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’70 Challenger On Factory-Style Suspension is an Autocross Warrior

Author: Bradley Iger | 11/19/2020 < Back to Motor Life Home
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“I did have a soap box derby car back in the day,” recalls Andrew Chenoweth, a mechanical engineer from Mitchell, South Dakota. “But besides that, I didn’t really have any sort of high performance driving experience until I started doing autocross about six years ago.”


Since then, Andrew and his father Kurt have been campaigning the family’s Sublime Green 1970 Dodge Challenger in the SCCA’s CAM class, Goodguys events, and other series around the country. “We often share the driving duties as two entries, and we’re both usually pretty competitive in it,” Kurt says. “And when we’re doubling driving, we’re racing against each other. Between the local things and traveling to the major stuff, we probably do 10 to 15 events a year.”


The Chenoweth’s Challenger undoubtedly turned a few heads at this year’s MoParty sheerly due to its purposeful look and hunkered-down stance. But beyond the well-earned patina, what really made this E-body a standout was Andrew’s ability to sweep the weekend’s autocross competition with it, posting the fastest times not just in the Vintage class, but of the overall event, which included no shortage of fast competitors in the Late Model, AX, and Exhibition classes.


Instead of hacking up the car to retrofit a coilover suspension system, Kurt decided to retain the factory-style torsion bar system with upgrades from Hotchkis.


That accomplishment is even more remarkable once you start digging into the particulars of this build, which is Andrew’s first big automotive project. “At these SCCA and Goodguys events, this old Mopar is usually in a sea of Brand X stuff with Corvette-derived suspensions and Detroit Speed stuff,” says Kurt. “And we pull in there with factory-style torsion bars and run right up there with them. You can’t imagine how many times people have walked up, looked underneath the car, and said ‘…Really?’”


For Kurt, the Challenger follows a string of classic Mopar builds that include a ’69 Dodge Coronet and a ’64 Plymouth Sport Fury. “But I always wanted either a ’70 Road Runner or a ’70 Challenger,” he says. “Those were the two cars that have always been stuck in my mind. And I wanted to build something that could corner. I’ve always liked drag racing, but I thought it would be really cool to make these things handle.”


A 440ci big block resides under the hood. Outfitted with Edelbrock heads and intake manifold, along with a few other go-fast goodies, it provides more than enough grunt to get the Challenger up and running a hurry.


Considering the fact that they outran some seriously potent machines both old and new at MoParty, you’d expect to at least see some coilovers underneath the Challenger, if not a modern reproduction chassis and the requisite high-buck suspension hardware. But the Chenoweths decided to keep things relatively simple.


After scoring the car in an online auction back in 2013, Kurt started looking at the different options that were available to sharpen up the Dodge’s cornering capability. “I was looking at coilover systems to swap over to, but then I saw that the Hotchkis E-Max Challenger won an autocross event in California. And after a phone call with them, we decided to see what we could do with stock-style torsion bars and leaf springs.”


They opted for a Hotchkis TVS suspension system, which includes the company’s beefed up sway bars, torsion bars and leafs, along with geometry-corrected upper control arms. “The subframe connectors have been welded in, and we’re also using the narrower B-body rear end,” says Andrew. “That allowed us to relocate the leaf springs inboard so wider wheels and tires would fit.”


Andrew posted his fastest autocross pass of the weekend on Saturday afternoon when he ran a 32.831. That time put him comfortably at the top of the Vintage field – and more than a second ahead of any other car competing in the event.


On the powertrain front, the Challenger gets motivation from a warmed-over 440ci big block that’s hooked to a 727 Torqueflite automatic with a manual valve body. Along with swapping over to Edelbrock aluminum heads and a beefier cam, they decided to ditch the carburetor in favor of a Sniper EFI setup and a HyperSpark ignition system. “The system offered some data logging features that have proven to be really helpful, but most of the time we don’t have to do much tuning – it just runs well,” says Andrew. “And we wanted to improve overall drivability. The big carburetor that we had on there would hesitate sometimes, and wasn’t really providing smooth throttle response through the corners. The Sniper resolved that.”


If there was any doubt, this year’s MoParty event made it pretty clear that the Chenoweths have the Challenger dialed in. “Some friends of ours have competed and won at LS Fest, and they have always talked about what a great event it is,” says Kurt. “And since this is a Mopar-only show that includes all these competitive events, we knew we had to go. We even forgot that we’d get paid for winning!”


“In terms of trophies, Holley set the bar pretty high at MoParty,” Kurt says. “The belt is another factor that makes this event really unique.”


Although their current setup has proven effective, the father and son team already have their sights set on a few upgrades to take the Challenger a step or two further. “We thinking about putting a stroker kit in that big block,” he says. “I think it’s going to take more power and speed to stay ahead of some of these others guys next year, but ultimately for us it’s about keeping up with the latest tire technology and honing our own skills behind the wheel. Everybody wants us to switch suspensions, run coilovers, cut it up and put 335mm tires on it, but that’s not this car. I think it’s working pretty well this way.”


Kurt does have another aspirational goal, though. “My grand scheme involves Andrew getting his own car so he can quit driving mine,” he says with a laugh. “Then we can bring two cars next year!”

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