Mickey Thompson's Challenger III project.

jon coleman

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i drove a car with that set up one time.you get closer to the steering wheel and then go away.strange.never got to go at race speed.
just put lever/ belcranks/ pulleys& cables to the steering support bearing housing & have it move at the same ratio, gas & brake peddle too👍
 

Rory

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Thanks for the kind words everyone, I appreciate it and I'm glad all of you are guilty of being enablers towards my sickness. Anyways, I did some investigating on Challenger III and it turns out my early thoughts on who owned this car before MT was correct.

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Larry Minor and myself at the ORMHOF museum at the Terribles Casino in Jean Nevada back in September of 2019.

Last Tuesday evening I was able to talk with ORMHOF'er Larry Minor about this vehicle. Larry said Smokey Allerman built the car in approximately 1974. Larry said Smokey was a prominent Sprint car builder, but I was unsure of his Off Road builds. Turns out the reason Larry went to Smokey is because someone pointed his way. As far as Larry knew Smokey had never built an off road car before. Larry was looking for a light weight V8 car for the desert so he could compete against the likes of Parnelli Jones (Chevy Blazer) and Mickey Thompson (Chevy Luv). He wanted to do something totally different from the Funco's, Sandwinders and Hi Jumpers being built at that time.

When looking for a motor he knew he was going to have to have something lightweight so he visited his friend Mickey Thompson at his shop. Mickey had been building his own blocks based off the Chevy 350 and most were Aluminum, a few Magnesium. Mickey pointed to the top shelf in his shop and told Larry he could grab the ladder and grab "That one" (pointing to the engine block on the shelf). Larry climbed up the ladder, grabbed the block and started back down. He couldn't believe how light the block was. Turns out it was one of MT's Magnesium blocks. Larry wasn't sure if Mickey meant to give him one of his Magnesium blocks but he wasn't going to offer it back. Larry turned the block over to Smokey Yunick (NASCAR/Indycar fame) to build the 301ci motor that would also feature fuel injection. The car was called "Smokey SSI" and debuted (we think) sometime in late 1974 or Parker of 1975.

Larry wasn't quite sure what he first race was or what year but he did say he car was a lot of fun to drive. Larry told me a story about during those days there was no rule about having a helicopter. Sooooo, he put a spare tire, parts and a mechanic in the helicopter, when he'd get a flat or have a problem, the helicopter would land and the mechanic would fix it. I guess that's why you never saw a spare tire on the car in any of his race pictures. Larry said even though the car didn't handle great, it was extremely fast and during a Baja race the helicopter pilot told him he was running somewhere near 140mph on a fast section.

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Here's Larry Minor at the 1975 Parker 400. I personally think this was the first race as their was a lot of attention given to this car that weekend. Photo credit Petersen Auto Museum.

After the 1975 season the car was parked as Larry was pursuing his Drag racing career. He still loved Off Road and sometime in 1976 or early 1977 he had his mechanic prep the racer for a possible return to the desert. Of course, after it was prepped, ol' Mickey Thompson stopped by his shop and told Larry he wanted to buy the car. Larry didn't really want to sell it but he said "you know how Mickey could be" so the next thing you know the car was on a trailer and headed to Mickey shop.....minus that Magnesium motor mind you.

So there's a majority of the history on the car, I still need to talk to Roger Mears and hear how he liked driving the car in two of those Baja races.

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When Roger Mears drove the car it was painted yellow. I'm not sure but I think that is Roger behind the wheel here at the start of the 1975 Baja 1000. Photo credit Petersen Auto Museum.

Back to the teardown:
I arrived at Swanty's race shop to put a couple hours in on the car to see what we had. I decided the best place to start was the front end and move my way back. Keep in mind, the idea behind this car, since it is SOOOOOO close to being original, we want to keep it that way. That means no new paint, just clean it up and knock the old dirt off of it. We are even leaving in the original wiring and plumbing. That could possibly change in the future but for now this is the plan.

