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Wally Elder's 2,000+ Horsepower 1969 Dodge Daytona is a Masterwork of Speed and Style

Author: Shawn Brereton | 07/13/2021 < Back to Motor Life Home
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Have you ever sold a vehicle and regretted it? If you are a true gearhead, chances are your hand is in the air. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to buy it back, but sometimes we just have to replace it with something else or continue living with regret. This is the story of “the one that got away”... on steroids!


Heavily influenced by his father’s love of hot rods, Wally Elder of St. Louis, Missouri, was born with a love of cars, but not just any cars. His dad, Cliff, built a 1936 Ford featured in Hot Rod magazine back in 1958. Bred into him from day one, it was no surprise that he, too, would achieve greatness in the automotive realm. In his early-20s, he built a purple with white stripes Dodge Challenger that also received some press. With that kind of drive, Wally’s passion and creative eye led him to open Custom Auto Works in 1988.


After trying unsuccessfully to buy back the Daytona he built in 1991, Wally designed a better version with new technology while improving things he didn’t like about the original.


The One That Got Away

In the late-1980s to early-1990s, the nearby Car Craft Street Machine Nationals in Du Quoin, Illinois, was the place to judge yourself against the best. Many big-name builders started their careers on those hallowed grounds. Every magazine was there, and you had to build something awe-inspiring to stand out from the crowd. In 1991, Wally etched his name in the history books by debuting one of the most jaw-dropping Pro Street cars ever built: a 1969 Dodge Daytona clone.


Red with a white stripe adorning the massive Daytona wing and powered by a blown, mechanically-injected 392ci Hemi engine sticking out of the hood, you could see and hear the Aero Warrior a mile away. The car was inundated by the 100,000-plus Illinois State Fairgrounds crowd the entire weekend as they poured over every detail. Surprisingly, it only took home Third place in Best Mopar and Second place in Best Engineered (that tells you how difficult the competition was back then). However, despite the snub from judges, the Daytona was perfect eye candy for print publications. After garnering the cover feature in Car Craft (October 1991), it featured in just about every other magazine on the planet. Print was king, and Wally wore the crown that year.

After showing the Daytona all over the country for the next year, Wally figured he would strike while the iron was hot before the hype died down. So, he did what many builders did and listed it for sale in a national publication. Shortly after, a man from Arizona showed up at the big Mopar show in St. Louis with a briefcase full of cash. Wally took the money and delivered the car to the new owner in an Arizona hotel parking lot the following week. His last vision of the Daytona was in his rearview mirror as he pulled onto the interstate onramp.


As time passed, Wally lost track of the car. He really regretted selling it in the first place and decided to make an earnest effort to relocate it to see if he could buy it back. His friend Anthony posted ads on several Craigslist boards in the Arizona area, looking for information on its whereabouts. Over a year later, a woman contacted him saying a friend of hers owned the car and put them back in touch with the owner.


Wally made numerous attempts through the years to repurchase the car; one time, he even tried to trade a new Z06 Corvette for it. But, despite the Daytona having a blown engine and needing other repairs, the owner just wasn’t willing to depart with the winged warrior. Out of luck and dejected, Wally determined the next best thing was to build another car. But, Wally being Wally, it wouldn’t be exactly the same. It would still be a Daytona, but it would be better!


Wally Elder Daytona 4

It took the crew at Custom Auto Works six years to create the 2.0-version of the Daytona. Wally wanted it to look like the original but be better in every way.


Laying The Foundation

Wally set out to build a duplicate-looking Daytona; only it would have a hand-built chassis, bigger engine, and modern updates. So, with help from his wife Mary Arnold and friends Brian Raymond, Anthony Flores, and Bill Richie, the team embarked on what turned into a six-year quest to build the ultimate Pro Street ‘69 Daytona.


The Custom Auto Works crew got to work crafting a one-off, 4130 Chromoly double-framerail chassis based on a 117-inch wheelbase. The roll cage is also 4130 Chromoly construction built in-house. Obviously, the Daytona features a lot of drag racing influence. Fat tires on the rear and skinnies on the front are a must in Pro Street. Wally chose Team III ET Mags for the wheels (15x14 rear, 15x4 front) and Hoosier Quick Time Pro tires (33x22.5 rear, 25x5 front).

