Is there anything tougher than a big, black, blown Hemi-powered Dodge Charger?

Like many other Kiwi blokes, Blair Watson’s love of cars was inspired by the movies and TV shows he watched in his younger years. Looking at the ’68 — yes, it’s a ’68 with ’69 facelift — Charger that the Wanganui man has recently completed, it’d be easy to assume that it was the blown Charger in the original The Fast and the Furious movie that most inspired him. However, it was actually the General Lee from the original Dukes Of Hazzard TV series that triggered his love of the big Dodge coupes.

Blair owned a string of other tough cars, then family and business commitments took priority — until around four years ago when he decided the time was right for him to own another. Luckily, his love of cars is shared by his whole family, and it was the father of Blair’s wife, Angela, who found the Charger on Trade Me.  

Liking what he saw, Blair took the plunge, making the purchase without even checking the car out in person. His own father’s comment of “Boy, I think you’ve wasted your money and bought a heap of shit!” pretty much sums up the initial purchase. But, with so many Dodge Chargers being wrecked over the years, thanks to their TV stardom, Blair was well aware that finding one was a feat in itself, let alone finding a good one, so he was unfazed and commenced the build he’d always dreamed of.

Good friend Bruce Deighton would be an essential part of the build, as would an angle grinder, a welder, and plenty of patience — that’s what was needed to transform the wreck to the work of art it would become. “After cutting out most of the car and throwing it in the bin, Bruce crafted new panels,” mentions Blair. 

Of course, with a car like this, finding missing parts is always the difficult bit, and that was certainly true in this case. “That was the hardest part of the build and something I wouldn’t really like to do again. Many an hour was spent on eBay and searching globally to locate everything. There were a couple of guys locally who, amazingly, had some parts that we were struggling to find, though,” Bruce says.

Eventually, all the rotten parts had been cut out and fresh metal put in their place, allowing the car to be dropped at Ross Francis Panelbeating for the finishing body touch. The team at Ross Francis would also be responsible for most of the paintwork, about which Blair had some very specific ideas: at first glance, it looks like a simple coat of gloss black. Look a little more closely and you’ll see that a cherry-red tail stripe has been applied. Look more closely still, and you’ll see a subtle ace of spades detailing within it.

That ace of spades isn’t just a cool detail, but a nod to Blair’s love of the band Motorhead and the title of one of their biggest hits. What also isn’t noticeable at first glance — unless you’re viewing the car from above — is the huge Snaggletooth (Motorhead’s logo) emblazoned across the roof. The Snaggletooth is the work of Blair’s mate ‘Smuggler’, and how he managed to paint it without leaving footprints or knee indentations all over the car, we’re not quite sure.
Blair had far grander plans in place than to run a stock engine, as the General Lee Chargers did. The name Ray Barton is familiar to most Mopar fans, and that’s exactly where Blair went to have his motor built. 

“I chose a Ray Barton, as they are a well-known drag racing name in America. After visiting a friend and opening his crate engine with him, I was in awe and decided that I must have one just as crazy. I chose a 528ci Hemi, as it’d fit the engine bay and be just at the maximum height for getting legal, so it would be less hassle,” he states of his decision — not that he needs to justify anything.

The beautiful Hemi is filled with all the fruit you’d expect from such a high-end and well-known engine builder, with a list of components six pages long. Included are items such as a cast-iron block, a 4.15-inch stroke crank, H-beam rods, Diamond forged pistons, and ARP fasteners — and that’s just the bottom end. Above that, a set of Cometic head gaskets lies between the block and a pair of hand-assembled Hemi heads filled with Comp solid lifters, roller rockers, titanium retainers, and 2.25-inch and 1.90-inch valves. 

When it came time to spec the intake section of the motor, Blair went all out. While having this motor in naturally aspirated format would be a dream for most of us, Blair’s vision included a supercharger. A BDS 8–71 was added to the order form, along with a pair of 950cfm Pro Systems carbs. It’s a combo that, on the Ray Barton dyno, spat out just over the power figure Blair had been hoping for — a total of 1015hp, not to mention a shitload of torque. 
To ensure this monster didn’t smash the driveline when the car hit the drag strip, no expense was spared in that department, either. In place of a Mopar trans, you’ll now find a JW Performance two-speed Powerglide fitted with a 3000rpm stall converter and plenty of other tough components. Blair had Bruce create a narrowed nine-inch diff packed with an Eaton Detroit Locker, 3.55:1 gears, and 35-spline axles.

The reason for that driveline strengthening was, in part, due to the wide, not to mention sticky, rear rubber Blair was intent on fitting. The rear wheels he ordered measure in at 17x10 inches and are wrapped in 325/50R15 Mickey Thompson ET Streets, requiring a minor tweak to the inside of the rear wheel arches. Up front, comparatively narrow 235/45R17 rubber wraps around 17x8-inch rims. 

“We ordered the wheels when the panel work was being done. When they arrived, the front wheels wouldn’t fit as the brakes were designed to stop a 747 aeroplane and the wheel wouldn’t fit over the calipers. We went back to the drawing board and bought the wheels we have now,” explains Blair of the ordeal. 

