With the help of his dad Perry, Kevin Coudenys took a decrepit shell of rust from a farmer’s field and turned it into a perfectly restored 1974 Dodge Challenger.
Take a look at the pictures. My description of a ‘shell of rust’ may be an understatement for what Kevin and Perry purchased. I asked them why they took on such a daunting project. “Kevin found it and he wanted to build it,” Perry said. “We’re big Dodge fans,” Kevin added.
Turns out those pictures don’t lie. “Everything was really, really bad,” Perry told me.The Challenger had been sitting in that field for over 20 years. That’s a lot of Canadian weather and the condition of the car showed it.
Kevin purchased it in 2008, for an appraised value of $150. It became road ready just last year. The fact that it took 11 years to build didn’t surprise me, but Kevin explained there was more to that timeline than just the work involved. But more about that later.
The body needed massive amounts of work. The doors, hood, fenders, inner fenders, quarter panels, trunk, trunk lid, floor panels, and the front and rear valances all had to be replaced.
Maybe it’s easier the way Perry explained it: “The front clip and the roof were the only original parts of the car we could use. When we got it home, we just started tearing it all apart.”All the floor pans were replaced, a section at a time. By keeping the sections small, adding some bracing when needed, and the roof being in good condition, they were able to keep everything aligned properly. Perry built himself a rotisserie to hold the car to make the job a little easier. “It’s easier welding looking down than looking up,” he said.
It took 30 pounds of welding wire and over a year just to cut out and replace the rusted parts. At various points Kevin and Perry found large clumps of fiberglass that had been used for body work by a previous owner. All the new body components Kevin and Perry used in the rebuild are steel.Except for new bushings, the original components, including the axles, were used to rebuild the leaf spring / torsion bar suspension. Kevin added a power booster to the brakes, which are disk in front and drum in the back. The factory power steering is still in use.
The Coudenys painted the underside of the unibody and the engine bay, then turned their attention to the Challenger’s 318.
In keeping with their desire to make the car as original as possible, the small block was rebuilt to completely stock specs. The intake, carb, heads, ignition, and exhaust are all as Dodge originally made them. The 318 connects to a 727 TorqueFlite automatic transmission.It’s surprising how much of the interior was able to be reused considering how rough it looks in the ‘before’ pictures. The seat frames, center console, shifter, inner door panels, steering wheel, glove box, and a lot of the dashboard were saved. But the seat foam and upholstery, the headliner, and carpet had to be replaced. The gauges are all stock and all work.
The final bits of body work were completed by Kevin and Perry before sending the Challenger off to be painted. Somewhere along the line, the Challenger had been repainted purple, but Kevin had a local shop apply the same Bright Red color that Dodge originally sprayed on almost 50 years ago.All the chrome trim is original and just required some cleaning. Kevin added a side view mirror to the passenger door. The vinyl roof that was on the car originally was not replaced, giving the car a nice clean look. (Kevin did point out, however, that the vinyl roof probably provided a lot of protection for the roof, keeping it in good condition even after all those years sitting in a field.)
Since it’s just recently completed, the Challenger isn’t even registered yet for the road, although, Kevin said, “We may have taken it for a tour up on the back roads.”
But once it is registered, Kevin plans to take the Dodge to car shows this season – part of what he described as a very active hot rod community in Canada. Kevin told me there are local car shows almost every weekend. And he made good use of the community to get some ideas – and parts at swap meets – for his car.One goal is to take the Challenger to the two day Moparfest in New Hamburg, Ontario, in August. “We’ve been there as spectators,” Kevin said, “It’d be nice to go with a car.”
Given the condition of the car when he got it, and the amount of work involved, 11 years did not seem unreasonable to me for the build. But it also takes into account the incredibly active lives Kevin, Perry, and their family have in addition to hot rodding.
I first saw pictures of Kevin’s car on his Instagram account (@redleaf_adventure). But he’s got many more pictures of him and Perry fishing on Lake Erie and on the ocean and ice fishing on frozen lakes, and hiking, and hanging out with moose at the Rocky Mountains.
“I’m an avid outdoorsman,” he said. “I like to hunt, fish, and travel with my fiancée. We like sports too, so we go to NFL games and baseball games.”And in between all those outings, he and his dad built the Challenger. ““I really enjoyed it,” Perry said. “It was never a chore. We’re really happy with it.”
Kevin agreed. “It turned out better than I thought it would. From how it started originally, I didn’t think it was going to come together as well as it did. My dad put a lot of hard work and sweat in the car. When I look at this beauty it’s another memory I’ll have of my dad and I working together. It’s something I did with my Dad. It’s something our family does together. And I’ll be able to pass it down to my kids.”
That’s quite a legacy for what was once a shell of rust.
Photos courtesy of Kevin Coudenys.
Click here to see more photos of Kevin’s Challenger.
You can get updates the Challenger build and Kevin’s other adventures by following his Instagram account: @redleaf_adventure