the car junkie daily magazine.


The Charger, Part 7: The Carlisle Crunch And Death By A Thousand Bushings

The Charger, Part 7: The Carlisle Crunch And Death By A Thousand Bushings

It’s been one year since the last update on my ’76 Dodge Charger. And I couldn’t be happier about that, because it means one thing: it lives. Compared to the fun I had with the Raven Imperial, the big B-body Mopar has been fantastic. It’s not perfect, but aside from the self-removing clear coat that is a serious irritation, overall the Charger has done very well for itself. I tried putting the car up for the winter and that only lasted as long as the weather sucked. If the weather was decent, I couldn’t help myself…I wanted to break out the loud car and drive it. So, according to the replacement speedometer, I’ve put on over 7,000 miles on the car since it came home. If I still believed the “low mile, well-treated” line, then I might not be happy about that. Luckily, the car is only low-mile where that counts, because all signs point to a well-kept but well-used machine. Let me bring you up to speed from where I left off last July…

Once the fall weather switched from “lovely” to “gray, cold crap”, the Charger went up on the jack stands for some attention to the brakes. Nothing was really worrisome up front, just some fresh pads for now. The rears, however, needed some assistance.

On one wheel, I located Mr. Frog, who unfortunately must’ve lucked out and got stuck in the wheel during a rainstorm and…well, never made it back out. Sorry, buddy.

[facepalm] well, that’s one explanation for my 70-mph vibration.

And there’s the noise I had kept hearing. Nothing dramatic, just some worn parts. New hardware, new drums and shoes, done and done.

Once winter weather moved on, I got back to work. Unfortunately, the work I did on the heater core last time didn’t take. In addition, I wanted to get to work on the gauge cluster again, so I went in deep and pulled the entire dash structure, frame and all, out of the car.

With the heater core sent off for repair…again…I got to work on a bigger project. I bought a Rally dash cluster that was raided from the remains of a Dodge Magnum. I shipped it and the gauge fascia off for some tweaking, which will be shown when I get the cluster back. In the meantime, thinking that I was just waiting on that to be finished, I relaxed a bit. I threw the dash back in (a bit half-assed, I’ll admit) so I could drive it more.

Then I got the news:

So here’s what happened: long-term readers might remember the car that preceded the Charger, the Imperial. Well, the guy who bought that car, Kyle Karp, runs a deal at Chryslers at Carlisle that celebrates Mopars that fall directly into the “unloved” category. Guess who fits in just fine? Yep. The Charger has an invitation to be a display car outside of Building Y this year. Part of me is over the moon that the car is good enough for that. Part of me thinks that they’ll reconsider once they see the car in person. But a rare, third voice popped up just in the nick of time, and it asked if the Charger could make the trip at all.

Over the last month, I’ve been thrashing on the car, a-holes and elbows, to get it ready to make the drive. The dash structure is installed properly, with the heater core hooked up and all. Since my dash face went with the cluster for [reasons], I used a junkyard-find 1979 300’s face that was modified to work. The audio system is the best that Bluetooth offers and I ran out of time before I could start on the air conditioning. I even bought door glass weatherstripping thinking that I would get to those before the trip. But they are glued in and that means scraping, sanding, gluing, setting and most important on a car with non-functional air conditioning, no open windows, so that’ll happen after I get back. But the ultimate in fear came when I looked at the front suspension. The K-member bushings, which have been suspect from the start, have been chunking themselves out of the car at an alarming rate, and the upper control arm bushings were virtually non-existent. If I’m going to drive this pile 1,300 miles to Carlisle and back…and I AM going to drive this car…then they had to be replaced. All of it.

K-member mount bushings look simple enough: with the car in the air and a jack under the K-member, loosen the mount bolts, then one by one replace, then tighten and torque. Easy enough. With a set of polyurethane bushings at the ready and an impact gun on standby, I expected this to be a two-afternoon job. Oh, how wrong I was. You see, I figured that with the bolts loose, the K-member would droop and that at the worst, minor leverage would be needed. I couldn’t be more wrong if I tried. Five days later, I’ve got Haley’s father and uncle helping, every single one of my crowbars, a proper door-breaker crowbar, and a freaking tanker bar on hand. All of the old bushings got Sawzall’d out of the way, and each new bushing went in with my big ass standing on the bar while the other two guys helped to get the new equipment into place. I am sincerely amazed that my neighbors didn’t file a complaint during this “fun”.

Compared, the upper control arms were a breeze. I’ve had my eye on Firm Feel’s catalog for many years but never pulled the trigger on buying anything. Between the absolutely rotted bushings and the potential for additional damage, I called an audible and sprung for a set of their 1973-1979 tubular upper control arms for Mopar B-body vehicles. Not only would I get trick parts, but I wouldn’t have to do anything involving the ball joints, since they were pre-installed. With two weeks to go, the box of goodies arrived on my doorstep and with weather on the way, the Charger moved into the garage for the teardown. After busting the upper ball joints loose with extreme prejudice, it’s four bolts and the whole upper control arm assembly comes out of the car. A bit of bench work is involved to separate the upper control arm shaft from the rest of the assembly, but at least the bushings gave me no issue…what little remained was easily pushed out with a small flathead screwdriver.

You ever get the feeling that things are going just a little too well? Yep, that got me. The passenger side system went in without a hitch. Not one. Buoyed by that success, I went to start assembling the driver’s side and ran into a major freaking hangup. In the above picture, you can see that the upper control rod does not go through the bushing eyelet. The bushings did not go into the eyelet, either, not even with grease. On these cars, that rod slides through both eyelets, then has a bushing with a sleeve that is capped on the outer ends by a large washer and nut. If the rod can’t go through, and the bushing doesn’t fit, then I’m far up a certain creek and my paddle has vanished into the ether. This was on a Thursday. I called Firm Feel that instant, got their voicemail, explained what the problem was and that I was in serious trouble. Kudos to them, they called me Friday morning, and after a few minutes of discussion proceeded to send me another driver’s side A-arm and a return slip so I could send back the bad one. This is with a week to go, mind you. I’ve never checked UPS Tracking more in my life than for this one box. At one point, the timeline looked so tight that I would’ve had the car aligned, then would have had to immediately hit the road, no questions asked, to make it to Carlisle. How people deal with “SEMA crunch” kind of builds without heart failure is beyond me. Happily, for once, UPS beat their deadline and delivered the new part on Thursday evening. By Friday evening the Charger was down on the ground and was taking its first few steps with the new parts.

As of writing, all that the Charger needs is a bath, an alignment (scheduled for Monday morning) and to be packed up. I can’t think of a better way to break in the new parts like thousands of miles on the road, can you? Given that the old stuff felt okay around town, the Char-doba should feel pretty sporty now. But without getting ahead of myself, this trip will be a milestone: the car’s last road trip of measure was when I drove it down to Vice Grip Garage’s shop, which is something like 300 miles round-trip, and that was a bit of a sketchy drive. If all goes well, the Charger will meet one major goal: being Interstate-worthy.

Need to catch up? 

  • Share This
  • Pinterest
  • 0

One thought on “The Charger, Part 7: The Carlisle Crunch And Death By A Thousand Bushings

  1. 69rrboy

    Can’t wait to see that thing in person. Good luck with your trip.

    I’m worried about getting my stuff there without issues and I’m 12 miles away!!

Comments are closed.