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Crown Jewel: Charlie and Denise Caldwell’s 1965 Dodge Coronet A990 Tribute

 
65 Dodge Coronet A990 Tribute gatefold 9

(Image/Todd Biss Productions)

Demons and Hellcats—no, they’re not mythical beasts— but modern Mopars with diabolical horsepower available right now, right off the dealer lot.

You can trace the DNA of these high-performance monsters directly back to 1965 and the Dodge Coronet A990.

Built for speed and not much else, the lightweight, limited-edition B-body reigned supreme on the drag strip, and fired the imagination of a young Charlie Caldwell.

“Growing up in Ohio, I used to watch cars like the Honkin Hemi race at Thompson Raceway Park. I dreamt about owning a car like that one day,’’ Charlie Caldwell said.

Forty-five years later, Caldwell and his wife Denise, along with a talented team of craftsmen turned a classic 1965 Dodge Coronet into this stunning tribute to the ultra-rare A990.

The purpose-built Coronet left all of the extras and much of the standard equipment back in Detroit. The A990 came with just one windshield wiper, had no heater, radio, or back seat. If you wanted to smoke, you had to spin the tires because there was no cigarette lighter or ashtray.

The car was equally famous for what it had—a brutal 426 Race Hemi—as what it didn’t.

“I wanted to build a second day car…an A990 just like it rolled out of the Mopar skunkworks, with a few modifications that a guy would’ve made the day after he bought it,” Caldwell said. “I found a decent Coronet in Atlanta, GA, and we wanted it ready in nine months to compete for the Bob Daniels Award at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.”

It was a tight deadline to be sure, but the Caldwells are no stranger to a garage.

While some say it’s Mopar or no car, the card-carrying Chrysler fans are also fond of vehicles from the Blue Oval family. A quick review of Charlie’s hot-rod resume reveals three Mercury Comet Cyclones (two ’64 strokers, and a ’65 AFX clone), plus a Plymouth Belvedere HP2 Street Hemi, a Sport Fury Max Wedge clone, and more.

“I like Mopars and Fords…I guess I like Chevys too, but I’ll never admit that to my Chevy friends!” Caldwell said.

And when Denise Caldwell puts her foot down, it’s most likely on the gas pedal of her 1998 Saleen SA-15 Mustang.

A retired law enforcement officer, Charlie Caldwell is always a man with a plan.

“Whenever I start a build, I put a picture of the car on the wall, and map out all of the steps of the build, along with a parts list and projected cost,” he said.

Working together, Charlie and Denise Caldwell (Denise is also a retired law enforcement officer) methodically stripped the car, carefully documenting each part as if they were critical pieces of evidence.

“Bag it, tag it, and photograph it,” Charlie Caldwell said.

With the B-body at the bead-blasting shop, the Caldwells cleaned and polished the remaining parts to perfection, and started searching for the exotic components that made the A990 so special.

“A990 parts are expensive and hard to find,” Charlie Caldwell said. “When you come across something like the Hemi’s Cross Ram magnesium manifold, you better get it while you can. There’s a good chance the next one you find will cost even more.”

After the body was blasted, there was a lot less Coronet left, so Charlie Caldwell made weekly, sometimes daily, visits to the body shop to keep the build on-track.

“The car was full of holes and there was a lot of sheetmetal to repair,” he said. “We also reversed the passenger side shock tower so we could remove the valve cover and adjust the valves without raising the engine. Bodywork always takes the most time, and there was a lot of work to do to get the car ready for paint.”

The hard work and long hours paid huge dividends as the Coronet returned looking like a million bucks. The arrow-straight bodywork wears a fabulous Sherwin-Williams Flash Red paint job, and is crowned with flawless stainless-steel trim.

Up front, the Coronet sports a proper two-headlight grille which Caldwell crafted himself.

“I took a four-headlight grille and cut out some delete panels. Then I riveted the panels on another four-headlight grille. That’s how they did it back at the skunkworks,” he said.

Underneath the reproduction fiberglass hood scoop sits an aluminum-block Race Hemi.

“That engine is the reason this car exists,” Charlie Caldwell said.

