as there is no such thing as a 1971 Challenger R/T convertible. You could get all the R/T equipment ordered optional on a ‘71 convertible, but the R/T model was officially dead and none of the drop tops came with R/T emblems or badging.
The rest of the option list is impressive. This one came with air conditioning (very rare for a northern convertible), power steering with a pump cooler, power disc brakes, front and rear sway bars, an AM/FM stereo with the three speaker dash, a Rallye dash, and dual painted mirrors.
Originally, the Challenger wore 14’ Road Wheels with whitewall tires, but wanting something different, Dave opted for 17x9” Cragers out back and 17x8” units up front. These are shod with low profile Goodyear RSA high speed radials. This may not be kosher, but hey, who can deny this combo doesn’t look stunning? Check out the custom made center caps!
Dave took one other liberty with the restoration, and that’s the R/T hood. This one originally came with a flat hood, but has had a dual scoop hood on it for ages and he couldn’t bring himself to put a flat hood back on. We’ll forgive him. The flat hood itself is a bit of a mystery. Why did the original owner order what amounts to a R/T drivetrain, bold purple paint and white stripes, and then not get the low priced optional scooped hood? Odds are, he simply neglected to check off the box on the order form.
Look for the PCP Challenger to make its long awaited public debut at the All Chrysler Nats at Carlisle, PA. This one proves beyond dispute that good things do indeed come to those that wait! We’ve seen a lot of restorations through the years, but this one’s astonishing. One simply cannot find a speck of dirt or a flaw in the paint anywhere, top to bottom. The insides of the front fenders are just as glossy and magnificent as the outsides!
Sometime in 2003, Dave parted ways with his old buddy and started yet another project. Plum Crazy went to live in Arizona for nearly a decade until winding up on the auction-block at Barrett-Jackson where it broke records for sale of a small-block powered Mopar. But before he let that happen, Dave Took the car to the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals for its one-and-only show Judging. Needless to say, PLUM CRAZY TOOK HOME THE GOLD and Best Restored Dodge, not bad for a car wearing Cragers!