Decades in The Making: Todd Carlson’s Blown ’71 Charger

10 min read

Decades in The Making: Todd Carlson’s Blown ’71 Charger

10 min read

For some folks, obsession only really takes hold once the circumstances are just right. “My dad owned a tire store for a number of years, so I grew up in an automotive environment,” recalls Todd Carlson, an engineer from Aurora, Illinois. “He’d always be bringing Corvettes and stuff like that in to work on, but they never really caught my interest. Then my grandparents went out and bought a ’68 Plymouth Fury III, and I just fell in love with that car.”

Before he even had his license, Carlson was already on the hunt for a Mopar of his own. “I was always looking around trying to find a cool project, and I stumbled across a Charger that needed a lot of work. My dad had hauled it over to the shop and told me, ‘If you want to have a car, you’re going to have to learn how to fix it.’” And that set Todd on a path of discovery as he learned how to bring the Dodge back to life. “I had to do my research and try to figure it all out – read about this and repair that.”

Over the years Carlson has taken on a number of other projects – a ’68 Charger R/T and an ultra-rare, red-on-red 4-speed ’69 Daytona are a few of the highlights – but all are strictly from the Chrysler camp. “That’s all I touch – that’s all I work on.” The Charger has remained a constant throughout his automotive adventures, however.

Carlson's Charger packs a fully built 540ci wedge motor and an impossible-to-miss roots blower setup.

“It took a number of years to get everything together – I had to earn the money for all the stuff it needed and go from there. It was my daily driver during high school, but it was only until a few years after I graduated that I really started to tinker with it. That’s when I put a tunnel ram on it, bigger tires – that sort of thing – and I drove it around like that for a while. Then I started reading Hot Rod and Car Craft.”

And that’s when he caught the forced induction bug. “I borrowed $3500 from my grandmother so I could go get a blower setup to put on it,” Carlson explains. “And it just snowballed from there.”

He needed a way to put the newfound power to the pavement, so he put a new chassis underneath the car and moved to bigger rubber, both of which pointed the way toward the Pro Street-style setup that the Charger has today. But after a solid stint touring the country on the Chrysler performance car show circuit, a bad experience would convince him to hang up the spurs for a time.

“In 2000 I was down in St Louis for one of the shows, buying parts for a few projects, and someone stole my wallet,” he recalls. “And I got mad – I came home and took the car apart. The idea that someone would do that at a car show, it just really rubbed me the wrong way. And I knew I needed to take a break.”

It’s hard to keep a good Mopar down, though, and Carlson eventually returned to the project with the intention of making the car better than ever. “I wanted to make this thing into a fast street car, but it has gotten a bit out of hand,” he jests.

These days a 540ci Mopar Mega Block wedge motor resides in the engine bay, replete with CP pistons, Eagle H-beam rods, a Crane roller cam, ported and polished Indy cylinder heads, and an MSD ignition system. A BDS 10-71 blower with a Hilborn injection and a Holley HP EFI system sit atop of the monstrous mill.

“The folks at Hilborn gave me a few different fuel injection options, but the Holley EFI system was the one they recommended when I said I wanted something that wouldn’t be hard to deal with,” he tells us. “I basically told them, ’Just give me the best one you’ve got.’” Carlson says that, with a conservative tune, the combination makes about 900 horsepower on the dyno.

While the 71+ body style doesn't get the love it deserves among Charger fans, in Pro-Street guys, its meaty measurements flow perfectly.

On the chassis and suspension front, the Charger is currently outfitted with adjustable Aldan Eagle coilovers at all four corners, while a Magnum Force crossmember and control arms are installed up front. Out back, a custom-built ladder bar setup is paired up with a Ford 9-inch rear end. “We’re using a Mark Williams aluminum center section with 40-spline axles, so it’s basically indestructible,” he notes.

Just prior to loading it up for the trek to this year’s Holley MoParty event in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Carlson was busy putting the finishing touches on the latest iteration of the Charger. “The 727 transmission that’s in there now is something I put together in the garage mainly to get it to the show – we’re actually in the process of building another one right now,” he says. “But we spent the whole year getting ready for MoParty and it was well worth it – everyone was really friendly and it was a lot of fun. We’re already putting the plan together for next year’s event – we’ve been getting the word out to all of our friends, and we’re going to caravan down as a group.”

And it should also come as no surprise that Carlson’s got a few more changes in store for the Charger. But he also says that he does see a point where he’ll consider the project “done.” At least for now.

“After we change the transmission, we may go over to E85 from 93 octane pump gas because it seems to run hot, and I may do a few small things with the interior. So we’ll see how that shapes up over the winter. But once I get it set up in this configuration, it’s going to stay there – it’ll be right where I want it. And hopefully it’ll stay that way for another twenty years!”


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