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Project Raven: The Engine (And I Swear, The End of Story Time!)

Project Raven: The Engine (And I Swear, The End of Story Time!)

The story of the Imperial’s build truly starts in December, 2010. I was preparing to move from Washington State to Arizona to attend college. The Mirada was running great…and then, one day, it just…well, didn’t. The first lookover found a carburetor filled with gummed up gas, which a quick cleaning took care of. I even thrashed it at an autocross the next day, which taught me about fuel starvation in corners and just what a worn-out suspension can do when pushed to the limit. But one week later I came out of my apartment to a mixture of oil, transmission fluid, coolant and rainwater. That’s when I knew the engine was on borrowed time. I had a friend follow me a few miles and up one big-ass hill to my stepdad’s place, and I left the car there, with the promise that I would send money to get the engine rebuilt, better than it was.


For all of 2011, my luck with cars was non-existant. The 2006 Monte Carlo SS I had called it quits after about a month in Arizona, and a 2005 Mustang took its place. I was focused on getting grades, though I sent a little bit of money every now and then to get the ball rolling. About October, I learned that I would be at an internship in Washington State, which would provide a perfect excuse to bring the Dodge to Arizona. I sent the remainder of the bill so that the engine would get finished, and I got to first hear it (over the phone) in Feburary.


The motor is the Mirada’s original 318. I have receipts on pretty much everything for the rebuild except for one thing: the camshaft. All I know is that it’s “a couple of steps past an RV cam”…which doesn’t tell me squat. I do know that the heads were cleaned up, the block was lightly decked, it was bored .010 over, and that the smog ports in the heads were plugged. An Edelbrock Performer manifold and Carter 625 replaced the Carter BBD and stock manifold. The A904 was given a shift kit and a quick lookover, and I had already swapped in the rearend. It might be pushing 300-325hp, which is fine for the budget I had, but I want more. Lots more. And I know the limitations on a 318 build, so I’m picturing either a 360-based build or a new Hemi. I’ve done a big-block into a Diplomat before, and I didn’t like how it felt driving.

When I took delivery, I was stunned at the motor. While it’s a mild build,  it was leaps and bounds over the original power levels. I found myself drifting wet on-ramps as I was leaving work in Second gear. I snapped the speedometer one night while racing a Lexus IS-F in the Seattle tunnels. All in all, I was very happy with the car. It’s only drawback was a tendency to eat oil (caused by a Chrysler PCV valve in a port designed for a Chevrolet PCV) and one instance of the breather blowing off and getting eaten by the fan blades.

Originally, I wanted to restore the Imperial. The engine was together, it still had the EFI system on the 318, and using B12 Chemtool carb cleaner, the motor would run. But the lines were shot and the tank was rusted. My next step was an engine swap, where I would end up turning the Mirada into a bomber, and run it at the race tracks around Chino Valley and Prescott Valley. When I found that the passenger rear subframe area was seriously rusting out, I scrapped that idea and focused on getting the Imperial together.

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With the help of a ton of friends, I parked both cars in the backyard of the house I was renting and got to it. The major engine swap was done in two days in October, 2012. But the minor things drug out as the car sat in the garage, either to bad weather, cost, or just pure laziness. Electrical checks didn’t occur until after the first of the year, and the car didn’t start under it’s own power until February, 2013. I drove it with open headers for a couple of days, much to the ire of my neighbors and campus, before I had the 2-into-1 3” exhaust installed.  The car was stored over the summer while I lived in Kentucky, and I got to work making it a daily driver over the course of the fall. In October ’13, after trying to figure out why the car had a violent shake above 65mph, I caved and bought the American Racing wheels and tires for the car…which cured everything.

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Ready or not, after graduation I drove the car across country with my wife. From there, the story is pretty basic: I ended up as a quick cameo on an episode of Roadkill after Finnegan and Freiburger saved my ass outside a hotel in Oklahoma.(By the way, if you two are reading this, thank you for not making too much fun of my hacked-together wiring. I appreciate it.)  I’ve put about 14,000mi on the car since the swap. I’ve hauled it down the track at Beech Bend, daily-drive it to work, and have cruised it at Somernites. It ain’t fast, but it’s fun and it’s reliable enough to use everyday, which is already a win for a car that was left for dead in a field.

Now that the story is caught up, it’s time for me to get to making this thing better than it is now.  I’d like it to be faster, but I don’t want to compromise its drivability. I want it to look better, but I’ve got to get some work done first.

 If you want to catch up on the Imperial’s build in better detail, from the day I drug it home to now, you can read the forum thread here.

 If you want to check out the Mirada’s story from start to finish, including all the fun you could ever have with fixing your dash lights, you can read it here.


Click the link below to watch a pass in the Imperial from Beech Bend. [email protected] is NOT fast.



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10 thoughts on “Project Raven: The Engine (And I Swear, The End of Story Time!)

  1. Nick D.

    Oh, okay, I remember this car from that episode of Roadkill now. Very interested to see where it goes from here. The M-bodies are some underappreciated cars, for sure.

  2. Cletus T Rickenbacher 3rd

    So ya wanna go faster? Hunt down an E-58 360 and put a mild build on it. 400-450 horsepower(at the crank) is easily achieved. You could start with a base, E-57, 360 but the E-58 has better internal parts. No weight penalty, but you will have to upgrade the rest of the running gear.

    Ain’t no replacement for displacement.

  3. 440 6pac

    A three mild built 360 will do wonders for you Imperial.
    I’m going with a 318 for my Imperial. My granddaughter needs a car for college so the build I planned is going on hold for 4 years.

  4. Bryan McTaggart Post author

    I’d like to stay small-block, but these cars need torque like none other. The curb weight of a typical J-body Imperial is 4,140lb. That’s damn heavy for a car this size, but it’s also unrealistic to lose a majority of the weight…it’s the thickness of the sheetmetal that accounts for a lot of it. I’m still nowhere near “new engine” money yet, so the 323ci will continue to drag this heavy ass along for a while.

    1. Cletus T Rickenbacher 3rd

      Torque is gonna be hard to come by unless you go to a big block. 318 was factory 255 Lb/Ft @1600 rpm 360 was 280 Lb/Ft @ 2400(E-57) or 3200(E-58) rpm(1976 spec’s). You can however cam the motor to get a different torque curve,as I’m sure you know.

      Maybe save your pennies, collect scrap for recycling, sell blood, etc, and just dump in a 400 with a stroker crank out to 451.

    2. Matt Cramer

      Instead of saving up for a new engine, how about saving up for a positive displacement blower?

  5. malibumonte78

    I thought that was the car that was on roadkill when you introduced it. What is the story on the 57 in the garage at your rental house?

    1. Bryan McTaggart Post author

      Belongs to the landlord, a very cool guy. The whole time I was there, he kept mentioning that he wanted to bring it out into the light, but every time I got serious about it he recanted. It’s a dead-stock six cylinder four door that needs a little bodywork, little interior work, and a ton of rechroming. It isn’t for sale..ever, I think.

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