Heavy Metal Affliction -- 1973 Dodge Challenger
This week we have a buddy story; a tale of two Mopar fanatics with different strengths and the common bond of a thing for muscle cars built by Dodge. Forza community member Greg Ranocchia, (Gamertag: Tuff Puppers), and his best friend Scott have restored a 1973 Dodge Challenger as a labor of true automotive love
A long time ago, when Ranocchia was just a boy, his neighbor had two Dodge Challengers. This guy had an impact on Ranocchia, not just for his cool cars that he was always wrenching on; he was the iconic “cool” adult, with long hair and a pony tail to boot. He was always happy to entertain his young neighbor by allowing him to watch the mechanic at work and occasionally buckling him into the passenger seat for a “race” down to the corner store for a long-neck Coke. These memories had a lasting impact on Ranocchia and have contributed to his love of everything Mopar.
Years later, the thought of owning a classic ride has always been a dream, but never seemed like a reality that could happen. Ranocchia and Scott regularly hit up car shows, especially the Mopar-only shows. Over the years, their mutual appreciation for the brand has strengthened their friendship. Scott is mechanically minded and had owned a number of classic Mopars before transplanting to the west coast; Ranocchia is a research guy and has tons of knowledge but little technical knowhow. As they’ve visited car shows--and the occasional trip to nearby Infineon Raceway--their well-balanced strengths and shared passion have made them a well-paired restoration team. They just didn’t know it yet.
For a car fan, a car show is like a candy store to a child: everywhere you look there are things that appeal to the eye, and you want everything you see. Walk around the store long enough and eventually you will find something you have to have. Such is the case with Ranocchia. One day, on “Mopar Alley,” at a show in Fremont, CA, Ranocchia found--among its brethren of Darts, Cudas, Demons, Dusters, Chargers and Superbirds-- a shining gold and black 1973 Challenger for sale. Ranocchia and Scott were drawn to the car and Scott immediately said, “You know, you should buy it, that’s totally your car.” Ranocchia could only think of reasons not to buy it but, with a little prodding and a few promises of dedicated assistance from Scott, he took the dive and bought the Challenger from the owner.
The car was a solid candidate for restoration, but sorely needed rescue from the previous owner’s cheap aftermarket parts choices and shoddy attention to detail. Ranocchia found out the car had been languishing for years in a neglected state and was now running. It wasn’t perfect but, with just 56,000 miles and a mostly original 318 V8 bored out to 340, it was easy to see the car’s potential. Ranocchia is somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to his appreciation of original parts for an original car, so the pair’s work was cut out for them.
In the world of Mopar, the 1970 and 1971 models of the Challenger are highly sought after because, after 1971, the big block 383 or 440 motors were simply were not available. Many muscle car fanatics have stuffed crate motors into post-1971 Challengers, in essence making tribute cars, painting them “Plum Crazy” or “Panther Pink.” That’s all good to those creating their own vision of Mopar beauty, but Ranocchia appreciates the cars that may not have the killer horsepower and $20,000 paint jobs. He loves a survivor, in its original dressings and character that it came out of the factory with. Although his 1973 is not as financially valuable as the earlier big block models, it is somewhat of an endangered species since so many of the small-block Challengers have been cannibalized, modified beyond recognition, or parted out to serve the ever-dwindling supply of original parts. Value for cars such as his have gone up recently as much as 15 percent but, for Ranocchia, it’s not about the eventual value, it’s about the goal. Such is the way of Heavy Metal Affliction, costs do not matter, and value is only measured in the heart.
As the pair commenced the restoration, Scott took control of disassembly, Ranocchia took ownership of researching and sourcing the correct parts and much of the cleaning, prepping and repainting of engine parts that could be kept. A few new swear words were invented as Scott discovered the innumerable incorrect parts or improperly torqued bolts resulting in crushed gaskets. In some cases, it felt like every step forward was followed by three steps back. After five months of living with parts scattered throughout his house, the pair finally brought the reassembled motor to life.
At the first couple of shows they attended, the car was awarded for its originality, including second place in the “Under Restoration” category, even among much higher profile cars. It was also awarded Sponsors Choice for the duo’s attention to original details. Recently the Challenger won a third place trophy in the E body class at the Sacramento Mopars show. Ranocchia and his buddy Scott never expected to win at shows but their hard work, determination, attention to detail, and shared fervor for true-to-spec restoration is getting the notoriety it deserves.
As is so often the case with restoration projects, the Challenger isn’t finished yet. As you can see from these pictures, the car is a gem, but Ranocchia has future plans to replace the black vinyl top with the proper white one, but not until it makes sense to do so. The door panels were replaced with black reproduction versions; eventually they will be replaced with higher quality white (as per original). Details continue to pop up and get addressed and you can bet the awards will keep coming in as the car reaches its full potential.
Check out the full gallery of the Challenger.