Movie star mopar: 1970 Dodge Coronet

Posted in Cars

Dion Marson is no stranger to the Mopar brand. His tough-as-nails Pro Street–inspired Plymouth Belvedere, which featured way back in Issue No. 43, is testament to that. A few years ago, though, he was looking at buying another vehicle to keep the Belvedere company. While trawling eBay one night, something caught his eye: it was big, it was orange, and, most important, it was a Mopar.

The further through the ad Dion read, the more excited he became. The California car had recently been raced on the eighth-mile track at Barona dragway, where it had cut a 7.69-second pass without the magic little blue bottle in the boot turned on. Better still, that elapsed time had dropped to 6.80 seconds when the laughing gas was applied. Going by these times, Dion was sure that the big old Bee could easily cut a 10-second quarter-mile, so he had to have it. With the deal done in record time, and the shipping organized by the friendly folk at Kiwi Shipping, it wasn’t long before the car was sitting in the Owens freight yard in Wellington, waiting for Dion to arrive and drive it home.

For around six months, Dion prowled the streets in the Coronet ‘as is’, and clocked up a fair few street miles in the process. The car also saw a little action on the strip at Masterton Motorplex, cutting a 12-second first pass on the quarter without the bottle. It was at around this time that things started to go a little awry and get a little smoky out the back — this wasn’t tyre smoke, either, even though Dion had already shredded a couple of sets of rears!

With the blue smoke not getting any better, Dion decided further investigation was required before it resulted in an expensive pile of unwanted engine shrapnel. When the engine was out of the hole and stripped down, Dion found that some pretty ugly engine work had been carried out. A couple of pistons had been ‘lightened’, for want of a better term, to match the six other mismatched slugs — it was now glaringly obvious why the car had been moved on so soon after those passes at Barona dragway. Thankful that he had found the problem before the engine had had a chance to haemorrhage completely, Dion decided to take the old girl off the road, give her a proper rebuild, and correct a lot of the other ‘hillbilly’, as he calls it, workmanship that had been done on the car over the years.

The car sat for some time while other things in life got in the way, but that didn’t stop Dion from collecting a lot of the parts needed for the rebuild. One day, while randomly searching the net, he stumbled across the website. After clicking on the ‘Members Rides’ button, something made Dion do a double take: in front of him on the screen was a collection of photos of what looked mysteriously like his car. Dion fired off a quick email saying that he was pretty sure it was his car, and that the car was now across the other side of the planet! A short time later, the guy replied, confirming things. He said the Coronet had been his car when he was in high school, and if Dion ever decided to sell it, he would love to buy it back and ship it home. At the end of the email was a link to a movie that he suggested Dion might want to click.

Curiosity got the better of Dion; the link took him to a movie called Dishdogz. The local video store came up trumps, and, when Dion got home, he slipped the new release into the DVD player, grabbed a bucket of popcorn, and settled in to watch the movie. Around halfway through it, the hero jumped into a bright orange 1970 Dodge Coronet. This wasn’t just any old Coronet; it was Dion’s Coronet! At the end of the film, in typical ‘good guy always gets the girl’ fashion, the hero jumped into the car, kissed the girl, and roared off into the sunset. How cool is that!

After being parked up for four years, and with the planets now perfectly aligned, the rebuild on the Bee finally commenced. The smoky engine that had disgraced itself was the first thing to be unceremoniously discarded. Dion had already purchased a 440 off a guy in the States that was
90–per-cent together. Not wanting to go down the unwanted–engine-smoke route again, Dion dropped it off to engine-builder extraordinaire Steve Hunwick to make sure everything on the inside was all good. Thankfully, once everything had been stripped and thoroughly inspected, it was found that this bullet was a good one and that this time everything on the inside was as it should be.

As the 440 was going to be bottle-fed, the driveline had to be up to the task. The 727 TorqueFlite was sent off to Chuck Mann to be given a new lease of life. Chuck biffed in a Cheetah reverse-pattern valve body along with a B&M 3200rpm stall converter. For good measure, Dion also plumbed in a 16x8-inch trans cooler to keep a lid on internal temperatures once things got serious on the strip.

While the motor and transmission were away, the rest of the driveline was replaced from front to back, along with the brake system. Once Dion pushed the button that squirted the extra ponies into the engine, he wanted to make sure that BADBEE went straight and stopped well short of the sand trap. Howat Engineering in Naenae performed open-heart surgery on the diff, and filled it with strong, unbreakable stuff. Moser axles, along with Green bearings and screw-in wheel studs, make sure that when Dion smokes the hides, they stay smoked!

The dry California air had been kind to the body. The engine bay and front end were peeled back to bare steel, and no cancer was detected. The whole underside was also stripped back, and it, too, was found to be rust-free; all that was needed was a shiny new coat of paint to finish things off nicely. The bright orange paint that had been applied 15 years earlier was also in good nick — it just needed fellow Mopar nut Graham Allen to spend a few hours on it with a buffer and some polish to bring back the shine.

Part of the attraction of the Coronet for Dion had been that a lot of the hard work had already been done stateside by the previous owner. The interior was tidy enough, but Dion did install some sounds: a Pioneer headunit now feeds a Sony amp and pumps out the sounds through four JBL speakers. A full complement of Auto Meter gauges keeps an eye on all things under the hood, while a Grant wheel and a B&M Pro stick-shifter take care of speed and direction. Over time, Dion plans to personalize the interior a little more with some better seats and some newer door panels for that new-car feel.

Now that all the wrongs have been righted and the Coronet is back in one piece, Dion gets out and enjoys it whenever he can. “It’s fun to drive, rides great on the road, and turns heads wherever it goes,” he says. Dion is sure that, with more seat time on the strip, the times will drop and that elusive 10-second time slip is not far away. 

Shane Wishnowsky

My first experience of the V8 engine was not a good one. Picture a white-haired young boy bawling his eyes out when an un-muffled sprintcar was fired up. My Dad, who had been car mad all his life, thought I was broken and he’d produced a dud! He persevered though and a few years later took me to Thunder Park; it was here that I fell in love with the V8 engine and I was hooked! Since then I have been a regular on both sides of the fence at drag strips in the North Island, both as a spectator and a crew member. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that 40 years down the track I would end up photographing and writing about them, not that I’m complaining!