There were no shortage of history-making events in 1971. The Apollo 14 astronauts landed on the moon, the war in Vietnam continued to rage on, Intel released the world’s first microprocessor, and Dirty Harry made his big screen debut. But none of it mattered all that much to Frank Kassel at the time. His attention was focused squarely on one thing: scoring his very first set of wheels, which turned out to be a 1967 Dodge Coronet R/T.
“In the summer of ’71 I had just graduated high school,” Frank remembers, “and was working full time as a mechanic in a Cities Service gas station. My goal was to save enough money to buy my first car.” After working at the service station for a few months, Frank met a friend of his boss who happened to be a dealer of used, high-performance cars. “I inquired if he had any used Chrysler Corporation cars for sale,” Frank recalls. “I was interested in Chrysler products because my father was a Class A Chrysler/Plymouth mechanic for many years.”
Not long after, the dealer showed up at the station with the very ’67 Dodge Coronet R/T that would eventually become Frank’s first car. “At first glance the car looked completely stock, even down to the whitewall tires and hubcaps,” he says. “A closer look inside the white interior showed a factory Inland four-speed shifter surrounded by a console, with a factory tachometer mounted in front.”
The four-speed gearbox got Frank’s heart pumping, and his excitement grew when he raised the hood and laid his eyes on the Coronet’s 440 Magnum engine. “I immediately fell in love with the car. The salesman left it at the station, and I called my father to come look at it and let me know what he thought,” Frank recalls. “He examined it and asked me what my intentions were in buying this car. With his firsthand knowledge of Chrysler high-performance vehicles, he knew what this car could do. We talked for a while, and he finally gave his approval for me to by the car at the asking price of $1,100.”
Coronet Goes From Stock to Dragstrip
The Coronet was bone-stock when he bought it, but in keeping with the times, it didn’t remain that way for long. “My first modifications to the car were what everybody was doing in the 1970s,” Frank says. “I added Cragar S/S wheels with 60-series tires on the rear and the ever-popular rear spring shackles to get clearance for the wheels. I also painted the front and rear undercarriages white. I raced the car at the local eighth- and quarter-mile dragstrips, with my share of wins and losses. I usually did quite well on the street, however, since this was my daily driver.”
A few years of constant use caused the Coronet’s interior to show some wear, so Frank went to his longtime pal Freddy, who did a custom interior job on the Dodge. They bounced around a few ideas until they agreed to recover the seats and door panels using white Naugahyde with a Turkish diamond pattern.
Shortly after modifying the interior, Frank had what he describes as his “most horrifying memory” with the car. One night, while it was parked in front of a restaurant, an unknown assailant crashed into the Coronet. “The car was blasted in the driver’s side door and quarter-panel,” he says. “It was turned 90 degrees, and the right-side tires were on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, all courtesy of a hit-and-run driver.”
Thankfully, the Coronet was repairable, and after it was fixed Frank continued enjoying it through the summer of 1984. In July of that year, he encountered some financial problems and was forced to take his beloved Dodge off the road. It remained in his driveway, under a cover, for the next 26 years. “I was always hoping that one day I would be able to restore my Coronet and drive her again; and in 2009, once I finally finished building a new, two-car garage, it was time to restore the car,” he says.
Years Not Kind to the Coronet
After uncovering and examining his Coronet, Frank discovered that all those years of outdoor storage had taken their toll. “Mother Nature was not too kind to me,” he reflects, “as the car was severely rusted. I called a few friends who owned or worked in body shops, and all said it was too far gone and not worth restoring.”
Because of his sentimental attachment, however, Frank wouldn’t give up. He ultimately found a competent shop capable of, and willing to do, the work. “I called Paul’s Rods & Restos, a well-known shop in Deer Park, New York,” he says. “After examining the car, Paul explained that it would probably cost more to restore than it was worth. But because it was my first car, he understood my position and agreed to do the work.”
Frank stripped the car to a rolling chassis in his new garage and sent it to Paul’s. The Coronet went on a rotisserie, the front and rear suspension were removed, and the body shell was sent out for media blasting. When it came back, they could see exactly how much the rust had damaged the car.