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As you can see above, we removed the front suspension from the chassis, including all the torsion arms, sway bar arms, Torsion fingers and pan handle bars. There is ALOT of stuff going on between that front bumper and the radiator, amazing how they got everything to fit.

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Here's the straight axle (is that what you call it.....or is it a straight axle thingy?). It has the same spindles at Challenger IV and Challenger V, they are off the front of an International Harvester truck. If you look in the middle of the axle you can see where the steering slides back and forth. The trailing arm to the left of the axle does not go to this car.

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Here's another shot of the front end, you can see the torsion bars, sway bar at the very front, then the oil coolers stacked two deep behind that, and then rubber bump stops on top and bottom of the chassis.

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The pan handle bars and the steering stabilizer are on the top shelf while the front shocks are on the 2nd shelf. they need a good bath but all seem to be in proper working condition.

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Here's a box of parts for the passenger side front end. Surprising how well everything came off, just looks like it would be difficult and hard to come apart.

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I was missing the 3 link bar so I went home, grabbed the one I had made for Challenger IV, knowing good and well it wasn't going to work, but tried it anyways. I'll be a son of a b****, it fit! Well, I'm not 100% sure yet, I don't have the rear end together to properly measure it to see it its too long or too short. I can tell you that it is VERY CLOSE. Either way, if it does work I will have to have another one made because this one is the spare for Challenger IV. The mount that is bolted to the 3 link just bolts directly to the Magnesium Dana 60 3rd member. Once the 3rd member is machined we will be able to know for sure that the 3 link works or not.

Next up, I'll work on getting the oil coolers, radiator and possibly the motor out of this thing. Look for an update early next week. Thanks for checking in!
 
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jon coleman

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so the C.III still has the mag eng. block?, bet that is a rare chunk of metal...thanx for the cool pics!, cant get enough of the state of the art from 74'
 

Rory

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so the C.III still has the mag eng. block?, bet that is a rare chunk of metal...thanx for the cool pics!, cant get enough of the state of the art from 74'
No, Larry kept the Magnesium motor, But we just found the markings on the block (that's in the car now) that says "MTD-14" which is the aluminum casting for the Mickey Thompson Aluminum block.
 

toddz

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Wow - that's a very interesting front suspension. A beam axle suspended by torsion bars and located by trailing arms. You mention "pan handle bars". Do you mean panhard bars? As in, they locate the beam laterally?

Very, very cool car, Rory. Following along with this one for sure! It's cool to finally get the history of the car and connect the dots between Larry's ownership and Mickey's ownership.

And whose white Dodge? is that in the background in the pics?

Todd Z.
 

Rory

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Wow - that's a very interesting front suspension. A beam axle suspended by torsion bars and located by trailing arms. You mention "pan handle bars". Do you mean panhard bars? As in, they locate the beam laterally?

Very, very cool car, Rory. Following along with this one for sure! It's cool to finally get the history of the car and connect the dots between Larry's ownership and Mickey's ownership.

And whose white Dodge? is that in the background in the pics?

Todd Z.
Yes, “Panhard” bars, why do I always mess that up?!? Hahahhaha. As for the White Dodge, that’s a cody’s. It’s Rod Halls Dodge from the early to late 80’s. That restoration starts soon, Cody is looking for the right person to get the cage work back to where it needs to be.
 

Rory

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I did a few hours the other day at Swanty’s race shop just because the rear of the car had me wondering. I have some old shocks that came with #Challengeriv and wasn’t sure if all of them went on the car.

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the two lower shocks are 3.0’s and the upper is a 2.5”. All are coil overs but I am missing the coil spring retainer hardware on all of them and misc on the others. I’m pretty sure the 3.0’s are for #Challengeriv and the 2.5 is for #ChallengerIII. Here’s a few more pictures....

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The only way to be sure is to have the rear ended mounted and we need to have some machine work done to the 3rd member to get the axle tubes to slide in flush with the housing...

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For mock up purposes we made it work to see how everything lined up. The spare 3 link bar for #Challengeriv seems like it is the correct size and length but until we can get the rear ended done correctly and cycle it we won’t know for sure...

