There are few enthusiasts out there who can say they still own their high school hot rod, the car that introduced a world of performance freedom the minute the key was cranked and the pedal was mashed. Some of us spend our whole lives searching for the VIN that carried us through our youth. Ken Jansen is lucky enough to flashback 35 years every time he climbs behind the wheel of his ’68 GTX, minus the long hair and Cragars.
The GTX’s journey through the tire-frying decades began on July 16, 1968 when Garry Sobyski walked into the Lakeview Chrysler dealership and spotted a red ’68 GTX with a 440/automatic combo and an 8 3/4-inch rearend. Garry immediately began tricking the car out with popular speed parts of the day, most notably a pair of Thrush nickel-plated fender well headers. A reverse shift pattern and a set of 4.56 cogs, and the car was drag strip bound. Unfortunately, an accident and some shoddy bodywork and paint repair, later made Garry run for the for sale sign.
In 1973 Dale Howes bought the GTX. The fender well pipes were gone but the 4.56 gears and induction modifications were still intact. Dale pined for a new ‘Vette in ’74 and it was time for the GTX to find a new home. Ken’s older brother Alvin bought the car, and after a few years, the GTX was showing signs that it would soon need mechanical repairs, so in the early months of 1976, the for sale sign made another appearance.
Ken had just turned 16 when Alvin put the car up for sale, and Ken strapped in for the ride of his life. He continued to maintain the car, cleaning and polishing it up for Saturday night cruises and so he could drive the wheels off of it. It was around this time that Ken met the woman who would eventually become his wife. The GTX served as a launch pad for their relationship, and as the tire smoke billowed and the gears were shifted, a bond was built.
From there the GTX was driven and eventually disassembled for a full restoration. Ken lugged the car around for a few years while life happened; you know the typical get married, move into a house and have a family life.
In 1980, Ken stumbled across a talented young painter and restorer, Zoltan Bod. Zoltan’s professional candor struck a chord with Jansen and the car was delivered to Zoltan’s Specialty Auto Refinishing. The GTX was chemically stripped, metal work was done, and the bodywork was completed. Ken brought it home where it sat untouched for seven years. There we go with that life thing again, but it was more than that. Ken just wasn’t excited about a restored stocker and wanted a pro streeter. His brother Bernie had the solution, “Let’s cut it up.”
The build was on! The car was fit with a Dana 60, cut for the big rubber, outfitted with a custom cage by Zoltan, and fit with a fresh 440 with a Weiand tunnel ram, stage 3 heads, Isky camshaft and valve train, TRW slugs and the holes originally cut in the fenders were once again filled with Thrush nickel-plated fender well pipes. Zoltan fabbed up a ladder bar suspension with coil-overs for the rear with a set of wheelie bars, and a full custom 3-inch polished stainless exhaust with Borla mufflers made the Mopar Rat sing. Period-perfect big and little Weld Superlites on 33 x 21.50 rear rubber filled the bill. The car was debuted in 1989, when Ken entered it in car shows and hitting the track, clipping off a best of 10.92 at 123 mph.
Things went south when Ken got the urge for a blower, and in 1999, while giving a supercharged ride to a friend, the copper head gasket let go from under the O-ringed block at the number 2 cylinder. Clearly it was time to get serious.
A 572-ci Ray Barton Hemi now fills the well, and it’s built to handle any abuse Ken can throw at it. Barton began with a Mopar Performance Siamese bore Hemi Race Block and pinned the build throttle wide open. An RBRE (Ray Barton Racing Engines) custom-ground roller camshaft, Hemi 2000 roller rocker system, 7.1-inch race rods, super flow exhaust valves, tool steel wrist pins and titanium intake valves make up the valve train. A pair of Stage V aluminum ported and polished heads tops the modified block, while custom JE pistons with Speed Pro file-fit moly rings slide up and down in the combustion chambers.
Childs & Albert cam and rod bearings and Clevite main bearings ensure smooth rotational operation with COMP Cams roller lifters and moly push rods filling the valley. An Accel DFI Gen 7 engine management system with DFI Dual Sinc distributor handle the beast’s operations, while an Aeromotive fuel system delivers the octane cocktails through a CFE Racing Products intake manifold. An ATI steel damper hangs off the crank snout, and ARP studs hold everything together. A Geardot Performance Teflon-coated Enderle Buzzard hat with square butterflies sends the fuel and air straight to the cylinders and out through Hooker 1 5/8-inch shortened headers and Borla mufflers. An MSD digital 6-plus ignition and coil lights the pavement-stomping power, while a Be Cool radiator from Canadian Performance Warehouse provides extra cooling for Ken’s flat-footed sessions.
Of course, all of this horsepower had to have a stout gearbox behind it, and Pete Willie delivered with a fully built 727 Torque Flight with a 10-inch Island Torque converter, rollerized Sun shell, rollarized needle bearing output support, billet servo and billet steel input and output shafts. A Pro Trans trans brake valve body ensures hard launches. The transmission was built and installed at Victoria Automatic Transmissions, and the rearend was bulletproofed with a new carrier and a fresh set of 4.56 gears. The Dana 60 is commanded by a Mark Williams drive shaft that spins Strange axles and Richmond gears topped with a Moser engineering rearend cover.
With this pavement-shaking power planted underneath the classic Mopar metal, the chassis had to be well appointed to handle the punishment. Russ LeJeune of LeJeune Engineering performed all of the chassis fabrication, building the roll cage to stiffen up the car and the custom exhaust to run through the undercarriage. He also installed the Carrera rear coil-overs, the Competition Engineering ladder bars, Firm Feel close ratio steering box, Just Suspension tubular upper A-arms and billet struts. Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R tires measuring 26×8.00 R18LT up front and 33×22.00R20LT out back are wrapped around custom-machined, designed and built wheels by Tiger Tool/Jansen Excelerated Design. The wheels measure 18 x 7-inch up front and 20 x 15-inch in the rear and are brought to a halt with Wilwood disc brakes. QA1 coil-overs up front with Just Suspension tubular upper A-arms and billet struts provide a smooth ride and ultra-low stance.
Derrick Dotchuck and Zoltan Bod put the shine on Ken’s original freedom machine with deep black basecoat/clearcoat accented by a custom fiberglass hood tailored by Jeff Soestina.
After the car was rubbed to a fine shine it was plumbed by Shawn Reuter with custom-bent and flared stainless tube fuel, transmission and brake lines and the car was expertly wired by Lambert Head and Dave Hartnell using an ISIS Multiplexing wiring system.
Ken Jansen has had a 35-year bond with his ’68 GTX, keeping the keys throughout the various stages of marriage, family and professional life. He is quick to point out that the car would have never been completed without the support of his wife Shirley and his son Kirk. Long live this pavement-stomping GTX!