This Crusty Coronet Is a Work in Progress

Ethan Billhime

Hagerty is celebrating its first-ever HDC Days from June 21 to June 23, with great discounts from our partners, choose-your-own adventure experiences, contests, and more. We’re also celebrating all this week online with some terrific cars and trucks owned by Hagerty Drivers Club members. Like this one . . .

Ethan Billhime
Orlando, Florida

Before the Dodge Charger, or the Challenger that seems to have replaced it in the modern day, there was the Dodge Coronet—the frumpier older sister to both cars that the entire B-body Mopar craze hinged on. 

Yes, I’m giving all the credit to the original B-body dream machine because, well, it was first. (Not that I’m biased or anything . . .)  

In 1966, the Dodge Coronet became the first vehicle to feature Chrysler’s new 426 street Hemi, and it was the first to feature the R/T badge in 1967. Even Jay Leno found enough favor with them to own one of the 1966 Coronet 500 Hemis. 

1966 Dodge Coronet Ethan Billhime
Ethan Billhime

This car, however, is absolutely none of those things. The drivetrain in my Coronet featured a 318 small-block and an automatic transmission, and it came with power steering and power-sapping air conditioning. 

By the time I found this car, it had been rotting away in the elements for years, just longing for the sweet release of the crusher. Instead, I gave it new life, in a Frankenstein kind of way, in a storage unit in central Kansas. I like to think that my brutal non-purist modifications perfectly embody what Mopar represents—or maybe it’s just because I wanted to do it this way and somebody gave me access to an angle grinder and a welder. Who’s really to say? 

1966 Dodge Coronet as found
Ethan Billhime

Now, this once-rotting heap has been outfitted with a 383-cid big-block, Which will soon be upgraded to a 440 because, I, uh, grenaded the 383. Regardless, it’s mated to an A-833 four-speed transmission using a Lakewood scattershield bellhousing and 11-inch flywheel. Eventually, I’ll install a 3.55 Sure Grip rear end . . . just as soon as the car stops sending driveshafts into the stratosphere. 

The interior features only the finest of sun-baked Mexican blankets, which are fastened to the seat frames and really just serve as bags to hold the disintegrating seat foam together. The headliner, meanwhile, was crafted under the experienced eye of my quilting grandmother in her livingroom. 

Truthfully, the car is a wreck that rolls. Covered in tree moss that refuses to come off, dented up like a derby car, wheeling around on tires old enough to have a license of their own, with an engine that has a hole in the block big enough to pass the International Space Station through. I call it the Flying Dutchman, and will indeed require a hundred years of service before my soul knows any peace. Which will still be a hell of a lot faster than if I had a Ford or a Chevrolet. #MoparNoCar!

1966 Dodge Coronet Ethan Billhime car wash
Ethan Billhime


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    That’s my kind of car. Not an investment car… not a shiny trophy for a checkerboard-floored garage… a driver’s car that gets driven

    I dig it. If you’re really having a problem with drive shafts, you may want to double check the scatter shield is centered on the crankshaft. They’re not always too close and may need the addition of offset pins, to center the bellhousing. If the input shaft isn’t properly centered that will tend to make all sort of vibrations, that mess up driveshafts.

    So you had to start with a massive 318? Our’ Coronet in the day had the Leaning Tower of Power, otherwise known as the 226 slant 6!

    Bullet-proof is entirely accurate. My Dad had multiple Mopars with the /6 and they performed flawlessly. I may be wrong but is this actually a “225” /6?

    That boxy long look is really cool. They look great with the right altitude adjustment- get that nose down a touch and you’re good to go. And a car you can enjoy and not worry about keeping all original and pristine.

    I agree with the nose-down attitude as a still life, but…. a good, powerful Mopar with 90/10 drag shocks up front will give you a wonderful nose up attitude all through the gears. A sight to see! Add an axle snubber and the whole car sits up level through all the gears, like a big cat ready to strike! Just my observation…. Nuff said!

    Great story! Keep twisting the wrenches you’ll get her there. Miscellaneous Odd Parts Assembled Recklessly! Im a retired 25 year Chrysler tech.

    I love it! 383/4-speeds were pretty quick cars back in 1966 & 1967. Live is hard, yard by yard, but it’s a cinch, inch by inch. Keep plugging away at it, a little at a time. I think you already got your money’s worth on this car, judging by the “fun meter”.

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