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1970 Dodge Coronet R/T - Treasure In The Backyard

By Chance, A '70 Coronet R/T

Photography by Wesley Allison

These days, when spotting a car as desirable as a '70 Coronet R/T, it's usually safe to assume that its lucky owner acquired it after a long and arduous search. That would seem especially true for one that's obviously been on the receiving end of hours of laborious renovation. After all, the most coveted products of Chrysler's finest performance hour don't turn up on trade-in lots anymore. The disciples of Mother Mopar are fervent in their quest to obtain and renew these treasured examples of an era past, and they'll beat you to answer that classified ad or submit a winning bid in the last millisecond of an online auction with intensely frustrating aplomb.

Yet despite this Dodge's relative rarity and substantial lust factor, Joseph Miller obtained it in a fairly opportune manner. The car belonged to a friend of his brother's for some time, who'd left it sitting outside for many of those years. Then, after a spat with the spouse, the friend stashed it at Joseph's mother's house. "My son came running into the house during a visit to my mother's saying, 'Dad, there's an R/T in the yard!' I hoped it was a Charger, since that's my favorite car." Of course, it wasn't, but that didn't actually disappoint Joseph. "As soon as I saw it, I liked it. I don't think I'd ever seen a '70 R/T before, and it was really unique."

Not long after, the Dodge was on its way to the Miller house. The body had been "restored" previously, though it was a horrible job by Joseph's account. Digging in, Joseph and his son Jeff found considerable rust, but they persevered, replacing both rear quarters, the trunk floor, and the wheelhouses. The Millers claim it was a good thing they'd done all that work by the time they got to the rockers. The minor damage visible was actually part of the sheetmetal that had been laid over the original rockers, which were completely devastated from rot. "If we'd seen that initially, we probably wouldn't have even started the project," says Joseph, adding that by that point he felt there was no turning back.

When the sheetmetal work was finally done, the decision was made to turn it over to the pros at Sharadon's Auto Body in Hugo, Minnesota, for final straightening and paint. Meanwhile, a drivetrain had to be assembled for the B-body. The car had come with a 383 and a four-speed, and while Joseph knew an R/T would have been standard with a 440, crunching the numbers showed the car had also originally had a TorqueFlite. The previous owner had included a pair of 440 blocks, one of which was a '71 casting suitable for rebuilding. Although the plan was never to make a racer out of the R/T, the Millers wanted more power than stock, so Edelbrock heads were combined with a Comp solid cam to up the output. A '74 TorqueFlite core was freshened and fitted with a Continental 9-inch converter to complement the engine, and the original 831/44 axle was fitted with a set of 3.73s.

Once the Coronet was completed in 2003, the positive response was more than the Millers expected. "Enthusiasts at car shows really appreciate it, but even people on the street take notice. I had an old guy come up and ask if it had a 440. Then he wanted to know if it had a Six Pack. When I said yes he got all excited." But perhaps the best part for the Millers is that Jeff, a junior high student when the project began, is now in his second year at Michigan Tech with his sights set on an engineering gig with one of the Big Three. And all because someone hid their hot rod in Grandma's backyard.

Car Craft Q&A
Car Craft: Did you know what you were getting into when you started this project?
Joseph Miller: Not exactly. This was the first resto project we'd done, and while we knew the car was rusty, it was far worse than we'd anticipated. But we just kept cutting and welding until it was done.

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