While the size difference between the wheels front to back is obvious, what’s less obvious is the fact they’re actually different styles: Welds up front and Eights [brand] on the rear. 
Blair chose to keep the interior simple by opting for a stock retrim. While at some stage there’s a high chance the car will end up needing a roll cage, for now, at least, it’s fully family friendly, exactly as Blair intended. 

Being family friendly is a good thing, too, as Blair and Angela’s kids are into the car just as much as they are, which means they’ve all been out clocking up plenty of cruising miles since the car hit the road. As you can imagine, every time the car is driven, every kid it drives past is in awe of the car’s look and sound. Just as Blair was inspired by the Chargers he saw in his own youth, we’re sure this one’s also set to inspire many of those kids to build their own one day. 

1968 Dodge Charger

  • Engine: 528ci Hemi, Mopar cast-iron Hemi block, Clevite bearings, ARP fasteners, 4340 steel race crankshaft, 4.150-inch stroke, 4340 steel I-beam rods, Diamond forged pistons, Moly rings, RBRE custom-grind solid camshaft, billet roller timing chain drive, Comp Cams tool steel solid lifters, Severe Duty pushrods, Hemi alloy heads, full intake and exhaust porting, RBRE steel shaft-mount roller rockers, 1.57:1 intake rockers, 1.52:1 exhaust rockers, stainless steel 2.25-inch intake valves, stainless steel 1.90-inch exhaust valves, hardened lash caps, steel retainers, double valve springs, Viton valve seals, MSD billet distributor, Moroso ignition leads, Autolite spark plugs, BDS intake manifold, BDS 8–71 supercharger, hard-anodized supercharger casing, two 950cfm Pro Systems carburettors, MagnaFuel Pro Star 500 Series fuel pump, MagnaFuel fuel pressure regulator, custom alloy drop-tank, MSD billet distributor, MSD Digital 7 ignition, MSD Pro Power HVC ignition coil, Moroso ignition leads, Autolite spark plugs, TTI ceramic-coated headers, 3½-inch mild-steel exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, All Star exhaust cut-outs, custom five-core brass radiator
  • Driveline: JW Performance Powerglide, JW Performance bell housing, JW Performance flexplate, 3000rpm stall converter, nine-inch diff, nodular head, Eaton Detroit Locker, Richmond 3.55:1 gears, 35-spline axles, Strange yokes, Chromoly driveshaft
  • Suspension: Extra rear leaf, gas shocks, heavy-duty Hemi sway bar
  • Brakes: SSBC Performance Brake Systems booster, Wilwood six-piston front calipers, Ford Falcon rear discs, and calipers
  • Wheels/Tyres: 17x8-inch Weld RT-S front wheels, 17x10-inch rear wheels, 235/45R17 Champiro front tyres, 325/50R15 Mickey Thompson ET Street
  • Exterior: 1969 front grill, 1969 taillight panel, custom paint
  • Chassis: Strengthened box section chassis (70 x 50)
  • Interior: Stock retrim, Charger RT steering wheel, Hurst Quarter Stick Pistol Grip shifter
  • Performance: 1015hp

Driver profile

  • Driver: Blair and Angela Watson
  • Age: 40 (Blair)
  • Occupation: Self-employed earthworks operator
  • Previously owned cars: 1923 T-bucket, 1968 Cortina V6 (Savage Replica),
  • 1968 Ford Fairmont
  • Dream car: My Dodge Charger
  • Why the Charger? I watched too many Dukes of Hazzard episodes and movies with larrikins in them; I felt like I fitted in nicely! 
  • Build time: Since 2011
  • Length of ownership: Since 2011
  • Blair thanks: Bruce Deighton for his attention to detail and his ability to repair anything; Ross Francis Panelbeating for finishing the panel work and the paint job; Bill Armstrong and Mopar Gav for supplying hard-to-find parts — having these two supplying parts made life so much easier; Ray at Ali Arc for the custom-made drop tank; Craig Wills Upholsterer and Blair Pram for the upholstery; Smuggler for the amazing airbrushing 

Dukes of destruction

A total of 309 Chargers were used during the filming of Dukes of Hazzard, which ran from 1979 to 1985, At the time, the cars were cheap and, as such, many were wrecked along the way. In fact, only 20 of those used survive today. While a few were 400 powered, the stunt drivers preferred the 318-powered cars, saying they jumped better due to their lighter weight. For the 2005 movie by the same name, just 27 cars were used, most of which survived. 

This article originally featured in the January 2016 issue of NZV8. You can grab a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below:

Todd Wylie

Todd Wylie has been involved with NZV8 magazine since before the first issue was printed, and has been the editor for the last eight years. Growing up in the heyday of the Jap-import scene, he's not adverse to Japanese vehicles, having worked for NZ Performance Car previously, as well as owning a few well-known examples. These days he cruises at a slower pace in a 1956 Cadillac Coupe and dreams of building a Model A tudor.