Fit snugly between the rear rails sits a Strange Engineering Dana 60 rear axle housing filled with a 4.10-geared spool and 40-spline axles located with a parallel four-link and anti-sway bar. A PMD driveshaft connects everything to the transmission. The strut-style front suspension consists of Strange control arms, spindles, and coil-overs. A Strange Engineering disc brake system makes it stop better than the ‘91 version could have ever dreamed. The next hurdle was the power plant.

Building Big Power

Like all pillars of the Pro Street persuasion, this car was built with excess in mind. Of course, that is nowhere more evident than the engine compartment. Wally spared no expense having Bullet Racing Engines (BRE) of House Springs, Missouri, assemble a top-of-the-line, aluminum IndyMaxx 526ci Hemi monster stuffed with all the goodies. Starting with a Bryant Top Fuel crankshaft, BRE used Brooks Top Fuel aluminum rods, forged Pistons, for the rotating assembly.

The aluminum heads and valve covers from Stage V Engineering house T&D valves, springs, and rockers. Cooling is achieved through an electric water pump circulating through a Griffin aluminum radiator with dual SPAL electric fans. A 16-volt East Coast Electric alternator keeps those fans spinning along with all of the other electronics, while an MSD Mag 44 ignition and wires spark the flame. Once fired, expelled gasses rush through a custom-made stainless header and exhaust system with mufflers run behind the rockers before exiting through the body in front of the rear tires. A pair of QTP electric cutouts allow him to open the headers when it’s time to get loud(er).

Speaking of electronics, there are no carburetors here. Instead, Wally designed an innovative fueling system that will eventually allow him to switch (virtually on the fly) between either E85 or methanol utilizing three separate fuel cells and JBR Funny Car fuel injection.


Here is how the system will work once the crew finishes the final details. The two 16-gallon cells in the trunk — filled in mere seconds via a NASCAR-style dry-break coupler — are essentially “holding tanks.” Each cell (separately plumbed to an electric pump) pushes fuel through hard lines encased in the frame to a nose-cone-mounted 10-gallon tank, which can also be filled and used independently for racing purposes.


To make the switch, the driver pushes/pulls levers on the dash marked with the different fuel types to open/close valves controlling which fluid fills the front tank. Turning a Kinsler Jet Selector knob changes the flow from the Waterman Lil Bertha cam-driven mechanical pump to pressurize two of the three banks of injectors.

There are two sets of injectors under the carbon-fiber JBR Pro Mod hat — one supplies E85, the other methanol. When one is chosen, the other is off. These injectors deliver fuel down through a 14/71 Littlefield supercharger (overdriven by 30-percent) spun by a 4-inch Gates Polychain belt, providing cooling along the way. Likewise, another set of injector nozzles plumbed with both fuels in the Stage V Engineering intake manifold above each cylinder allow for finer tuning and ensures every cylinder gets the correct volume. The horsepower numbers estimated by BRE are in the 2,200 to 2,500 range on methanol once tuned to perfection.

The transmission is something you don’t see every day. However, an astute eye would see the shift levers and assume it is a Lenco, and they would be right… mostly. Taken out of Scott Lowery’s Pro Mod Cadillac, it is a Lenco C1 three-speed manual transmission with a Bruno Converter Drive. This allows Wally to run a 4,500rpm stall torque converter and an air-actuated transbrake. Essentially, it turns the Daytona into an automatic as it is air-shifted without a clutch using the two custom-made, pistol-grip-handled shift levers.


Wally Elder Daytona shifter

If you spent this much on a transmission, you wouldn’t cover it up either. Wally purchased this air-shifted Lenco/Bruno converter drive from Scott Lawson’s Pro Mod. You’ve got to love the custom pistol grips and blower pulley cupholders!


Exterior Features

So far, everything you’ve read screams “Pro Mod,” but we assure you it is not. Starting with a nice clean roof and windshield pillars, all else is brand new Auto Metal Direct (AMD) sheet metal, Glasstek fiberglass, or Janak reproduction parts. CAW spent an exorbitant amount of time perfecting the look of the car.


