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DIY Altered-Wheelbase Car - Fairlane Funnification


From the pages of

By Steve Magnante
Photography by Steve Magnante, Jeremiah Scott

Always Wanted An Altered-Wheelbase Car But Never Had The Bucks To Buy An Original? Then Step Up With Some Guts And Hack Your Own Match Bash Ride. Follow Along As Richard Lefebvre Shows You How.

There's been renewed interest in altered wheelbase cars lately, and why not? They're sick to look at, fun to drive, and years away from becoming belly-button passe. The few original cars that surface every now and then are too valuable, too frail, or are ridiculously dangerous to be driven or raced, but who needs an original? You can build one yourself, and we're here to show how using basic construction techniques and a little bit of freestyle ingenuity.

They're called Match Bash cars, and one of the leading practitioners of the wheel-base surgery is Seattle's Richard LeFebvre. Rich's creations can be viewed online at, and many have graced these pages in the last few years. Here, for the first time, Rich demonstrates the Match Bash wheelbase alteration technique on a '64 Fairlane 500. These basic techniques are applicable to practically any unibody car.

Before surgery can begin the car must be positioned on a flat surface and given neutral support beneath the front bumper, cowl, B-pillar, and rear bumper to prevent twisting, sagging, and other unwanted dimensional changes. The body must be raised enough to let the rear suspension hang in a neutral position with the tires in very light contact with the shop floor. The absence of the front suspension in this shot is of no consequence to the process.

To emulate the crazy look of authentic Thunderbolt altered wheelbase match racers from the '60s, the rear wheels will be moved ahead a none-too-subtle 15 inches. Here, the quarter-panel skins are marked for cutting.

Rich has built eight different altered wheelbase Match Bash cars and says the best way to do it is to move the entire rear floorpan, suspension, and trunk floor as a single piece. Separating these components adds tremendous complication and can sacrifice side-to-side symmetry. The 15-inch shaded section of floorboard will be removed to make room for the repositioned rear suspension platform.

More chalk marks identify where the trunk floor and quarter-panels will be cut free to allow forward movement.

Because the surgery temporarily compromises the rigidity of the body shell, an angle iron brace is tack-welded between the wheelhouses to preserve stock dimensions during relocation. Sedan body styles like this Fairlane 500 have fixed B-pillars that help retain strength during surgery. Pillar-less hardtop body styles require additional temporary bracing to avoid roof panel distortion.

An air chisel makes short work of the many braces and bulkheads that connect the floorpan to the rocker sills. A spot-weld drill bit is also used to separate the panels.

Any and all gussets, struts, and panels that connect the rear suspension platform to the body must be removed. Here the stamped speaker shelf bracing has been removed with a 220-volt plasma cutter.

Though the suspension platform is not yet fully separated from the body, Rich has cut away the superfluous stock bodywork using an electric reciprocating saw. A variable speed saw and fine blades are best for minimizing distortion of thin body panels. The objective is for the body sections to "dock" perfectly to minimize subsequent cosmetic bodywork.

The reciprocating saw is also used to cut the perimeter of the trunk floor along the marked lines. In the hard to reach places, a plasma cutter is used.

The plasma cutter separates the trunk lid hinge supports from the wheelhouses.

Well past the point of no return, Rich displays the floorboard where the Fairlane's rear seat passengers once put their feet. Note that the panel has been cut smaller than the chalk outline. This allows Rich extra metal so the new panels can overlap for stronger welds.

The shaded area indicates where the inner side panels must be trimmed 15 inches to make room for the wheelhouses. Because of this intrusion, the rear window regulators must be eliminated and the glass secured in the fully raised position. It's no sweat because the rear seat and rear seat passengers are distant memories.

With most of the inner structure sliced free of the body, Rich attacks the quarter-panels. Extra care in making surgical-quality straight cuts saves plenty of grinding and fitting headaches later. Prior to cutting, 1-inch-long initial entry wounds for the saw blade are made with a pneumatic cutoff wheel. The cutoff wheel is also used to slice the line where the inner wheelhouses will stub and bend the long saw blade.

With only the leading corners of the rocker sills connecting the rear suspension platform to the body, Rich spends some time with a disc sander to clean all inner and outer mating surfaces of paint, surface rust, and seam sealer for strong welds.

The saw makes the last cuts on the rocker panels before the entire rear floor section, suspension, and wheelhouses are free to roll forward 15 inches as a complete unit.

Here's a final look at the stock rear axle location.

Though we expected the suspension unit to be awkward and difficult to move, Rich easily pulls it into position with a ratcheting tie-down strap wrapped around the brake pedal and hooked into the spare tire hold-down on the (now mobile) trunk floor.

