The Perfect Afternoon
Firing It Up

Ah yes, the middle of February. It’s the time where after months of winter the first teases of spring begin to show up, and for car enthusiasts this is a very good thing.

It’s when our thoughts begin turning to driving, events and the promise of a new season.

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Sure, living in this place called California means that we can generally enjoy our automotive hobby all year round, but this winter has been abnormally wet and cold on the West Coast. And thus, our project and ‘fun’ cars have had to stay in the garage more than they should’ve.

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However, after weeks of rain we’ve recently been greeted with some perfect late-winter weather here in Central California, and I decided to use the opportunity to spend the day taking Project Yankee – my 1975 Dodge Dart – on a little shakedown cruise.

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Since the Dart’s SEMA debut back in November last year, I’ve taken it for quite a few test drives and short trips around town, but this time I wanted to stretch it a little further and head out into the nearby Sierra Nevada foothills. With the engine still undergoing its break-in period, I also figured this would be a great chance to put some miles on her.

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Typically, my wife is happy to tag along and serve as co-pilot during these trips, but since she is almost eight months pregnant at the moment, strapping into full bucket seats and racing harnesses probably wasn’t a good idea. So I asked my buddy John if he wanted to tag along in his Subaru Impreza STI as a wingman, and off we set with 12 cylinders, eight RAYS wheels and three differentials spread between us. First up was a stop at the gas station to top-off with fuel.


Driving a car that’s this unusual always makes simple tasks like filling up with gas entertaining, and this time was no different. Some people are just excited to see an old, loud, purple car, and others are curious about the individual modifications.

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The Volk Racing TE37Vs in particular have already received a ton of comments while out cruising around. It’s interesting because there are a lot of people who can identify the wheels and a lot of people that can identify the car, but not too many who can do both. That’s all part of the fun of Project Yankee.

After filling up, we got on the road and headed north out of town toward the foothills.

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The idea of having a modern HEMI crate engine is that you shouldn’t have to worry about something going wrong every time you take a drive, but given that every major mechanical component has been modified and changed here, I think it’s normal to feel a little anxious.

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So far so good though. Cruising along at 70mph everything feels right, and thanks to the overdrive fourth gear the engine is sitting at a very reasonable RPM, even with the aggressive 3.73 rear end gears.

Cruising The Lake
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Our destination for the afternoon was Millerton Lake, a popular recreation spot for Central Valley residents that also happens to be surrounded by some very cool driving roads.

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On summer weekends the place is typically filled with boaters, and even in February there were quite a few people at the lake enjoying the greenery and the views of the snow-capped Sierras in the distance.

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The wide open spaces of the lake made for some great photo locations, and we used the opportunity to grab some shots of the Dodge and the Subaru together.

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John bought his 2007 STI brand new, and it has served reliably as his daily driver for the decade since. It’s something I’m very envious of considering my tendency to switch cars way too often.

Over the years he’s done a lot of different upgrades, including some basic suspension work, mild performance bolt-ons, and a set of 18-inch RAYS Gram Lights 57DR wheels to complete the black-on-black look.

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And speaking of wheels, each time I drive and photograph Project Yankee I’m able to soak in more of its details, like the fitment. There was a lot of guesswork involved with the sizes of the TE37Vs (17×9-inch -10 up front and 17×10-inch -20 in the rear) and the Toyo Proxes R888s (255/40R17 and 275/40R17 respectively), but I couldn’t be more happy with how it all came out.

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And the wheels are also one of the first things people ask me about when they see the car. Modern forged Japanese wheels on a 1970s American car might be unusual, but the look is so natural. As they say, TE37s look good on everything.

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After relaxing a bit and soaking up some of the scenery, John and I decided to cruise around the lake and look for some more cool spots. You may have heard in the news about the possibility of dams breaking in Northern California, but despite the high water level there’s no such problems here.

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Before we realized it the light was beginning to fade, so we decided to fire the cars up and head back towards town. Rumbling through the hills with our combination of Subaru flat-four and Mopar V8 sounds, we drew strange looks from many hikers and cyclists along the way.

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As I mentioned earlier, I’m still waiting for the break-in period to be over before I can really attack some corners in this car, but even at normal speeds it can’t be overstated just how much of a difference the Hotchkis equipment makes, especially when combined with the wide and sticky R888s. I cannot wait to have this car on a race track and really let loose.

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But even on the street the Dart is incredibly fun. I lost count of how many thumbs-ups and head nods I got, both from gear-heads and non gear-heads alike. During our drive, we spotted a few other enthusiasts out enjoying the weather, including a Ferrari 330GT, a Shelby Cobra replica and a brand new Ford Focus RS. Central California’s car culture is not to be overlooked.

Ready For Spring
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Back into the traffic of the city, I was once again reminded of just how docile Project Yankee is around town. With the headers and side-exit exhaust it’s loud on start up and loud when you get into the throttle, but around town it idles and cruises with the smoothness of a brand new car.

We made one more stop for some photos, setting off many car alarms as we snaked our way to the top of a multi-story parking structure. When driving this car, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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A rally-bred Subaru and a heavily-modified Dodge from the ’70s – the two cars could hardly be more different. But to me, this contrast is exactly what makes cars so fun. Just about all of my friends are into cars, but we all own different types and get along perfectly fine and enjoy riding in, driving and wrenching on each others machines. That’s how it should be.

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With the sun disappearing over the horizon, it was time for this lovely Sunday drive to come to an end. But not before one last stop for some food.

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And where else but the California institution known as In-N-Out Burger. In these parts there’s never one far away.

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It was fantastic to get Project Yankee out on the road and put some miles under its belt, enjoying some great roads and some cool photo opportunities along the way. But at the end of the day I wanted more.