Wally Elder Daytona side shot

The body is channeled over the frame to get it down in the weeds at static height, but even this was too low for Wally, so he has raised it since we took these photos.


Wally wanted the Daytona to look like it was a lowered factory body. But, a stock Daytona would still be nose high, so the crew pie-cut, sectioned, and spliced the fiberglass front fenders to drop the nose downward. This required reworking the bodyline to line up with the door. Wally even made it easier to remove the front cap by fabricating the side marker lights to fold down for a handhold at the front.


Wally Elder Daytona front

The front fenders were pie-cut, sectioned, and spliced to give it a downward trajectory while maintaining the classic lines. Note the NOS Daytona-only parking lights in the grille.


Though it appears to ride on airbags with the nose an inch off the ground in the photos, the height is static and has since been raised to 4 inches with stronger springs. However, it still has a killer stance because the entire body is channeled over the frame, so there is more road clearance than it appears. Lowering the roofline didn’t cause any headroom issues either, seeing there is no backseat.


Wally Elder Daytona left rear quarter

No matter the viewing angle, this Daytona is LOW! All of the panels are stock proportions except the front fenders.


Beyond the fenders, everything appears as it would have come from the factory. The windshield is factory stock, though the other windows are Lexan. The wipers, emblems, taillights, and headlights (actuated by CO2) are stock reproductions. Meanwhile, the grille-mounted parking lights are actual original Daytona-only parking lights, which cost Wally a pretty penny to obtain. The bodywork was performed in-house before Wally painted the Daytona in PPG Bright Red (GM Code 81) with a contrasting white Daytona Stripe on the wing.

Interior Features

For the interior, Wally knew it wouldn’t look stock due to the massive roll cage and wheel tubs necessary for the power he was wielding, but he wanted to borrow some queues from the original. Granted, the creature comforts are sparse with no console, stereo, air-conditioning, or even windows that roll up or down, but he does have cupholders made out of blower pulleys! The look is minimalistic but executed to the highest level, with carbon fiber and aluminum used throughout. The dash is made of steel in the factory layout with AutoMeter gauges set in a carbon fiber insert. Steering is achieved through a Tim McAmis column with a Larry Jeffers steering wheel. Tim McAmis also supplied the pedal assembly.


Wally Elder Daytona interior

The purpose-built interior is executed to a high level. The steel dash houses gauges in a carbon-fiber insert with a Tim McAmis column and Larry Jeffers wheel.


You may notice an absence of buttons on the dash aside from the fuel controls. The clean look is facilitated by a bank of switches across the top of the windshield along with the headlights/turn signal switch, shift light, fuel level, and trans temp gauges. All of the wiring was installed by CAW using a custom wiring harness designed by Racewire Solutions. The fuse and power blocks are in the passenger-side footwell. An MSD Power Grid controls the engine tuning and is packed tightly behind the dash in the glove box along with the CO2 bottle used for the air-shifter, transbrake, and headlight doors. Wally made it where the bottle can be recharged inside the car.

Wally may not have gotten his original Daytona back, but he sure knocked the next iteration out of the park!

Looking Forward With A Nod To The Past

The Custom Auto works gang thrashed to have the Daytona done in time for its official unveiling at the Du Quoin Street Machine Nationals, getting it back from paint with a little over a week to go. Much like the old days, there were many sleepless nights leading up to the show. Luckily, it all proved its worth with the new-version Daytona taking home the Grand Champion award, something its predecessor failed to achieve 30 years ago.


Wally and company still have a little bit left to finish up on the Daytona. He just painted the hood, but they still need to dial in the tune along with a few other minor things, but you’ll see it on the show circuit soon. Once it makes the rounds, Wally plans to make a few shakedown passes, but don’t count on seeing it on the drag strip very often. If there is one thing he’s learned with this build, it is that things have gotten much more expensive, and he doesn’t want to risk losing this one like he did the first one. When asked if there was anything he would do differently, Wally exclaimed, “Not one single thing.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you know that you have built your own ultimate hot rod!

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