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I did manage to find some 15x10” Centerline wheels for the rear, a BIG score! Also have a line on some vintage MT Baja Kings (Tires) for the rear, but we’ll wait and see if that pans out.

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here’s a shot of the rear ended mocked up into place, still a long ways to go to make it right but it’s progress in the right direction.

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Another big find was on the motor. We had been looking for any markings on the car and it was hard to find anything with as much dirt/oil on the motor. I went online and found a couple pictures of some Aluminum MT blocks and found out where to look. Sure enough, I squeezed a small wire brush into the area and found this....

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Thats a pretty big find, an original MT Aluminum block motor, built and raced by the man himself, mounted in one of his race cars.

pretty excited so far, especially with a car that is so close to be complete with most all of the original parts still in place. The hardest part about some of these restorations is the guesswork when you dont have all the pieces. Fortunately we have almost everything so that keeps the guesswork to a minimum. Putting this car back together will go much faster then previous projects. Cross your fingers...
 

Rory

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It’s been a pretty busy couple weeks but not in the race shop. I have not been able to do too much work on the car but luckily stuff is still being handled elsewhere. I dropped the rearend off at Tracy Rubio’s shop so he could get the machine work finished. Tracy is currently building a 6100 truck and it is gorgeous......sorry, no pics of the 6100.

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last time I was in the shop I disassembled the front suspension. It was now time to keep moving back towards the motor, so the radiator and steering shafts needed to come out.

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Once those were out of the way I started on the front engine mount located under the crank pulley that extends from one side of the chassis to the other.

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The motor is almost ready to come out so we will need to rotate the crank to unbolt the flex plate from the torque converter. Before we can do that we need to make sure we don’t hurt the motor due to it sitting for so long. All the spark plugs were removed and they looked good with no damage (whew). We pumped in some Marvel Mystery oil in all cylinders and will let them soak for a day or two...

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While that’s happening we will slowly start wiping off all the dirt and grime from the chassis. Once the motor and trans are out it will be a pretty easy process to clean up the rear of the car and then all the parts. There will be a lot of detail work that will chew up a bunch of hours, something most people wouldn’t think would take that long but it does. As you can see we have started that process at the front bumper by cleaning off all the big stuff, more detail work to come.

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Power washing the chassis is on the to do list once we get the car down to the bare chassis, then it will be painstakingly put back together. More to come.....
 

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Rory

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you Are leaving the og steering wheel on it ?that thing is ultra cool

Of course, everything that’s on the car now is staying, nothing new unless we need it to help complete the car.....like rear shocks.

Tracy Rubio (TNC Metal Fab) finished the rear-end in record time, I wasn’t expecting it for another week or two, Thanks Tracy. With the 3rd member mounted to the titanium axle tubes we can now measure the rear shocks and have them made. We also have to make sure the 3 link off of #Challengeriv is the correct fit so we can have another one built.

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Once I picked up the rear-end from Tracy I dropped it off at Swantys race shop. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to mount it on the car but I might do that today....just because I’m anxious to see how it fits.

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Also, I’m still looking for 2 front tires for this car. Looking for 33x14.50x15 Mickey Thompson Baja Belted tires. Not sure if they made a 30-31” tire in this style but would consider them if they were the same width (14.50). If you know of anyone with a set (2) of these tires PLEASE let me know. Picture for reference below...

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I will post more pictures of the rear-end mounted when it’s bolted in. Time to tune into the Baja 400 race as it is starting shortly. 😬
 

Bro_Gill

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Warpy, don't think they did them that wide. I had both 30x9.50 and 31x11.5 in that tread back in the day. I think the 11.5 was as wide as they made the 31s.
 

Rory

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Warpy, don't think they did them that wide. I had both 30x9.50 and 31x11.5 in that tread back in the day. I think the 11.5 was as wide as they made the 31s.
Martin, I’m pretty sure they made them that wide because I have the same size on #Challengeriv right now 😬.
 
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