Mickey Thompson's Challenger III project.

Rory

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I know, I know, what the hell am I doing getting ANOTHER project. This deal was not in the works and all came about in approximately 3 days time. It stated about a week ago, Danny Thompson had been trying to sell some old race cars (all of which I wanted) and I was gathering info on them to put on my Facebook page (Vintage off road vehicles for sale). He text me and said he had sold all the cars and only had 1 left but it didn't have a rearend. I was a little confused so I told him to send me a picture of the car.

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Wholly ****. I had completely forgotten about this car, it was the little brother to Challenger IV. Ok, so you're me, you own Challenger IV and you have Ivan's Toyota waiting in the garage for restoration, what do you do? Do you let this car get away from you or do you go get it? The Million dollar question. HOW CAN I NOT GO OUT AND GET THIS CAR, I would have "Bookends"!

While thinking about my predicament, I text my good buddy Cody Swanty looking for guidance. "You want a partner....50/50?" he says. Hmmmmmm, not a bad idea. This wasn't in the original plan, I REALLY wanted to get back on the Toyota restoration and didn't want to blow my budget on Challenger III (that's what we're calling it, with Danny Thompson's blessing). A deal was struck, Cody and I were now partners on Challenger III and 2 days later I was on the road to Colorado to go pick up the car.

History:

I still have to confirm this but I'm almost positive this was Larry Minors class 1 unlimited built by Smokey Allerman and labeled "Smokey SS1". After a few seasons with little success, even with hot shoe Roger Mears behind the wheel at a few Baja races, The car was parked.

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Photo credit: Petersens Auto Museum.

A complete makeover didn't happen until AFTER Challenger IV was built. In the photo below you can see Challenger III sitting in the corner of the shop (red car) next to the Marines buggy. Thanks to Bruce Parrish for the photos.

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This 2nd pic you can see the rear of Challenger III at the bottom left of the photo, then the Marines buggy in the center, and all the way to the right you can see Challenger IV being built. Bruce was a fabricator for Mickey at the time and he, John House and Danny Thompson built Challenger IV and of course Nye Frank on the aluminum.

MT's shop-2.jpg


After Challenger IV was finished, they reworked the front end of Challenger III by adding another shock to each side, cut the rear end and copied the 3 link used on Challenger IV. The body was reworked to match Challenger IV and then painted to match. Challenger III was shorter then Challenger IV and was used exclusively for short course events. Although they look VERY similar, they are very different when it comes to the front suspension and handling characteristics. Here's a shot of them together from 1978.....

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Photo credit Petersens Auto Museum.

As with all MT projects, things would get changed around after each race and the narrow wings on both vehicles were replaced with a much larger wing late in 1978...

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The best quote I've ever heard about Mickey Thompson and is monster builds goes something like this. When asked what came to mind from desert racing people when they heard the name Mickey Thompson, someone responded with "Loud, Fast, and about 2 laps". Like Challenger IV, it was EXTREMELY fast, but weighing almost double from his competition, he really had to drive the hell out of it to run up front. And he did.......until it broke.

Around the same time that Challenger V was built, both Challenger III and IV were parked for the next big thing. Most of the parts off of Challenger IV were used on Challenger V, while Challenger III stayed mostly intact. Then of course on that fateful day in March of 1988, Mickey and Trudy Thompson were taken away from us. Cars were split up between family members and so Challenger III sat inside of a semi truck for more than 30 years.

August 29th 2021:

With Cody and I making a deal with Danny Thompson, Danny was busy gathering parts that he could find for the car. The car was very much intact. Missing was the steering box, rear shocks, titanium axle tubes, wheels/tires and the wing (from what I could tell from the photos. photo's started trickling in....

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Danny found the Magnesium Dana 60 rear end (sitting in the box).

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The Titanium axle tubes were also found....whew!

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The original rear wing was found also. The reason it was blue is most likely because when Challenger V was built they most likely ran out of time to build a new wing so they took it off of Challenger III until a new one could be built. The yellow paint can still be seem under the blue paint where the paint has chipped.

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Long story short, I made the trip up to Colorado, got to have a nice conversation with Danny and his wife Valerie while we loaded the car. It was great hearing old Baja stories about both him and his dad, I will save those for another day. After a 1200 mile round trip I was back home and we unloaded Challenger III into the Swanty Race shop.

