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Engine of the Week

541 cid Chrysler Engine

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The drag-and-drive scene has no lack of amazing vehicles to gawk over. At the recent Summit Midwest Drags back in June, we were especially fond of one hot rod in particular – Bob Larson’s 1938 Dodge Coupe nicknamed the Prospector. The ’38 Dodge itself was quite unique, but the paint job, custom touches galore and a 440 Chrysler engine made it stand out even further. We caught up with owner Bob Larson at the end of day one at Edgewater Motorsports Park.

““I didn’t want a red car and I didn’t want a blue car,” Larson told us. “The root beer brown metal flake I liked. As for the name, I was trying to come up with a name that I hadn’t heard before. There was a Prospector line of Dodge trucks at one time, but I’d seen Gold Rush and other names, and I just went with Prospector because I hadn’t seen it on another ‘38 Dodge gasser.

“I wanted something that I could race at the drag-and-drive events. I had done Drag Week a couple times with another car and liked getting on the track. I had built this and this is the maiden voyage.”

When you see the Prospector, the first thing you can’t help but notice is the paint job and the detailed work on every inch of the 1938 Dodge coupe. From the cartoon character Prospector on the door panels to custom decals noting the 440 and the Chysler Wedge Power, this coupe is fun and serious all at the same time. It even warns you to “Hold on to yer nuggets!”

Of course, Bob’s own shop, Old Guy Hot Rods, did a lot of the work on the Prospector, and it’s been a project in the making for quite some time.

“I bought part of an old body like 30 years ago,” Larson says. “I always wanted to try to build it into some kind of race car. Pro Street style was kind of in when I had first bought it, so I had thought about that, but I was never able to get it worked on or do it. I just collected parts and pieces over the years, and then after doing Drag Week, I started on it. It’s been about six or seven years of working on it on the weekends because my shop, Old Guy Hot Rods, works on other people’s stuff during the week.”

Located in Rossville, KS, Old Guy Hot Rods focuses on custom hot rod work for 1960 and older vehicles. However, Larson’s shop doesn’t do much engine work, so for the Prospector’s 440 Chrysler, Bob turned to Clegg Engine in Orem, UT.

“I had Clegg Engines build this 440 and get it to the horsepower levels I wanted,” he says. “Of course, you want the most horsepower you can get, but you’ve also got to drive it on the street. I didn’t want a lot of modern things about it. It has two carburetors on the Tunnel Ram and 270 Trick Flow aluminum heads. Clegg Engines did a really good job telling me the options and advising what would be the best suited for what we wanted to do for a pump gas engine.

“We started with a 440 Chrysler, but we opted for a stroker kit from Scat, which brought it up to 541 cubic inches. We have a custom Howard’s cam, Harland Sharp rockers and a Milodon oil pan and external oil pump setup. I personally made the fender well headers and the valley pan. It dynoed at 740 horsepower and 730 ft.-lbs. of torque at under 6,000 rpm.”

Despite plenty of power under the hood, Larson struggled during the Midwest Drags to get the power to the track effectively. After all, it was his first time racing the Prospector and a few bugs kept Bob and his coupe from getting things perfectly dialed in.

“I don’t really have it dialed in and don’t have a lot of track time, but we’re giving it a shot,” he says. “The proof on the track isn’t the fault of the engine. It’s trying to get everything else figured out. I don’t really have a run that I would say was a good full run yet, but we’re going keep figuring it out.”

Despitesome struggles on the track, the Prospector still looked good going down the strip or cruisin’ on the highway. And, it’s not until you open the hood that you realize the gold touches aren’t restricted to the paint work on the outside of the coupe. Bob chose to add gold accents to the Tunnel Ram, the valve covers and the oil pan, as well as a gold flake steering wheel and other accents inside the cab of the car.

“I don’t have a lot of chrome on the car or anything like that, but most everything is painted or detailed or kind of color coordinated,” Larson says. “It’s got a full interior, a done-up dash and an engine firewall that I did myself. It’s all old-school type of stuff.”

With 740-plus horsepower on tap, Bob says the Prospector has put down ETs in the low 11-second range. However, he’s looking to get the Dodge coupe in the mid-to-low 10s.

“I’ve done a low 11, like 11.2 at a test and tune last fall, right after we got it running,” he says. “I’d like to get in the 10s somewhere. I don’t even expect or care to go any faster than that. That would be fine.”

Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade Motor OilElring – Das Original and Engine & Performance Warehouse Inc./NPW Companies. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor Greg Jones at [email protected]

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