With the rear suspension docked in its new position, the mild-mannered Fairlane takes on the brutal Match Bash vibe and offers mute testimony on the origins of the term "funny car."

Study the trunk floor gaps created by the seismic shift to get your head completely around the surgery technique.

The surgery gaps in the subframes are filled using 15-inch sections of 1/16 steel plate that are butt-welded to the stock rails.

After manipulating tire pressure to level the relocated floorpan in its new surroundings, the first connections are made at the quarter-panel skins using a MIG welder. These spot welds will be fortified by permanent stitch welds after the inner structures are welded together.

Inside the Fairlane, the overlapping stock floorpan remnants are welded together then the seam is capped with a welded strip of cold rolled 18-gauge steel. In addition to adding strength, the strip yields a flat floor contour for easier seat bracket mounting. The rocker sills and any remaining internal structures that can be reused are also welded back together at this point. Rich will also install a six-point roll bar and homemade subframe connectors later to make the floorpan stronger than stock.

To fill the 15-inch gaps left by the quarter-panel relocation, Rich found a set of four-door '64 Fairlane quarter skins on eBay. Though the required filler panels could be hand-formed from ordinary sheet steel, Rich covets the factory look and says there's no better way to get nice wheel lip and inner fender results than to use factory metal. The long Vise-Grip C-clamps shown here make mockup and trimming easier.

After trimming for fit, the patch panels are tacked in place with the MIG welder. Like the forward quarter-panels, Rich will stitch-weld continuous, weathertight seams later. Patient stitch welding minimizes heat distortion so after the beads are ground flat only a minimum of body filler is required.

The trunk floor gaps are filled with 18-gauge cold-rolled steel, trimmed to fit then MIG-welded in place. Rather than continuous beads of weld, Richard uses a pneumatic flanger to punch a series of small, evenly spaced holes in the new trunk floor to accept spot welds. Though the new trunk floor deviates from factory appearance, the crude but effective materials and techniques are period-correct for altered wheelbase Match Bash buildups. Rich, a former Seattle scene punk rock record producer says, "You don't want to make 'em too nice or they lose that raw edge and aren't fun anymore."

To restore strength to the trunk lid hinges, simple 1x1 steel tubing is welded in place. Though fiberglass pin-on trunk lids were often used on '60s altered wheelbase funnies, many also retained operating hinges.

After staring at the shortened beast for a while, the stock Fairlane looks like an airport limousine. Rich isn't done yet; within a year he'll transform the car into a streetable Match Bash Funny Car with retro paint and graphics and a Hilborn-injected FE.

After moving the rear wheels forward a whopping 15 inches and moving the front wheels ahead 5 inches, the wheelbase shrinks to 110.5 inches, and the rear tires carry 10 to 20 percent more total weight for harder launches.

Moving The Front Wheels
Although this story focuses on what it takes to relocate the rear suspension, complete Match Bash altered wheelbase insanity is only attained when the front wheels are also shoved ahead some. The easiest way to accomplish this goal is to trash the stock front suspension and replace it with a straight axle and a set of buggy springs. Rich wasn't finished with the steering when we snapped these photos, but the rest of the nose is mocked up and ready for welding.  Check it out

Rich gleefully obliterated the stock front suspension with his trusty saw and torch, taking particular joy in blasting the intrusive spring towers out of the way. Now he's got enough room for a SOHC 427 if he decides to go that route.

While sexy tubular steel straight axles are one way to go, old photos prove the popularity of reworked light-truck axles. This one is from a '65 Ford Econoline van that Rich narrowed to yield a 55-inch front track. The removed segments of axle beam and steering tie rod are displayed. Rich swears the MIG-welded axle is safe for the job. He tells us, "Use plenty of heat and grind a V into the ends for good weld penetration." It still seems shaky, but then again, Dick Landy's legendary (and still existent) '64 Hemi Dodge match racer used a similarly narrowed Dodge A100 van axle in 140-plus miles per hour competition.

The rear spring mount consists of an old spring eye that's been securely welded to a flat section of the Fairlane's frame. A handmade 3-inch shackle connects the rear of the leaf spring to the car. Notice the correct orientation of the shackle that puts the spring eye aft of the mount centerline. The springs are vintage Econoline units, reworked to provide increased ride height. Once the planned FE motor is in place, the nosebleed stance will settle a bit.

Equally basic, but just as effective, the forward leaf-spring hangers are made of 1/8-inch steel plate. The steering gear (not shown) consists of an aluminum Dodge Dart manual box bolted to a fabricated frame mount. The stock pitman arm moves a tubular crosslink that's connected to a steering arm on the passenger-side spindle. A narrowed tie rod relays steering inputs to the driver-side spindle and tire.


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