As I sit here and write this, there are less than three weeks left until the official opening of the 2016 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. And for the first time in my life, I’m feeling the so-called ‘SEMA crunch’.
I’ve attended the annual industry event as a member of the media for seven years straight now, but going to SEMA to show a car is something I’ve never done before.
Putting together a car with such a tight deadline has been a challenge to say the least, but I’m confident we’ll have a pretty cool piece of machinery to show off next month in Vegas. But more importantly, I’m hoping to end up with a car that I can enjoy driving for many years to come.
When we last left off we’d just finished test-fitting a set of staggered 17-inch RAYS Volk Racing TE37V wheels with matching Toyo Proxes R888 tires. I was extremely happy with how the wheels and tires visually sat on Project Yankee, but I also knew there’d be a difference between them fitting under the fenders in a static position and actually functioning out on the road.
The idea of playing with the fenders was something on the radar since I first started this project last year. At one point I envisioned the car having a set of bolt-on flares to help complete the kyusha-inspired look, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to keep the body lines stock – or at least close to original. With wide-body flares and over-fenders starting to appear on almost every customized car under the sun, I thought it might be better to keep things simple.
And once I saw how the RAYS wheels matched up with the original fenders, I knew this was the right choice. However, it was also obvious that the tires were going to rub like crazy and interfere with the bodywork once the car was moving.
The big 17x9s and 255s looked perfect up front, but they were already binding on the fenders at full steering lock and that would need to be fixed.
The solution? Pull the hell out of the front fenders for our own grassroots ‘wide-body’. I’ve rolled fender lips and done other quick fixes to fit wide wheels on my previous cars, but nothing to this degree.
With the help of Matt and the Caliber Customs guys, we came up with a solution that saw the stock metal front fenders hand-widened by about two inches. There’s always some nervousness when you start altering bodywork, but I was really happy with how the front fenders came out. It’s a function-first modification, but I also think it brings just the right amount of attitude while still looking stock from a distance.
Initially, it seemed like the rear would just need a minor fender roll and we’d be good to go, but it actually turned out to be even more involved than the front.
That’s because not only were there deep, sharp lips inside the rear fenders, but the unibody itself came in right on top. It was nothing, however, that a little cutting and welding wouldn’t take care of.
The inner lips were completely cut off the fenders and the portions of bodywork that impeded towards the rear tires were trimmed back and patched with new metal.
It’s not quite tubbing the rear, but our solution essentially achieves the same thing. And there’s plenty of extra room should I decide to go with an even wider tire at some point in the future.Slimming It Down
Like other American cars from the mid-1970s, my ’75 Dart Sport came with large bumpers that were necessary to comply with the federal crash standards of the time. Furthermore, the bumpers were mounted with huge shock absorber-style mounts that made them even more unsightly. It’s one of the big reasons these mid-’70s models aren’t as popular as their earlier counterparts.
From the beginning I knew I wanted to do something about the huge bumpers, but I wasn’t quite sure what. Potential options ranged from doing a Dodge Demon front end conversion (which I still have all the parts for), all the way to removing the bumpers entirely and replacing them with tubular bully bars.
After going back and forth many times and watching the rest of the build develop, I decided that for now I’d stick with the original bumpers, but remount them much closer to the body for a cleaner, less obtrusive look.
Out came the cutting torch and welding equipment once more, and the massive shock aborber mounts were cut off and thrown in the garbage. The Caliber guys then fabbed up a set of new low profile mounts for me.
The bumpers are still a little on the heavy side, but the new simpler mounts at least shave a few additional pounds off the nose of the car.
Here’s the new front end with the original bumper tucked up much closer to the body – several inches closer in some spots. Scroll up a few images and you can compare the before and after.
We did the same thing in the rear. Here’s the back bumper as it looked before with the shock mounts and that weird piece of plastic between the bumper and the body.
And the new look. Much simpler and much cleaner, wouldn’t you say?
What I like most about this option is that it retains the overall look of the car while doing away with a lot of the awkwardness. A ’75 Dart is a car that’s often overlooked in favor of its older, sexier Mopar relatives, and I kind of like keeping some of that funkiness.Up In The Grille
I’ve always dug the raw look of an old race car without a front grille – particularly on the Nissan Skylines of the early-’70s – and wanted to translate that look over to Project Yankee.
Using a spare ’73 Dart grille that I bought on eBay last year, we cut out the inner plastic structure and reused the lower portion to create our own grille frame.
Along with the remounted bumpers, the new grille still keeps Project Yankee recognizable as a ’75 Dart but helps give the car its own personality.
Another idea I’d had for a while was adding a set of fender mirrors. This would be another nod to those aforementioned retro Japanese machines.
I actually found these bullet-style mirrors for sale last month at a swap meet and thought they just might work sitting atop Project Yankee’s front fenders.
I opted for a flat black finish, and after mocking them up for a test fit I was sold on the look.
The mirrors are an inexpensive and small detail, but one I think should stand out nicely once the car’s exterior is complete.
But once again, there’s no time to stop and rest. The to-do list is still very long, with more modifications for the exterior and an interior that needs to be reimagined from the floorpan up.
Up to this point, everything about the project was function related, so being able to play around with some homegrown styling elements has been a whole lot of fun. And there’s plenty more of those to come too.
Stay tuned for more updates on Project Yankee coming very soon!