Big Matt Jukic doesn’t give up easily. After thieves wrote off his wild late-model Challenger, Matt got to work building bigger, better, and badder — a bagged and blown B-body middle finger to those with light fingers
Words: Connal Grace Photos: Strong Style Photo
There is a special place in hell for thieves, and there are a few who should count themselves very lucky that Matt Jukic hasn’t given them an early ticket there.
He’d barely any time to enjoy the fruits of his labour in building his Roots-blown and injected Hemi–powered 2011 Dodge Challenger, when the light-fingered brigade broke into his lockup, stripped it of everything valuable, and made a mess of the rest. It was an insurance write-off, and although Matt was paid out, he found himself at a loss. How do you put a price on the blood, sweat, and tears that go hand in hand with building the car of your dreams?
Should he try to rebuild what was left into what it had been, or would he be better off with a fresh start?
“With advice from my friends and family, I decided a fresh start was the best course of action, as I would be overly bitter with having to rebuild my poor car once again,” he says.
For a while he couldn’t decide on the direction in which to take the next one, other than being certain that it would be another Mopar.
“I slept on it for a while and came up with the decision to go old school, and if I’m going for old-school muscle, what better place to start than a B-body Mopar?”
Consulting a few of his contacts in the US, Matt decided he’d fly over to California to look at several that were on the market.
“When I got there, I heard of a guy up in Chicago who buys and sells Chargers,” Matt explains. “I got hold of him, and he sent me the pics and details of a few, so I jumped on another plane and flew there.”
The car that originally reeled him in was a 1970 Charger, but the car wasn’t really in the condition he wanted. However, luckily for Matt — and rather unfortunately for his wallet — a 1968 Charger acquired from a deceased estate was parked right next to the ’70, and a deal was done.
“We loaded it up on the U-Haul and started our long, long journey back to LA,” Matt recalls. “Since it was a long drive anyway, I decided to show my new car the salt flats in Utah.”
There’s nothing like a cross-country road trip to really bond with a car, and once Matt arrived back in LA, he had got over a lot of the pain that had come with the loss of the Challenger.
And, when the Charger landed in New Zealand, Matt got stuck into it with his trademark enthusiasm.
“I had a target of the Kumeu Classic Car & Hot Rod Festival in January,” he says. “As it was already September, this seemed like a daunting task that might never be achieved.”
But while the car was on the boat to New Zealand, he’d had a lot of time to write out a plan of attack, so, by the time it arrived, he knew when, how, and what he needed to do.
“It was an eye-opener, as this was my first old-school car, and I was a bit unsure,” he admits. “I knew one thing, though: it was going to have modern suspension if it liked it or not! I didn’t mind the lack of computers running the engine, but I made up for that with the ones running the suspension.”
Old American muscle cars have a habit of sitting high, and Matt wanted his one nice and low, without sacrificing drive quality. And, as you can’t have your cake and eat it where ’60s engineering is concerned, all the suspension componentry is new.
Replacing the torsion bar front is a QA1 tubular front K-member with QA1 tubular lower control arms, Ridetech tubular upper control arms, QA1 dynamic strut bars, and QA1 chromoly sway bar, with a Ridetech four-link rear superseding the stock leaves.
To get the height and ride balance he wanted, Matt opted for Ridetech air suspension with Ridetech HQ Series Shockwave front and rear shocks, RidePro-X control system, and RidePro-HP ride-height sensors, all controlled from his smartphone.
“I couldn’t recommend Ridetech more — they were super helpful on the phone,” he says, and with that self-imposed deadline, he needed all the help he could get.
“It was a full-on build at times, with myself spending seven days a week working on it, and there were friends working on all parts of the car at times,” he says. “I ended up finishing my day job earlier for the year when we started to get behind, spending over 80 hours a week on it, my friend Shane often standing there in disbelief, shaking his head at some of the things that came out my mouth!”
And although time might not have been on Matt’s side, it would seem that luck was, as everything somehow fell into place. The body, which had been sandblasted completely, really was as good as Matt expected when he first set eyes on it.
And though all of Matt’s cars are built to a show-worthy standard, they have to be drivable, which is why he had the underbody, interior floor, and trunk Raptor-coated.
All the rest had to be 10-out-of-10 perfect, so the Charger was handed to Shane Pouesi for panelling, then to Abdul at Peninsula Panel and Paint in West Auckland. Matt reckons that he spent hours driving around Auckland car yards to decide on a colour, which means he probably put a few days in at least, but it was time well spent to settle on PPG Ruby Flare Pearl.
But while he was racked by indecision over the paint scheme, there was no such story when it came to the fun part — that mountain of chrome up front.
The 440 big block, which was removed for a complete overhaul as soon as the car arrived in New Zealand, has got ‘Big Matt’ written all over it.
There’s Sealed Power forged pistons, Eagle rods, a Mopar Performance forged crank, and ARP fasteners holding the business end together, with the power side of things taken care of by an Auckland Cams blower-grind cam, Howard lifters, Mancini Racing pushrods, and tweaked heads filled with big boy valvetrain gear. The rest of it needs no introduction — just look at it!
Even with all that drama under the hood, Matt’s Charger is no one-trick pony. None of his cars is, and the more you look the more you realize that he’s ticked all the boxes.
“I wanted to make the interior more modern, and have more of a ‘pod’ feel,” he explains, and being a chippy by trade didn’t hurt here. “I made a full-length custom console from the dash, between the front seats, right through to between the custom rear bucket seats to encase a 10-inch sub. I did the audio install myself, with final wiring of amps done by Garth Lane of Lane Customs. He also rewired the whole car to bring the wiring out of the Stone Age and up to modern times.”
True to form, Matt and company ended up finishing off on the morning they were to take it up to the Kumeu Classic Car & Hot Rod Festival — but they finished. Well, kinda …
“I fitted some custom ‘Revenge Edition’ badges, made up by my friend Troy, to signify me saying ‘stuff you!’ to the ones who stripped my previous car, with custom decals by Kim Crosland.
“There were a few things that I was not happy with, but overall I was over the moon with the result, and, due to a last minute no-show from another entrant, a space opened up in the shed,” Matt says.
The first outing for the car was a good one. It won the Best Street Machine award — something Matt was absolutely rapt to take home.
Given the pressures of even getting the Charger to such a debut, there were bound to be a few small flaws — especially for a perfectionist like Matt — and he spent the next few months getting things exactly how he wanted.
The Alert Level 4 restrictions that scuppered his plans to get the Charger to its first Beach Hop meant that he had time to get in touch with Doug’s Headers in the US and order one of their best, with Tim at Pro Coat giving them a once-over to drop engine-bay temperatures.
With that done, though, he’s finally run out of things to change. That makes it a very rare thing — a car that’s earned the Big Matt seal-of-approval. We’re sure he isn’t the only one either, as long as all other fans remember the number-one rule: Look, but don’t touch! Hands don’t grow back.
Previously owned cars: Supercharged 2011 Dodge Challenger, EATU4T Alien Ute, and many others.
Dream car: This one … for now
Why the Charger? I wanted to build something old-school, and what better than a B-body Mopar?
Build time: Four months
Length of ownership: 12 months
Matt thanks: Shane Pouesi, for all his hours of help — often risking divorce!; Alan, Brad, and Luke from Al’s Blower Drives, for dropping everything at times to help; Tim from Shores NZ Fabrication, for all the custom metal work; Garth from Lane Customs, for the electrical; Troy Parlato, for custom badging; Tim from Pro Coat
This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue No. 186