Text and photos by Bill Vetsch
In 1969, I bought a new Dodge Charger. In 1971, I traded the 1969 Charger for a 1971 Dodge Charger SuperBee. I still own the SuperBee. It came equipped with a 383, automatic transmission, power steering, bucket seats, and console.
I did not know much about muscle cars back then, but knew I liked the Dodge Chargers. In 1999, I bought a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T and commenced to restore it. During the restoration project, I bought a '68 318 Dodge Charger. My intentions were to restore it as an original since it was a matching numbers car.
During ownership of these Chargers, I became interested in the Daytonas, but did not think much about getting one since the prices were so high. But, I was mesmerized by Winged Warrior Daytona legendary capability, looks, and race and speed records. So, while working on my R/T, I noted an internet ad by a person wanting to sell several incomplete Daytona clone project cars. I contacted the individual and found out he was from Pennsylvania and actually had two incomplete Daytona clones.
One was a '68 Charger that had the outer skins and floor pans replaced. It also had an authentic Daytona wing installed and it had a plug installed in the back window. The plug came from a '76 Vega hatchback. Other than that, the car was a shell.
The other car was a '70 Charger 500 with a homemade wing. The '70 Charger was nearly complete other than missing a right front fender and a lot of rust. It evidently had been used as a race car. The '70 Charger was missing its 383 cubic inch engine and transmission, but the the seller had a 440 and a 727 transmission to go with the two Chargers. Both cars came with their original titles. The '68 Charger originally came from South Carolina and the '70 Charger originally came from Tennessee. They had been bouncing around Pennsylvania until this owner bought them. He intended to build a Daytona clone from them, but he was a Chevy guy and did not know much about Mopars. So, he put them up for sale.
After a number of emails and calls, I bought the entire package for $5,000 in August of 2003. My brother-in-law and I drove up to Pennsylvania and trailered the two Chargers along with parts, engine, and transmission back to South Carolina. Along the route back to South Carolina, drivers would pass by us and give us the thumbs-up sign. Also, at each rest stop, people would gather around the trailers/cars and begin to tell their stories about Daytonas and other Mopars. I knew that if I could complete building a Daytona clone, it would be a hit and satisfy myself knowing I at least had a replica of a Winged Warrior.
The two cars sat under tarps while I finished restoring the '68 R/T and the 318 Charger. During restoration of the 318 Charger, it was nearing the painting stage when my wife mentioned that a new Dukes of Hazzard movie was coming out. So instead of having the body shop paint the car the original yellow, I had them paint it Hemi orange and bought the General Lee decals to be installed on it.
Now that the R/T and the General Lee were complete--R/T was completed 10/20/04 and General Lee was completed 1/2006--it was time to build the Daytona clone. While working on those restorations, I had the 440 overhauled by a machine shop managed by a Mopar club member. I completed the engine assembly and put it into storage to wait for installation.
The next order of business was to buy a nose for it. I researched all sources for Daytona noses and purchased a Daytona nose from Ted Janak in Spring, Texas. I provided Ted with the pattern of the fender configuration and he built the nose for me. It took a while, but finally the nose was delivered in January of 2005 at a cost of $3,800. Getting the nose package from Ted was just the start. The parts for the nose had to be cut out and assembled. No easy task without written instructions or directions. It took a number of calls, usually very early in the morning, to Ted to get the verbal directions on how to complete the nose assembly since there were no detailed written instructions.
I continued to track down other parts that would be needed to complete the Daytona. Three main parts sources were Year One, Legendary Auto Interiors Ltd, and the All-Chrysler Show in Carlisle, PA.
In mid-2005, I checked out a number of body shops to do the body and paint work on the '68 shell. The shop that did my R/T and General Lee was sold to a local Toyota dealership and they weren't interested in working on a restoration project. A number of those were either very expensive or just refused to work on it. The shop I selected after much research was on my route to and from work where I could check on it almost daily. The shop wasn't the best available, but adequate to perform the work. The initial estimate was $6,000.
While the Daytona clone was in the shop, I continued rounding up parts and stripping the '70 Charger 500 of all useable parts. Those parts were refurbished and cleaned up and set aside waiting for the completion of the body and paint work. The electrical wiring would be almost completely replaced except for the under dash wiring. I removed the dash and refurbished the instrument panel and all under-dash components. The wiring would be based on the 1970 Charger with the exception of the rear harness.
Although I initially planned on installing the '70 Charger tail lights, during the body work, I decided to leave them as '68 Charger tail lights. I liked the looks of the '68 tail lights and since it was a clone, I decided to do what I liked. The body was painted R5 red and the tail and stripes were painted black. The tail panel would not be blacked-out, but left red like the rest of the body. Local sign shops made and later installed the "DAYTONA" lettering on the rear side fender panels.
As the body shop needed parts, like replacement doors, fenders, etc., I would provide them. I transferred the '70 dash frame and the '68 VIN tag over to the '68 shell. I also refurbished the rear end and all components attached to it. An entire new brake system was installed.
The body and paint shop started to fall behind and there were hints that the cost would go up. I stayed on top of the shop and finally got the car out in July of 2007 to the tune of $8,760 and I did not get a show car paint job. There was a lot of overspray I had to clean up plus the engine compartment and under the hood was poorly painted. I prepared and repainted them myself with the help of an experienced friend. I will eventually have the paint job redone, but for now, the paint is adequate.
Two of the hardest components to find were a floor shift 1970 B-body steering column for power steering and a '68 Charger jack. I located a steering column from a junkyard in Illinois ($400) and the jack came from a junkyard in Alabama ($180).
At this point in the project, mostly new and refurbished components were rapidly being installed on the Daytona clone. I purchased a set of Magnum 500s and had four BFG P245/60R15 raised white letter Radial T/As installed on them. The nose cone was installed and the headlight doors were set up to be operated by the '70 Charger electric motor system. The '68 Charger had an A/C firewall, but the '70 Charger did not. Since I wasn't installing an A/C system, I transferred the '70 Charger firewall to the '68 Charger.
About 15 years ago, I bought an engine from McCandless, now Hensley Performance. It was a 440, bored out to 486 cubic inches and had all the parts and pedigree of a strong engine. I originally installed it in my 1971 SuperBee, but it did not run well and was removed and stored. I elected to put it in the Daytona clone rather than the stock engine. This turned out to be a poor decision since the engine continued to run poorly in the Daytona. After replacing about everything in the fuel, electrical, carburetion and ignition system, I eventually replaced it with the original overhauled 440 engine. The problem with the McCandless engine boiled down to the cam was not a match for the engine.
I did most of the interior work except for putting the Legendary seat covers on. The Daytona clone was trailered around for installation of the windows and exhaust system. Fortunately, the car came with all the Vega window trim and the window shop was able to install a leak free rear window. I ordered a Daytona headliner from Legendary and a local shop was able to install it.
I kept a log of all dates and work done on the project. I also kept a record of the costs. The total cost to complete the project, (although this type of project is never complete!), including purchasing the cars, engine, etc, was about $35,000. I did not track labor hours since the cost of labor was my love for the project. The '70 Charger 500 shell was sold to a guy in Charleston, South Carolina.
Although I consider the car a '69 Daytona, being a combination of a '68, '69, and '70 Charger, I registered the Daytona clone as a '68 Dodge Charger using the '68 Charger VIN tag and registration. At the first Mopar Club meeting, members designated it the "DAYCLONA". It made its first cruise-in in December 2007. On Labor Day, 2008, it made three laps on the "Track Too Tough To Tame" at Darlington Speedway during the first Darlington Speedway Heritage Days event.
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