Getting Started

Its finally time to start on the Polara. Our new house is finished as well as a separate garage for the Deuce so my two car garage can now be dedicated to the restoration/modification of this classic Dodge.

Even though space is limited I feel I'll have enough room to maneuver the car around and complete all the work that needs to be done. It will be tight but if I run out of room to store parts I do have some extra room in the Deuce's garage.

Before bringing the car into the shop I needed to strip the seats and what was left of the headliner out of the car and "de-bug" the car. No reason to bring any unwanted insects or rodents into the work area so this was done outside. Once the seats were removed the car was closed with the windows up and insect bombed twice just to make sure anything that crawls or bites was dead. We do have some insects here that can do you great bodily harm if you let them so a little extra insurance was in order.

You can see in the following pictures car is pretty solid. No metal repairs required int he trunk, back seat area or the majority of the front floors. There is a section on the drivers side foot well that the previous owner patched with fiberglass that I will remove and replace with steel but as far as the floors are concerned, other than a clean up that's about all that will need to be done.

This is an original 383 4 speed car and I spent a lot of time thinking about different options for the drive train. Rebuilding the original 383 was an option but I didn't want to take a chance with the numbers matching engine so the decision was made to eventually rebuild it and store it for a future owner if he or she wanted to return the car to a numbers matching condition.

The possibility of a 451 stroker was also considered, since I happen to have a 400 big block and spare 440 crank handy, but that idea was also shelved since I might want to use that in a future "re-engine" project for the De,uce.

So the final option was to go with a 440 that I also had laying around. It will give me the torque I want, even with a mostly stock rebuild, and will also work well with the overall theme of the build which is a 426 Street Wedge recreation.

I don't intend this to be a "clone" as much as my interpretation of what I would have done with a 426 Street Wedge had I owned one back in the day. Therefore some modern creature comforts will be added such as air conditioning and disk brakes. I'll also be adding some frame stiffing components to add strength to this 52 year old uni-body so it will be easily able to handle the 440.

So with all that said lets get started building the 440. Ideally one would not build the engine for a project first, but in this case I need to get all the boxes full of parts out of my way so assembling rather than storing them seemed to be the best option.

I started with a stock '76 440 block and a forged crank I bought at Carlisle several years ago. My machine shop worked their wonders on the block, boring it .040 over and re-sizing the rods and balancing the rotating assembly so when I picked it up it was ready for assembly. You can see I used stock '72 flat top pistons with no valve reliefs which sit down in the hole far enough to give me a very pump friendly 8.4:1 compression ratio when combined with my 452 casting heads that measured out to 87cc. Like I said before, I'm not going for max horsepower with this build, just a street friendly easy to maintain 426 Street Wedge look-a-like.

I replaced all the rod bolts with ARP units and here you can see the oil pickup that works with the larger capacity oil pan I'm using. It is a 6 quart pan and will ensure I don't run the pan dry with the high volume pump I'm using.

The windage tray did require a small modification to fit the new pickup tube but nothing substantial. Just remember unless you're doing a totally stock rebuild small you will run into some situations where small mods are necessary. This is a prime example of that.

Here you can see the 6 quart oil pan installed. Its similar to the larger ones used for serious racing but its only a couple inches deeper than the stock pan so It won't cause any major ground clearance issues.

When assembling any engine it is imperative to confirm top dead center. This is espeically important when assembling an engine from parts purchased separately.

Using a degree wheel and piston stop makes this an easy task that only takes a couple minutes. In this case it confirmed that the marker on my timing chain cover was off by 3 degrees. The appropriate adjustment was made to the marker and the build moved on.

I used head studs simply because I like them. I had to buy head bolts anyway and the cost of studs was not much more than a set of ARP bolts would have been. I knew that I'd be pulling the heads on and off several times checking piston to valve clearance and pushrod length so studs just made sense.

I mentioned earlier the heads were 452 castings. My machine shop did a complete rebuild, added new valves and assembled everything using the springs I provided that will go with the cam I'm using. When I got them home I cc'd all the chambers and although there were some minor variations the average chamber turned out to be 87cc. This is slightly smaller than advertised for these heads but makes sense given that they were surfaced at the machine shop.

Here is where the engine stands today. The air conditioning compressor is mounted on the driver's side just about where the power steering pump would be, if the car was so equipped. Mine is not. Back in the day it was somewhat unusual to have a 4 speed car equipped with power steering. There was a fear that one could jerk the wheel when power shifting and put the car out of control so manual boxes were the norm. This was not an unreasonable fear either, given that the shifters of the day were not as slick as those we use now days.

You might also be wondering why the block is painted turquoise instead of the more common hemi orange that would be found in the typical Mopar muscle car of the late 60's and 70's. Back in '64 the only big block engines that were orange were the Max Wedges. All other big blocks, including the Street Wedge were this turquoise color.

Because I'm building the engine first, it will sit on the engine stand for several months before it goes in the car. To add a little insurance and piece of mind I added an additional support that bolts to the front motor mounts and supports the front of the engine. This limits the stress on the rear support of the stand. It took a few feet of 2" square tubing and about 15 minutes to slap together. The extra piece of mind was well worth the effort.

That's it for now. I'm stuck at the moment waiting for parts to arrive to complete the engine build.

Check back often for more updates...

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