One of my pals in this world is Howard Kroplick, a historian and down-to-the-bone-marrow car enthusiast, who lives on Long Island and publishes a fascinating weblog on Long Island racing and motoring history. His interests go far deeper, and I’ve been privileged to author detailed stories on historic automobiles he’s preserved in the pages of both Crankshaft and Hemmings Classic Car, among them a Chrysler town car limousine commissioned by Walter P. Chrysler himself, and the only Tucker 48 restored with the direct participation of new generations of Preston Tucker’s family. Howard’s got a very interesting new item in his collection, fresh off restoration. It’s the Challenger III, a wildly modified Ford Falcon that the Ford Motor Company commissioned as an interim road-course production-based race car as it was waiting for development of the original Mustang.
If the Challenger III looks like something that was created from an AMT 3-in-1 kit and a tube of putty, you’re not far off the mark. Ford was just beginning to run the Falcon, the production cars, in international rallies as part of its new Total Performance campaign. Dearborn then commissioned Holman Moody, its stock car skunk works in Charlotte, to further modify the Falcon for participation in international sports car events, including Le Mans. The Challenger III of 1962 is one of three modified Falcons that Holman Moody created. Look at. There’s a chopped roof, a grafted-on fastback, and radical sectioning, which means that a horizontal chunk of the body was sliced out to lower it, techniques right off the Kalifornia Kustom or glue kit workbench. A lot of the cutting and shaping was handled by Lujie Lesovsky, who joined Holman Moody as a master metalsmith after hand-forming Indy car bodies in California, and who crafted much of the Challenger III’s bodywork from aluminum. Power came from a four-barrel 289 bolted to a Borg-Warner T-10. The Challengers had middling results in their only serious competition outing, at Bahamas Speed Weeks in 1962, driven by NASCAR ace Marvin Panch. After some subsequent SCCA starts and a stint at The Henry Ford, the surviving Challengers were owned by an Alabama collector until Howard bought Challenger III. The restoration, unveiled last week, is the handiwork of Ida Automotive in Morganville, New Jersey, which also restored the badly deteriorated Tucker 48 to Pebble Beach concours quality.