Dropping a Hemi that Dodge never had into a model they never built.
By Al Dente Photos by TheBruntBros
Mirada R/T eh, what? With those bold racing stripes and “Dodge” seemingly running from bow to stern plastered on the door, woulda been cool if the factory actually built these and dropped their available 360 4-Bbl. under the hood like they did with the Mirada CMX. They woulda sold a ton instead of the paltry 53,000 they moved out of showrooms during the model’s 4-years of production—1980-83. Shucks, Ford even sold 110,000 Edsels and those didn’t have racing stripes or “Ford” on the doors. But it did have a grille that looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.
‘Couse, you gotta give the Mirada owner (whoever he was) credit for the cojones of coming up with his own R/T paint theme even though he didn’t have the horsepower to back up the image. Guess he was compensating for being cubically challenged as this base model ’83 Mirada came with the 90 HP 1-Bbl slant-6. Sorta like our editor who compensates for being vertically challenged by wearing Stage III Otis Elevator Socks to appear taller than his actual height of 3-foot-six.
But we digress. The Mirada superseded the Dodge Magnum and was marketed as a personal luxury car—a 2-door J-body that shared its lineage with the Cordoba and the emasculated (318) Chrysler Imperial. Joe Mauro was no stranger to the Mirada having bought an ’80 model many years ago and shoehorned a 440 into the stock body. “Made one hell of a sleeper,” he said. So when Joe saw this car on eBay some 9 years ago, he remembered the fun he had with his previous ride, and he bought it sight unseen. His intention from day one was dropping in a Gen 3 Hemi and using it as a daily driver.
The Mirada was in Ohio and Joe lives in upstate NY. He asked the seller if he thought the car would make the drive. The guy replied that he had bought the car and drove it from Brooklyn NY to Ohio with no problems. Joe flew to Ohio and made the 500-mile trip back home with the slant-6 never missing a beat. The car was rust-free and showed 88K on the clock. It was painted just the way you see it here.
Joe flogged the Six until 2014. People would pull up next to the Mirada and ask Joe what he had in it. No one believed him when Joe told the truth. He could have told them anything based on the car’s looks alone.
Joe got serious in June ’14, buying a wrecked ’08 Charger for 6 grand that had been hit hard in the middle, but the drivetrain and electrics were all fine. He brought both cars to a bud’s shop and stripped both cars down past their underwear. His son, Joe Jr. was brought into the project specifically so a magazine could title an article on the project “Haul in the Family.” Originally, Joe planned to keep the project low-buck, at least that’s what he told his wife. And, another thing—he didn’t want to modify the Mirada to accept all the Charger stuff which included the interior, HVAC system and, of course, the Hemi drivetrain and, of course, Joe himself.
The unibody did need some beefing, so Joe welded in subframe connectors, but that didn’t count as “modifying” as in cutting stuff up. He could have played with the factory K-frame, but decided to take the easy (and more expensive) way out and spring for an aftermarket front suspension. The company didn’t have an application specifically for a Hemi Mirada, so they said they would send their kit but not weld in the motor mounts. At the nether end, Joe went with an 8-3/4” rear’ out of a ‘68 B body. It has the 742 case with 3.23 Sure-Grip cogs.
The “big stuff” went in with no problem. The “small stuff” was a real PITA. The front end bolted right in, and Joe figured if he mounted the engine a few inches forward of where a standard smallblock would fit, he wouldn’t need to modify the trans tunnel for the NAG1 tranny. He figured right. The stock engine compartment swallowed the Hemi like a raw oyster and didn’t even burp. The electrics are all ’08 Charger with the exception of the engine management system. The factory system requires wheel speed sensors and ABS to work with the NAG1 trans, and the Mirada had neither. Joe went with a Hotwire management system that comes with two wheel speed sensors and a tone ring that fits between the trans and driveshaft. Hotwire controls the engine and trans while the stock Charger computer controls everything else including ordering pizza.
The exhaust is mostly stock Charger from the manifolds to past the cats. Then it’s 2-1/2” Dynomax muffs and ’72 Road Runner tailpipes lengthened 8-10”. Joe’s low-budget plans started evaporating with upgrades from his original strategy. Disc brakes would be cool, so Joe pulled out his Gold Card for Wilwoods up front and a kit from Summit for the rear.
Transplanting the Charger dash into the Mirada took some doing because the Charger firewall intrudes further into the cabin than does the Mirada’s. Joe constructed a tube frame for the Charger’s HVAC box that pushes it 3” further into the passenger compartment. Not wanting to cut the Mirada, Joe had to heavily modify the Charger dash, cutting up, reshaping and plastic welding the vents so they would properly line up.
Speedhut custom gauges replace the stock Charger dials because the Hotwire system doesn’t provide a signal for the speedometer. Their speedo is GPS-based and works as long as there’s a satellite signal and the planet is still rotating. All the other gauges get their input from the stock Charger sensors which will work even if the Earth stands still.
Another pain was installing the Charger seats, more specifically, the passenger seat. The Mirada passenger seatwell has a kickup for the cat converter underneath and it is smaller than the one on the driver’s side. Joe had to slice, dice, heat and hammer the heck out of the floorpan to plant the seat. The driver’s side and the Charger backseat went in comparatively easily requiring just lining up holes and trial and error fits.
‘Course what’s all this stuff without a cool sound system? Quiet. So when wifie wasn’t looking, Joe snuck out his Gold Card again and plunked it down for a Kenwood DVD/GPS system. It uses 1000-watt Kicker amps for the base and a 400-amp Kenwood amp for the other 6 speakers. In addition to providing tunes and nav, the system has a bunch of other features that Joe says he doesn’t know how to use. Money well spent.
Joe’s goal was to finish the Mirada in time for the 2015 Chrysler Nats at Carlisle. He turned the last screw, and buffed up the finish the Thursday before the event. After a 50-mile shakedown cruise where nothing shook off, Joe and his family made the 250-mile drive to Pennsylvania where, going up against some stiff competition including some trailer queens, Joe’s daily driver placed Third in his Modified RWD class.
So what’s next in the Mauro enclave? Another Mirada project of course. Joe had bought an ’81 Mirada CMX as a parts car for his R/T project, but when Joe Jr. saw it, he put dibbs on it. The car is now another father/son project that hopefully will be completed by next spring when Joe Jr., now 16 years old, gets his driver’s license. Look for it in Mopar Action. We even came up with a title that we’ve been dying to use for years—“Haul in the Famly.” Catchy, no?