65 Dodge Coronet A990 Tribute gatefold 3

Built with an Indy aluminum block and Mopar Performance heads, the 426 wears a Hemi-orange paint job, two Holley four-barrels, and all of the period-correct equipment, except for one “second day” modification.

“The car should have a Prestolite ignition or a dual-point distributor, but I installed a Ronko Vertex Magneto, just because I wanted to,” Charlie Caldwell said.

Inside, the fawn interior looks showroom-fresh and period-correct, with only a few mods visible to the sharp-eyed Mopar fanatic.

A trio of Stewart Warner Green Line gauges keeps the Hemi’s vitals in view, and a fire extinguisher (a car show requirement) rides on the transmission hump. Plus, there’s another mod you can’t see, and it’s a necessary addition to reduce the incredible noise and heat from the Hemi’s open headers.

“A990s didn’t have any insulation under the lightweight carpeting, so Denise covered the floor with lots of Dynamat,” Charlie Caldwell said.

The Coronet moves out on steel wheels an inch larger than factory spec, and when the rubber hits the road, it’s Coker reproduction Firestone rubber—Wide Ovals up front and pie-dish Dragster tires around back.

A four-wheel disc brake setup slows the Coronet’s roll, but Charlie Caldwell has had some second thoughts about the brake system.

“If I had it to do over, I’d just keep the factory drum brakes, you know they worked just fine,” he said.

While the build took about 33 months longer than projected, no one can argue with the results. The Coronet has collected a king’s ransom in awards, falling short just once.

“When we didn’t win the Bob Daniels Award we were devastated. But little did we know, God had bigger things planned for us,” Charlie Caldwell said.

“I had a lot of help with this car. Denise and I did all of the teardown and reassembly, but I’m not as young as I used to be. This car was built with hard work and passion from many people,” he said.

Speaking of bigger things, the Coronet was featured prominently on the top step of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum during the Chrysler Employee Motorsports Association show in 2014.

It was one of only six cars chosen to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dodge, and the 50th anniversary of the 426 Race Hemi.

That’s a crowning achievement in anyone’s book.

FAST SPECS

Chassis

Frame: Stock, frame rails tied
Rear End: Chrysler 8 3/4″Richmond 4:30:1 ring and pinionMoser Engineering axles
Suspension: Stock front torsion bars, Mopar Performance rear leaf springs
Steering: Stock
Brakes: GM disc brake system
Wheels and Tires: Chrysler 15″ steel wheels and poverty hubcaps, Coker Firestone Wide Oval F70-15 front tires and Dragster 8.20-15 rear tires

Engine and Transmission

Engine: Aluminum 426 Race Hemi (670 hp/660 ft.-lbs.), Indy engine block, Mopar Performance cylinder headsJE pistonsK1 Technologies crankshaft and connecting rods, custom-ground solid roller camshaft, Cloyes timing setMilodon oil panMelling oil pumpCometic gaskets
Induction: Chrysler Magnesium Cross Ram intake manifoldHolley 670 cfm carburetorsMallory Comp fuel pump
Ignition and Electrical: 1965 Ronko Vertex Magneto, Antique Auto reproduction battery
Exhaust: TTI open headers
Transmission: Chrysler A833 4-speed manual transmission, Hurst shifter

Exterior

Body: 1965 Dodge Coronet
Bodywork and Paint By: Brian Westbrook and Adam Dopp
Paint: Sherwin Williams Flash Red
Other Items: Reproduction fiberglass hood scoop, two-headlight grille, single windshield wiper

Interior

Upholstery: Fawn vinyl upholstery and lightweight carpeting
Upholstery By: Ralph Farinacci
Other Items: A100 van seats, rear seat delete panel, Stewart Warner Green Line gauges, Sun Tach, Dynamat heat and sound insulation

Special Thanks To: Michael Pietro, Anton Lanesky, John Peto, Scott Whittaker, Jamie Passon, Brian Westbrook, Adam Dopp, Doug Baumgardner, Jason Bair, Tim Niewiadomski, Jim Kramer, Rob Jones, French Grimes
Extra Special Thanks To: Denise; my garage partner, friend, and wife
Photography By: Todd Biss Productions
Art Direction By: Aaron Gray

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