Cris Gonzalez, owner and operator of JCG Restoration & Customs (JCGRestorationandCustoms.com) in Oxnard, California, has built some of the baddest Pro Touring cars around, including the Blu Balz Camaro, an over-the-top muscle car that left Italian supercars in its wake. Cris’ latest project, a 1970 Dodge Challenger, moves down the color spectrum from blue to purple, but it might have Mopar lovers seeing red.
Fabrication, suspension, and mechanics—Cris is good at everything, except Mopar engines. Under the hood of the Challenger is a Mast Motorsports LS3. “I get a lot of disappointment at the track when they find out it has an LS engine, but then they’re amazed at how fast it is,” Cris said. People tend to forgive a lot for the sake of more horsepower.
The LS in the Dodge makes 605 hp to the flywheel at 6,500 rpm along with 540 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm. The big challenge is putting that power to the ground, even with 12-inch-wide tires. “We’ve pretty much found [their limit],” Cris said. “It grips so hard in the front, we don’t have many issues. Now it’s about playing around with [the rear] springs. When we get some springs, we can get some forward launch.” A Holley EFI Hi-Ram intake (installed after our photo shoot) moved the torque curve higher into the rpm range and made the car manageable on the bottom end while exiting corners. “I don’t have the torque trying to spin my tires [now],” Cris said. “On the road course, rolling through a couple esses, I want to be able to roll on the throttle and not get sideways.”
How did Cris end up building an LS-powered, road-race Challenger in the first place? He teamed up with long-time friend and owner of Blu Balz, Karl Dunn, with the goal of building a car specifically for the Ultimate Street Car Invitational. Karl had been competing in Optima events with a 2007 Saleen Mustang. If you’re a Ford guy and weren’t offended by an LS-powered Mopar, you may not want to know where the LS was before the Challenger: Karl’s Saleen. When a customer of JCG expressed interest in the Mustang, Cris put the original drivetrain back in the Saleen and traded the Ford for the Challenger. Then, since he had the LS ready to go, it went right in the Dodge.
The Challenger was a 10-year-old restoration with decent paint and a straight body. JCG built the suspension basing it on Blu Balz’ C6 front clip. JCG builds a C6 spindle of its own design and assembles them in a jig. Cris worked with JRI (JRIshocks.com) to produce a special set of JRI/JCG coilovers with Eibach springs for the Challenger. The only part on the front suspension not built in-house are the Speedway Engineering sway bars. It took the team only 10 months to finish the complete build.
- 1970 marked the first year Plum Crazy (FC7 paint code) was offered on Dodges.
- The Plum Crazy option returned in 2010 with black or white stripes and signature badging on the seats.
Lightened to 3,350 pounds, the car is designed for a road course, so for the autocross Cris removes the rear swing arm so the Challenger can transition weight faster for tight back-and-forth turns. On the road course, however, the car needs to be stiff. “We don’t want a big ol’ sloppy car,” Cris said. “Right now, we’re dealing with a four-wheel drift.”
At the Optima event in Daytona, the LS starved for oil on the long, steep banks. Currently, the engine is awaiting its return after fixing a spun bearing. For the last couple races, a Chevrolet Performance 525hp LS3 crate engine has filled in. It’s down by 80 hp compared to the Mast Motorsports mill, but that engine will return to the car for future races.
Search user name “JCG Customs” on YouTube for videos of the Challenger on the track with on-screen vehicle speed and engine rpm.
Famous Purple Cars
- In 2005, Australian car company Holden built the Efijy, a beautiful concept car that looked like a chop-top lead sled in purple.
- The Purple People Eater is one of the gnarliest hot rods ever dreamed up. A six, 2-bbl carb, blown big-block-powered Model A, it’s chopped and channeled running on radial slicks. It’s still driven to SoCal shows and races.
- Named one of the Top 100 Hot Rods, the Frankenstude was designed by HOT ROD staffer Thom Taylor. The car was a 1948 Starlight coupe with a 1951 nose and hood, 1950 model front fenders, and 1947 model rear fenders.