The Plan:

With the car soooo close to being complete (and original), our first plan is just to clean it up real good, get the car back on its wheels and make it LOOK like its ready to go run at Riverside again. This will be a lot easier then the Challenger IV restoration but the thought is this car is almost 100% so we want it to look the part, no new powdercoat, just some good old fashioned elbow grease and finding some old parts. We would like to replicate the black and white photo of the cars sitting together after their recent completion back in 1978....this time hopefully in late 2021 or early 2022.

Hopefully you guys enjoy the rebuild, and if you have any info or stories about this car, please get a hold of myself or Cody Swanty and share them with us. Thanks in advance.

*Some of the comments above could be a little off, we will make sure to correct any inconsistencies when we learn differently.

**Also, for those wondering, the Toyota is still on point, just another little bump in the road....but I'm still moving forward. Smiley face.
 
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Zac Reish

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Haha! Great story Rory. I like watching and reading about you fix up old cars better than I would if I had to do it myself. Like I said long ago you're doing gods work.
 

Tipracer

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Of course you had to do it, like it was even a question!!
 

Mike @ pit b

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If anyone should have that car, it's you Rory.
 

Gary Plagman

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It's you Rory Of course you had to do it !

You better get snowed into that Shop this winter and get the job done.!

May 2022 be a great year with a New spirit for the Old & New
 

jon coleman

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'titanium' had me sold for sure on this car,👍i would love to see what somthing like that would drive like, bet you had to ' stay on the wheel' 100%
 

Rory

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Well, here we go! Cody and I dove straight into it the other day, taking a look at what we had to work with. Pretty exciting the more and more we looked at the car and all the cool things these guys did back in the 70's. First things first was to get the car on the rolling cart and get the body off...

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There is ALOT going on with that front suspension. Torsion bars, sway bars, Torsion fingers, Pan Handle bars and a weird straight axle-ish thingy with some interesting steering stuff going on...

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Surprising how much wheel travel the front end seems to have, I haven't measured it yet but it's got to be close to 12". The front end has been re-worked by MT and John House, might have squeezed out a few more inches of wheel travel after buying it from Larry Minor. The front trailing arms that attach to the torsion bars seem to be different and longer then the ones when Larry Minor owned it. Here's a shot of the steering, not a great shot but you get the point. The steering box is missing but it was a saginaw box mounted to the chassis in the bottom right corner of the picture.

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That's an ORIGINAL MT motor in the car, probably last raced at the 1979 or 1980 SCORE Riverside short course event. We think it's an Aluminum block (definitely NOT cast iron). Could be Magnesium but we think it's Aluminum, either way that is HUGE!

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Spoiler Alert: Stuart Little didn't make it....

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Shot of the cockpit....

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The seat and seatbelts are still in the car....

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Moving back to the rear of the car, you can see the sway bar hanging down and the rear trailing arms hanging off the sides...

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Notice the shock mounted to the back of the seat, this one even has a reservoir...

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Here's the bump stop that's attached to the middle of the rear sway bar (located under the fuel cell), MT and John House were always thinking. Also, how cool is that, there is still Riverside Raceway mud stuck to the bottom of the race car!

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Here's the complete rear-end for the car, just have to machine the inside of the Dana 60 so the tubes slide in.....need to take about a 16th of an inch off so they fit. We had to do the same with Challenger IV when we built that rear-end....

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A few things we having going for us that I didn't have going for me when I built Challenger IV is we have the following items that do NOT need to be purchased, or worse, need to be FOUND, and THEN purchased.

Motor
Trans
Rear-end
Knock offs
Knock Off pressure plates
Rear Halibrand hubs
Front suspension
Front Shocks

Some major items that we need are:

Rear Shocks (we are looking to have them made by the original builder, cross your fingers).
Front Centerline Wheels
Front tires
Rear Centerline Wheels
Rear Tires
Steering box and custom Pitman arm.
Fabricated 3 link

That's not a big list to get this car cleaned up and back on its wheels. Tomorrow we start tearing the front end apart and then start cleaning up pieces to see what we got. So far so good!
 

jon coleman

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love the seat, looks like old Johnny Carson suit from the 70s( shock is for the actual seat?, cool stuff.pics pics pics more Pics😍PLEASE
 

Rory

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Currently looking for a set of front tires: Mickey Thompson 33x14.50x15 Baja Belted. Must be in decent shape, must hold air and not plugs. Please pass this around if you know of anyone. Thanks in advance. Rory

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