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A Ride with an Evil Side
Once you know the back story of Gene Popp's black cherry 1968 XR-7, you will understand why he has affectionately named his car "Christine."
During a recent restoration, 80 miles into the break-in period for the car's rebuilt motor, the engine just broke, Popp says. A second attempt by his local shop also failed, so he turned to DCC member Tom Lawrance, of KTL Restorations, in Danville, Va. Third time was a charm for the stroked 347 powerplant, Popp says. "I could not be happier with this work," he says of Lawrance.
So, from the experience, Popp's resto-mod '68 earned the nickname "Christine," after the possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury from the 1983 movie of the same name. "Some day all the stories will be told, just not at this point," Popp says jokingly about his ride.
Popp found his Cougar on eBay about two and one-half years ago. He believes he's the fourth owner of the 86,000-mile car, and the second to title it for the road. The car, which Popp rates as a 4 for overall condition, sports a dark red interior, C4 Merc-O-Matic transmission with a 9-inch, 3.25 Traction Loc rear, power disc brakes and power steering, a console, A/C, AM/FM stereo radio, tinted glass and door edge guards.
Popp's recently completed restoration added a host of performance upgrades, including the 347 stroker, a Mass Flo EFI system, Dual Flex-O-Lite electric fan, 100-amp single wire alternator, rebuilt C4 with a 2600 stall from Precision Industries, shift kit, heavy duty servo, the Traction Loc rear, Cal Trac traction bars, all gauges replaced in original location with Accumeter and electric windows up front.
This weekend cruiser is Popp's second Cat—he owned a standard '67 in the early 1990s. Popp says he learned two valuable lessons from the restoration: "Buy one that has been restored; it would have been a heck of a lot cheaper," he says. And, "Make sure you know and trust the guys you hire to work on your car."
Like most car nuts, Popp developed his love for the hobby at an early age, he says. "I started working on cars with my father when I was 7 or 8 years old, watching, retrieving wrenches and so forth," he says. "These were life lessons that I have never forgotten. When I started driving and buying cars, I always wanted the muscle car."
That hunger for power guided the restoration of his XR-7, Popp says. "When I started the restoration of the cat I knew from the start that improvements would need to be made to the suspension and power plant," he says. "I had the engine stroked and built by a local machine shop, and the transmission rebuilt to handle the new-found horsepower. I replaced all suspension components and added rack and pinion, and traction bars. I lowered the rear 2 inches and did the upper control arm drop. KTL restorations supplied me with the 9-inch rear. I handled all the electrical, mechanical and assembly work."
Although he "loves the car the way it is," Popp says he might tweak it a bit more, including adding an Air Ride Technologies suspension system. His dream ride, he says, is any big block Cat from '67 to '70.
Popp, who worked as a production supervisor for 29 years at a Richmond plant until the plant closed, now works for the shop, Integrity Collision Center, that performed the body work and paint on his car. His desire to tinker extends to his other hobby: building model radio-controlled planes. But, he adds, "I really can't fly them—just like to build."