Made in Detroit to
Drive on Woodward™
About the Detroit Shaker
It seems that as time rolls on it’s our memories that link us to our past.
If you’re a car person who loves the old 50's, 60's and 70's Muscle Cars, Hot Rods and Race Cars, you’re certainly not alone. Just show up in the Detroit Michigan area in the summer months, find Woodward Avenue and you'll find yourself rolling down memory lane.
The Woodward Dream Cruise is the world’s largest one day car event. It draws 1.5 million people from around the world!
If you live in Michigan and you enjoy cars, you know that the summers last but a few fleeting months. The time spent leading up to and after “The Cruise” on Woodward is very much cherished.
There's a simple and pure joy in driving these cars and being with family and friends. Sadly though as the years pass, we have lost friends that meant so much to us. This too is a time to look back on the wonderful memories that we've all had together on Woodward. There truly is an emotional connection between the people and their cars. In many ways, Woodward is a venue for fond memories to stay alive and a way to create new ones.
For many of us in the Detroit area, there has always been a few special places that we have cruised and raced our cars. Places like Gratiot Avenue, Telegraph Road, and Fort Street. But the King of them all is Woodward Avenue “THE BIG STREET”.
Woodward Avenue is alive and well for dedicated car enthusiasts. It has changed over the years and no doubt will continue to do so as will the cars themselves.
One wonders if in the future the ’rumble’ of 4 stroke 12 to 1 engines will be replaced by the ‘whirring’ electric motor driven cars cruising our beloved Woodward Avenue. Cars that replace ’screeching tires’ and ’slamming shifts’ with satellite linked radio emanating the latest music from it's speakers? It’s easy to paint that picture if we look at how much some of us have seen it change in the last 40 years.
With that in mind, the groundwork for my story is has been laid. I would like to talk about why the car I call the “DETROIT SHAKER” was built.
Over the years I've built several street cars, not only for myself, but for others. Cars that the owners could be proud of, and vehicles they would hopefully enjoy for years to come. And not just enjoyment for the owners, but to most everyone who saw them, whether cruising down the road or parked at a show.
Some time back my life long friend Corey Hulopko would say to me, “Mike, you should build an A/FX Altered Wheel Base car”. I have to say, the thought of that was enough to make my creative juices flow and I thought long and hard about taking on such a project. It wasn't too long after that my son, Brandon began to push me toward such a venture. He even found the perfect car to start with. The ’jewel’ turned up in the backyard of the Hot Rod Shop located in down town “Old Colorado Springs”.
The car, which we eventually named the “DETROIT SHAKER”, was in grave disorder, to say the least. (See Pictures) It made me think of my friend Gary Kopera saying some years back, “When I see you pass a car up I know it’s too far gone to be restored”. I never figured out if he was insulting or complimenting me.
After returning home with our find, I looked it over closely and determined this car was the biggest piece of junk I'd ever laid eyes on. Worst of all, I bought it for chunk of money that I'm too embarrassed to disclose. On the trip home from Colorado Springs, I traveled north to Calhan, Colorado. Webbs Junk Yard is out there and is quite a big place with hundreds of old cars. Prowling the rows of dilapidated cars and trucks, I quickly found a 65 A100 Dodge Van and cut the straight front axle out of it. My thought was that the straight axle would give the Altered a little crazier look, more than the original style factory torsion bar setup.
My outlook was to build this car as a period correct replica of the old gasser style altered wheel base cars. This car would be a street driven car, not just a sole purpose drag car. I envisioned an outstanding vehicle to be driven on “BIG STREET” with the intention of bringing back those memories of 40 years ago. A time when many of us watched our hero's drive those Altered Wheel Base cars. I wanted it to be the type of car that would make people feel good when they see it, to make their trip to the “BIG STREET” a special experience. This is not the only car out there to do that, there are dozens of fantastically built vehicles on any given night of the summer, hundreds show up 2 to 3 weeks before the Woodward Dream Cruise.
The time came to start on the modifications to the car which would transform it into an Altered Wheel Base. John Grietzell the owner of Mag Machine in Wyandotte, Michigan rented me a part of his shop to do the conversion I had in mind. Being a flat machine shop floor it provided me with an ideal work surface. We gutted body shell and blasted every part to bare metal before bringing it into his shop. I sprayed it inside and out with a white epoxy sealer before the necessary cutting could begin.
Over the next 6 months a few friends, John Grietzell, Corey Holupko, Mark Milosovich, and Ralph Ruffini assisted in the modifications to the body shell. It was an interesting work place. A significant number of friendly insults were tossed about. With all the bantering aside, we managed to keep the project moving forward.
The car was braced, cross braced, leveled, and scribbled on, telling us where to cut. When we were sure of our mock-up, we then cut vehicle into the required big chunks. The worst thing that could have happened after such a dissection would have been to be off on our measurements. If I failed there, I would have ended up with just a lot of scrap metal. A lot rested on those initial calculations. The reader can go to the pictures and follow the progression of these preliminary modifications. The original Chrysler modifications to the wheel base were 10” to the front and 15” in the rear. Back in their day, they were referred to as 10/15 Cars.
