9 Years and 2,500 Horsepower Later the Car is Ready for the Strip
It was nine years ago when Joe Zolper accepted a gutted 1968 Dodge Charger as payment for painting a friend’s semi. Today that very car is a tube chassis doorslammer that has had every single part customized inside and out to replicate a rare 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, except this one is capable of near 6 second quarters.
The car came into Joe’s life at the perfect time. Facing some personal hardships he knew he needed a big project to carry him through and keep his mind off the trouble. When the Charger landed in his shop Joe immediately saw its potential. He had found what he was looking for, but once the tear down began the naysayers started their chants.
“I had a lot of people telling me, ‘You can’t do it, you don’t know how to build a race car, you don’t know what you’re doing,’’’ Joe says. “And the truth of the matter is, that’s all the motivation I needed.”
The fire was fed.
Between building cars for customers, hosting Garage Squad for the last 6 seasons and supporting his wife Jenny and daughter Ruby in their own drag racing careers, Joe always found time to wrench on the Daytona. Weekends often consisted of buying, selling and trading parts until he had the perfect recipe for speedy success. The mismatched components resulted in a build made of all used parts that cost pennies on the dollar compared to what most people are spending on similar vehicles. Though, there is nothing similar to this Daytona. As Joe says, he wanted to build a car that was one of one from the very beginning.
He did just that. Joe stuffed a 512 ci aluminum block Hemi with a 1471 Kobelco blower in the car that he massaged about 2,500 horsepower out of. It is mated to a 3 speed Lenco and a fabricated 9 ½ inch Ford style rear end. The steel body car with fiberglass doors and fenders is built on a 25.1E cert chassis and is geometrically correct to the original 503 Charger Daytonas built to satisfy NASCAR rules to get the car on the track. The only exception is two inches were cut from the front fenders to ensure a snug fit under the hood.
During the build there were eight occasions Joe had to pull the motor before he was finally able to fire it up. But when the day came to finally turn the key on the Hemi in May 2019 he made sure his friends and family who supported him were there to hear it. Per Joe’s count 36 people had a hand in building this car, and he knows he couldn’t have done it without them. He makes special note of his wife and daughter and his friend Bobby Churchill who was by Joe’s side from the very beginning of the project.
As Joe gathered the crowd it dawned on him that this was similar to the moment in Garage Squad when the owner hears their car run for the first time in years. The main difference here, Joe poured blood, sweat and tears into this car for nearly a decade and had never heard a peep from it. Turning the key wouldn’t result in a peep though, it’d be a massive roar that would drown out the haters who had long said he’d never finish the car. The screams coming from under the hood said otherwise, giving Joe the final word.
“When we started the car I was trying not to cry. I’m a grown ass man, but you know after nine years…” Joe says. “All my friends were there that helped me build it, all my family that supported me. When we started it, that was pretty moving for me.”
Now Joe will really be moving.
Stay tuned for more photos, videos and Joe’s words on the triumphs and tribulations of building the Daytona and making its debut run. He plans on heading to the track in early June in hopes of hitting low to mid sixes in the quarter mile.