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More than anything, our drive got me even more excited for the warmer weather and event season that’s quickly approaching. Spring will be here in a matter of weeks and Project Yankee could not be more ready.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: japanifornia

Additional Images by John Airola

Cutting Room Floor
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Joe Terrell @ Drifted

It's great to see you using the car Mike, so many people build their projects and never actually use them. It's posts like this that help motivate me to plan a road trip or two for this summer. Keep up the good work and keep posting about this nuts car :-)


Glad you enjoyed it! My plan from the beginning was to build a driver, the SEMA opportunity certainly changed the scope of the build but not the purpose. I'm planning to a lot of miles on this thing!




Lol dat hard parking at the Riverpark In-N-Out!

You should take Project Yankee out for a cruise through Wonder Valley!! Take the Shaw route and go all the way through Trimmer and around Pine Flat for maximal enjoyment!

great stuff m8


Thanks man! There's so many great roads out there, gonna have fun exploring them all.


Overall i like how Project Yankee came out, one minor detail i would do if it was mine would be to paint the center part of your hubs bronze to match the wheels. Just a minor thing but it sticks out to me.


Wouldn't be too hard to do. Although I don't hate the contrast. Maybe sometime later?


Awesome photos! Project Yankee is so unbelieveable cool. Keep up the updates. ;)


Thanks a lot!


the purple on bronze wheels looks really good. the random stickers on it look bad.


Well they aren't really "random" but, it's certainly easy enough to take them off should I feel like it haha.


I'm sorry... but you are wrong on that one bud.


Ever think about changing the bumpers ... maybe something that isn't chrome? Rear bumper feels inferior to the rest of the car


Not that I dislike a bit of chrome, but I actually have some cool ideas for the bumpers that may get executed on "Project Yankee V2" haha.


Lol in the northeast February is like the coldest month.


Oh how I love California lol.


Sorry to sounds like an asshole, but wouldn't there be four differentials between the two cars? - one in the dart and three in the STi?


I thought that too, as soon as I read it. Front, center and rear on the STi, rear on the Dart.


I'm a Nissan guy into mostly 80's/90's Japanese cars. That being said, your Purple Dart is RAW as HELL man. Keep doin exactly what you're doin with it.


Thanks much! Means a lot!

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Still rad as hell, this thing. Put it on a race grid with classic Japanese racers and it'll more than hold its own in terms of looks.

And congrats on your next child Mike!


Thank you sir! Maybe I can get them to let me into JCCS haha?


This is seriously my favorite car to follow these days. I love all of the blend of different styles you put on it. It just different enough that it's on that fine line, and the car seems subtle enough that only real car enthusiasts will see it in a sea of traffic.
I can't wait till you go back to the baby blue color with it. :)


"the car seems subtle enough that only real car enthusiasts will see it in a sea of traffic" Purple car, black hood, bronze wheels, side exit pipes is subtle?! Id love to see what you think is bold lol. Love the car tho!


It's not a Liberty Walk Exotic, not Kyusha, not stanced, not straight piped (if i remember correctly), and doesn't have a gigantic "hey look at me" wing. Kinda seems subtle to me other than being purple.
Maybe it's just because I'm used to seeing neon colored Mustangs, Chargers, and Camaros.


Haha fair enough, dont give anyone any ideas though! We definitely dont need any Liberty Walk straight piped stanced kyusha Gt winged neon Mustangs cruising around!


Thanks Aaron. Yeah it certainly gets different reactions depending on the kind of person who sees it. It's a lot of fun.


Congrats on the kid Mike!
Please tell me you guys did a roll-on!


Thanks! And there may have been just a bit of that ;)


Really awesome build Mike, hope you hang onto it for a while. You should do a Speedhunters cruise. I'd love to be a part of that.


That's a really good idea actually. Will have to consider something like that in the future.


I'm sure that it would draw a fairly big audience. It would be a nice way for people to connect and would give you a few photo ops I'm sure.


I thought that was Old Calaveras in Milpitas in the first picture, I love taking the ol' 02 out through the hills. Gotta love Bay Area hill drives ;)


Or Nor Cal, not sure where this is HAH


What does "Japanifornia" mean?


Japan + California :)


I thought people don't want to break in their motor using single constant speed... I'm going to break in my rebuilt L28 soon and all the break in method online is really confusing.


Such a sweet car, Mike. Every time I see it on Instagram, I spend about half an hour trying to find some Marchals for my old Jeep. Happy to see it being used, and not stowed away.


Lots more driving to come!


That Dodge needs a tsurikawa, senjafuda style race club decals & a crystal gear knob to achieve the retro JDM look!




Speedhunters should consider making In-n-Out one of their sponsors ;)


A lifetime supply of Double Doubles for everyone!


Isn't it four diffs? eh the thought is there.

for some reason I missed the intro's to this car, too bad it's not a "related" article.

Looks like a great drive with some fresh air.


Nice Story, nice Pics - looks like a really nice Sunday..

But.. Is it allready rusty? The paint job was just a few weeks ago, or am i missing something?


Not paint, it's a wrap.


(by the way - i love the look of the car ;-) )


Does this car call Fresno home? Would be rad to see it at the Kingsburg car show or similar local event...


Clovis actually :) Def planning to hit some events this season. Can't wait.


Based on how all the pics are from in and around Fresno I'd think so.

PS- thanks for the reminder about that car show!


How come you don't come out to the Fresno meets? Well at least CnC when the higher end cars come out.


Planning to to head out this weekend. Weather should be nice!


Great to see a SEMA car being used, Mike. Bet it turns some heads!


Too many thumbs up to count haha.