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Drag racer restoration to star at Woodward Dream Cruise

When Miles Watsko hauled his restored 1964 Plymouth Savoy to Farmington, Minn., for this year’s Mopars in the Park gathering, he was happy to be finally showing the car. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, resident spent the past seven years restoring the coupe to a popular drag racing configuration.

Watsko, 56, left the event even happier as the first of four winners of this year’s Mopar Top Eliminator program that honors top-notch examples of restored and accessorized Chrysler Group vehicles.

As part of the Top Eliminator honors, Watsko and his ’64 Savoy will be transported to Detroit and given a prime spot in the Mopar display at the Woodward Dream Cruise on Aug. 17. The Savoy will be joined in the display by a second Top Eliminator winner, to be selected at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pa., in mid-July.

The two remaining 2013 Top Eliminator winners will be selected from the Sportsman class racers at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in September, and by a fan vote of vehicles post online.

Once the restoration bug bit him, Watsko knew his project would be a Mopar car. His dad had always been a fan of Chrysler Group cars and so is he (although Watsko admits to having own one Ford in his lifetime.)

While he wasn’t a drag racing fan, Watsko says he always liked the looks of Mopar drag cars from the early and mid-1960s. And his research led him to the Plymouth Savoy and a 1964 model in particular. “That was the car that represented Chrysler in drag racing. It was the bottom of the pecking order of the B-cars.”

With a bit of legwork, Watsko found a used ’64 Savoy coupe in his area and bought it. Because the car had some rust issues he then set out to find another car to be used as a parts donor. That search led him to a Savoy sedan in Saskatchewan.

“When I got the second car, the fellow who had it said it was pretty solid and I should think about converting it to a two-door,” Watsko recalls.

It was a lucky find. As Watsko disassembled the coupe he found that the rust damage was more extensive than he originally thought –the firewall, floor, trunk and quarter panels needed to be replaced. The sedan body was in much better shape.

Converting the sedan required removing the original B-pillar, mounting the coupe doors and then grafting the coupe’s B-pillars and some body side sheet metal on the former sedan. And the wide rear drag racing tires required the wheel wells be widened by nearly 3 inches – yet Watsko wanted the finished trunk to have a stock look. Once Watsko finished the bodywork in his garage workshop, he completely stripped and sandblasted the car before having it repainted in the original factory yellow color, while the interior is finished with red trim.

The project had already taken several years as Watsko, a civic employee for the city of Winnipeg, worked on it in his spare time. His family – wife and two daughters – was extremely patient and forgiving, Watsko says. But it would take another two years to track down all the parts and put the Savoy back together.

The Mopar parts catalog was an easy place to find a number of items, Watsko says, particularly for electronics and performance parts for the engine. His ’64 Savoy is fitted with a 426-cubic-inch Stage III Max Wedge V-8, built up from a block Watsko found in the Winnipeg area. (In one concession to modern technology he fitted with engine with dual throttle bodies instead of carburetors.)

Finding the rest of the parts took some determination. “I would talk about it at any opportunity,” Watsko says. “You try and find people who were involved with these cars. I went to swap meets and club gatherings. I went to the Farmington show. The internet was a big help in finding parts.”

The hardest part to find? Watsko says it was the grille and headlight covers. “I bought quite a few parts that were supposed to be good but weren’t good enough,” he says. “I tried to not compromise. I wanted to present the car properly.”

Finally, in summer 2012 the Savoy was finished. Watsko said he first showed it in Manitoba that August but the Farmington show was the big debut.

What will he do with the car after its star turn at the Woodward Dream Cruise? Watsko says there some big car shows in Canada he wants to attend, and “I’m going to start to drive it more and more.”

He has no interest in selling the Savoy. “If I did I’d just take the money and do another one,” Watsko says. The car has been appraised at $65,000.

But Watsko admits “I’m getting the itch already,” and has another project lined up – a 1967 Dodge Coronet R/T.

Another Mopar project is no surprise: “Chryslers have always been part of the family. I always liked what the represented. They were up against the big guys from Detroit but I always though their products were superior.”

Maybe he’ll find some inspiration and ideas at the Woodward Dream Cruise.