“When it came back from the blaster, Paul told me there was a lot of Swiss cheese. Still, I was not discouraged, and the restoration process began.” The entire body was painstakingly restored by the Paul’s team over a 22-month span. Among other things, they replaced both doors, one fender, the left-side quarter-panel, both front floorpans, the rear trunk floor, cowl, and both rocker panels, using a combination of good original and new sheetmetal. They also fixed minor rust spots in various places by fabricating new pieces and welding them in place. Once all the rust was eliminated, they perfected all body lines and gaps and worked the surfaces of all panels until they were as close to perfect as possible. After the bodywork was finished, Paul’s sprayed the car its original Dark Turquoise color, using PPG’s two-stage Deltron system.
After Paul’s was finished and the completely restored body was in his garage, Frank got to work putting his beloved ’67 Coronet back together. The original 375-hp 440 was rebuilt to factory specifications by G&R Performance in West Babylon, New York. Frank resealed the car’s original A-833 four-speed gearbox and 3.54-geared 9-3/4-inch Dana 60 rearend but otherwise left them alone since both were still in great operating condition.
As with the engine and drivetrain, Frank rebuilt the Coronet’s chassis to factory specs. The duo-servo, single-pin brake system was restored to new condition, as were the front and rear suspension.
For a complete, correct interior kit, Frank turned to Legendary Auto Interiors. His old friend Freddy, who installed the custom Naugahyde seat covers and door panels back in the late 1970s, restored the seats to their factory look with Legendary’s reproduction covers.
After Frank installed new door panels and other interior trim items, the car looked exactly as it did when he bought it back in 1971. Well, almost exactly. One important item was missing. When he bought the Coronet, it still had its original Inland four-speed shifter, but like most owners back in the day, he replaced the factory gear selector with a Hurst setup and failed to save the original parts. After a lot of searching, he managed to locate an original Inland shifter, completing the interior restoration.
To finish the exterior, Frank needed to add a vinyl roof and plenty of bright trim. R&R Seats in Plainview, New York, expertly installed the new vinyl roof. Some of the car’s original body trim was in good condition; with some finessing, polishing, and/or replating, it went back on. Other parts had to be found, and that can be quite a challenge with a 1967 Coronet R/T. “Some of the trim was used for that year only,” Frank explains, “so finding it in show quality condition is quite hard. The front grille surrounds were extremely difficult to find. The inside R/T door emblems and trunk panel were also very hard to find.”
When the car was nearing completion, Frank had to make a decision regarding wheels and tires. He still had the Coronet’s original hubcaps but decided to take some liberties and deviate from how the car was originally equipped. “I like the look of Magnum 500 wheels, which were an option back then,” he says of reasoning, “so I went with those.” The wheels and original-style Firestone 7.75-14 redline tires were sourced from Coker Tire.
After working on it on and off for about five years, Frank and his resto team finally finished the Coronet in September 2016. He couldn’t be happier with the results. “When I finally completed the build, the car looked like it just rolled off the assembly line. I entered my first show and took home the best-in-show award,” he says. “Since then, the car has earned multiple best-in-show trophies and many other awards, and I receive a lot of favorable compliments from spectators. All of the hard work, research, and financial investment were well worth it. Driving her again after all this time brings back great memories. And together, we’re making a lot of great new memories!”
1967 Dodge Coronet R/T Build Details
- Owned by: Frank Kassel
- Restored by: Owner; Paul’s Rods & Restos, Deer Park, NY; G&R Performance, West Babylon, NY; R&R Seats, Plainview, NY
- Engine: 440ci/375hp Magnum V-8
- Transmission: New Process A-833 4-speed manual
- Rearend: Dana 60 with 3.54 gears and Sure-Grip
- Exterior Color: Code LL Dark Turquoise Metallic
- Interior: White vinyl bucket seat
- Wheels: 14×6 Magnum 500 by Coker
- Tires: 7.75-14 Coker Firestone bias-ply redline