As with many projects, as time moved along, those friends lending their much appreciated assistance began returning to their own lives. Before long, I noticed I was left alone with my venture. I trudged on.
When the welding and metal work were completed, the car was brought home. Set up in my garage, the finish bodywork was started. I had been filling and sanding for about a week, when one afternoon I was sitting on a bucket blocking the drivers side quarter panel and noticed John Stark pulling into my driveway. He stood behind me watching as I muddled along. I knew I was about to be humbled. John is well known around Detroit as a very gifted body and paint man, his resume is long and impressive.
As I sat there blocking the quarter panel, my friend knocked my bucket from under me. There I was sitting on the ground listening to him say, “You don't know what the #!@&$! your doing!, get out of the way”. He pushed me aside and took over the work. Fortunately, his help didn’t end there, for the next 12 Sunday's John would come over and work hard all day long. My friend Gary Cowan would stop by to see the progress. He and I would watch as John transformed each panel into a work of art. Every time that I would pick up a piece of sandpaper he would stop me. I eventually got the hint.
Another friend, Mark Milosovich showed up one day and wanted to do something so John put him to work sanding the floor pan and the underside of the car. When Mark left that day his finger tips were raw from the sandpaper. John re-sanded everything anyway. We learned to let him work and just provide him with the materials he asked for. And stay out of the way.
Painting the car was next, and I had been offered the use of a paint booth. John said, “No thanks , I'll paint it in my garage”. John has nothing in his garage, nothing! There's two 60 watt bulbs and that's it. I asked John if he was serious, and he said he'd been painting in there for 40 years and it would be just fine, don't worry. I think everyone that went over afterwards to see how paint work turned out left shaking their heads, as usual his work was remarkable.
The only fiberglass on the car is the hood. The doors, trunk and fenders were supposed to be fiberglass , but as most of us all know sometimes suppliers are not reliable as we would like. In my case, I should have done my homework better on the company I picked to supply the fiberglass parts I required. It certainly would have saved me a lot of time and money. Not to mention the headaches. Needless to say, the parts never arrived. I consider it a lesson well learned.
With the car painted, I moved on to the mechanical modifications necessary. The front axle is from a 1966 Dodge A 100 Van, the one taken out of a van in Webbs Junk Yard in Calhan, Colorado. The owners son had used a gas powered cut off wheel to get it cut out of the van. When the engine that powered the cut off wheel quit running, I was forced to use an axe to finish to literally chop the axle of the vehicle. You must work with what’s available , apparently axes work good on metal too.
In order to get the right tracking width, 2 inches were taken out of the center of the axle and then carefully welded back together. Adapting the steering linkage was tedious to say the least. To get it right, and try to keep it era correct, took some effort. The steering column shaft needed to be lengthened 10 inches to reach the relocated steering gear.
The rear suspension is straight forward 1965 Dodge. The springs are made up from two original sets of rear Mopar springs, using leafs from each to get the rear suspension where it felt the best. Being that the car has an automatic transmission, the rear end is the 8 3/4” unit as the original cars had. The differential has a spool with 4:88 gear ratio. Turning the car with a locked rear end can be interesting. The rear shackles are made from 1/2” aluminum plate. The front spring mounts were modified from the original set.
The gas tank had to be cleaned and reused as I used the original tank from back in 1965. I also used a larger 3/8” gas line. Since the car is carbureted it maintains the engine driven mechanical type fuel pump. The intake system is modified from the bottom of a ‘Rat Roadster’ and the top is a 1/2” thick aluminum plate. This custom intake is mounted with two AFB's, sitting across from each other.
The power plant is a 426 Hemi that was given to me by Gary Cowan. Gary was a dear friend who passed away while the car was being built. The engine was a crate motor that had some problems which needed to be addressed before being installed into the vehicle. After repairing those issues, the 9:1 compression was bumped up to 11:5 with a new set of pistons. In order to make the engine breath better, I installed a .600/.700 lift flat tappet cam that has 286 degrees duration @ 50.
Naturally the heads were ported & polished. To increase the oil capacity, I used a truck oil pan that has been deepened to hold 12 quarts, pretty much straight forward. The transmission incorporates a reverse manual valve body, as well as all the modifications necessary to handle the increased horse power. I decided on a 9” Converter.
Finally as far as I'm concerned every altered wheel base car needs to have a name. In a conversation with my wife Shannon, she suggested that we should call it, “DETROIT SHAKER”.
It's always a positive thing for Detroit to have their name on things that would make people feel proud of The Motor City. So while this car may not yet have a racing history, it embodies an era that has gone by.
It is my hope, with re-creations such as these, that era will not be forgotten. If you see the Detroit Shaker out on the “BIG STREET”, I certainly hope it makes you smile!
DETROIT SHAKER ™ All Rights Reserved 2015
HEMI® and MOPAR® are registered trademarks of the Chrysler Corporation
and are used only for descriptive purposes.