Ron Cherry: Permanent part of the family ‘66 Plymouth Belvedere
When Ken Brown bought his ‘66 Plymouth Belvedere 2-door hardtop in December of 1965, he didn’t have a family. He wasn’t even married. But it was the beginning of a beautiful ownership. The car had a 383 CID that pumped out 325 HP with a whopping 424 lbs of torque. Looking for maximum performance, Ken did not go for power steering or brakes, but did pay for the optional 4-speed trans and a police-handling package that included over-size drum brakes.
“I didn’t want anything that would take power off the engine,” he said. It was painted dark green metallic and had utilitarian matching steel wheels with “dog dish” hub caps. It was a car with few extras and was made for speed. And it became Ken’s daily driver for 20 years.
During those years, Ken drove the car for four years of dental school, got married and had three children. Fortunately, wife Joanne enjoyed driving their performer. “She’s very mechanical and likes driving a stick,” he said. Ken said that he “drove three kids home from the hospital. Those were the days before safety car seats, too.” Ken would throw on a pair of snow tires and take it for family ski trips to the mountains. Even when the Belvedere was no longer the main family car, it never was parked and forgotten.
During those years, Ken did all the maintenance and repairs on the car, including an engine replacement. Since he acted as pit crew member and mechanic for Jim Tyron, a dirt track racer in the old Pacific Outlaw Super Stock Car racing, he had ample experience turning a wrench. These were wildly modified cars with alcohol-burning engines that ran high speeds on dirt tracks, with fewer rules than normal stock car racing. During that time, Ken found working with Jim to be an advanced education in mechanics.
“He was an expert,” Ken recalled. “He had an innate knowledge of motors, chassis and brakes.” Ken loved his part in the racing team. “I’d go back in an instant, if I could,” he said, but added, “But I’d have to be a lot younger.”
In 2013, Ken decided to completely redo his Belvedere. This time he did not do the work himself, but sent it to Elliot Franklin at Mustang Corral in Grass Valley. For an engine, Ken chose a Gen III 426 CID Hemi. This modern incarnation of the classic Chrysler Hemi is all aluminum and is packed with modern technology. To deliver the air-fuel mix to it, Ken first went with a FAST injection system, but it didn’t run well.
Then he chose a Holley injection system, but with no better luck. Now he has two 4-bbl Edelbrock carbs and he said it runs “pretty darn strong.” Considering it dynoed at 605 HP, that’s an understatement. He said that the cam probably had too much overlap for the injection systems and “wasted money like crazy” until he got it right.
Power from the engine was too much for a single clutch, so he used a double one to convey power through the Tremac 5-speed manual trans to the Currie rear end housing with a Strange 9” differential. For front suspension, Ken opted for an Alter-K-tion subframe. It has coil-over shock suspension with power rack and pinion steering and an integrated anti-sway bar. In the rear, he chose a Street-Lynx subframe with an adjustable 4-link suspension for better ride and handling. To stop his beast, Ken had Wilwood 4-wheel discs installed. His Mopar has many other performance extras, including an aluminum radiator and a fuel cell rather than a gas tank. As a concession to comfort, he did go for air conditioning.
All the work done was “under the hood” stuff and he wanted to keep his Belvedere looking “fairly stock.” He had it repainted in the original green, only the second in 50 years. This time, he went down to bare metal, removed the original leading in the seams and had them welded. Inside, he redid all the upholstery in original black, leaving the factory front bench seat. He did use Dynomat inside to dampen noise and heat. For sounds, he mounted an AM/FM/CD with a USB port. However, Ken has never used the USB port since he’s not really into “Computer stuff.” The only obvious change is the American Racing 17” wheels, the widest he could use without tubbing the rear.
Now that His Mopar is back on the road, Ken enjoys driving it, including to Cars and Coffee at the K-Mart parking lot off McKnight on Saturdays from 8 til 10 in the morning. “I could have bought a nice car for what I put into it,” he said, but is glad that Joanne has been so accepting. “I’m very lucky she allows me to do this stuff.”
An interesting side note is that Elliot at Mustang Corral had never redone a Mopar before. After taking Ken’s Belvedere on a test drive before he started work, he said, “I love this car, the balance, the way it handles.” So he bought one himself. Since it was not performance equipped, he bought all the parts he took off Ken’s car and used them, including the steel wheels and hubcaps. It’s even painted the same color.
Ken said it’s almost eerie to see it, like a clone. However, since Ken’s Belvedere is a permanent part of his family, it’s the closest Elliot could get to it.
Ron Cherry’s four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His latest is a Celtic saga, Three Legs of the Cauldron. For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.
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