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Car of the Month, February 2009: Dale Mixon's 1977 AMC Pacer drag car

by Gene Yetter

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What do you do with a motor that you used in cars you built for "roundy-round racing," when you decide after a crash that you've had it? If you are Dale Mixon of Merritt Island, Florida, you find a clean AMC Pacer body, maybe a 1977, and you put the motor in that. While you're at it, you redevelop the car as a 10-second dragster. And maybe you listen to your wife when she tells you not to race the car after all the money and labor you put into building it!

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Mixon is the owner and builder of the Pacer in the accompanying pictures taken at Super Swap X event in Melbourne, Florida, on Jan. 24, 2009. He modified a car that he purchased in an estate sale for $2,300, using parts from two salvage cars and his own fiberglass fabrications. For power, he rebuilt and installed a 1978 V8 Dodge W2 truck motor that he had used in International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) races.

"All my life I always raced in one form or another," Mixon said. "I drag raced a double Ram Induction Dodge back in 1960. It was super stock, automatic. Then I bought a 1962, slant-6-powered Dodge Lancer. I rebuilt it for drag racing in modified production. I did IMCA roundy-round racing from about 1966 to the late 70s. I quit, but got back in roundy-round in the late 90s. Then I hurt my knee in a fairly decent wreck and quit again in 2003. That's when I found the Pacer and decided to make it into a street rod."

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In a small but well-equipped auto shop in Indian Harbour Beach along the Florida east coast, Mixon does all his own parts fabrication, installations, and body work. The Pacer had 46,000 miles on the odometer when he bought it. He got rid of the bumpers, which had rusted in the Florida outdoors, and he went to work modifying the front and rear bumper valences. In the front he added some grillwork and changed the built-in lights.

"In the rear," he explained, "I built a tubular framework off the body, and formed it around the rear end where the bumper had been. I welded the framework to the sheet metal and used fiberglass over chicken wire, and formed the glass all together for a smooth, rounded body line." He also created two openings for chrome exhaust tips extending through the modified rear valance.

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"There was a problem in how to mount the mufflers, which were visible under the car. I cut out the spare tire well in the trunk and added framework there to mount a 10-gallon fuel cell. That opened up space to hang the mufflers. There was enough space that they didn't hang too close to the fuel cell. I run without a spare. With the modified truck motor, I get only about 8 miles per gallon and won't be driving the car further than 150 miles from home!"

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The engine had been in the IMCA car Mixon was racing in 2003. "I shoehorned it into the Pacer," Mixon says. "That was fun. I built the headers, had to detune it. I did everything: fabricating pulleys, alternator brackets and so forth. The racing motor didn't have places to hook things onto. The motor comes out as a 4-inch stroker, 30 over bore, 408 cubes. I put in a high-lift Mopar roller cam and rocker arms. The engine has special heads that were built for roundy-round racing. The compression is lowered from 13 to 9.5 to 1. I did the build. Machine work, boring and balancing, was done by Mike Mandelson at Mike's Motor & Machine in Cocoa.

"Mileage on the engine since it came out of the shop is probably about 2,000. I didn't put many roundy-round miles on it because I kept wrecking the car and didn't get to race it all that much."

What are the results? The car weighs in at around 3400 lbs including driver and fuel. Weight distribution, 50-50. 450-500 estimated horsepower. "I feel with the right tires under it, it's a 10-second car," the owner says. Transmission is a Chrysler 727 TorqueFlite with TCI shifter. Rear end is 8 ¾ inches.

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Mixon also added a spoiler at the rear of the roof. "I figured if anyone ever wanted to race that car that they'd need something to hold the back end down. I made the spoiler out of aluminum tubing, filled in with chicken wire and fibreglass. It's removable. I redid the construction three times until I got it right."

Does he want to sell it? "No. I've probably got $20,000 in the car, and that doesn't include my labor. Anyway, I love the car. It's just unlimited what you can do with it. And it's an attention-getter!"

Beach Auto Body of Indian Harbor Beach did the paint. Color is "Charger Red," according to Mixon. "I think it's used also on Vipers," he noted.

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Certain parts were available locally at a Cocoa-based supplier, American Performance Products, which specializes in AMC replacement parts. Wheels are 16-inch American Racing in the rear, 15-inches in the front. The interior features a roll cage and paired Simpson racing seats.

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