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16 August 2017

Woodward Dream Cruise: Cruising With Fiat-Chrysler’s Jeff Gale

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Jeff Gale currently serves as chief designer in Jeep’s Exterior studio. He’s worked at Chrysler for 17 years, but the Mopar design blood in his veins runs even deeper than that. His dad just happens to be Motor Trend Car of the Year guest judge and design consultant Tom Gale, who retired after 33 years at Chrysler in 2000—the year Jeff arrived. Jeff graciously agreed to take us cruising on Woodward in his badass baby, a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner he’s owned since 2004. We headed out and asked him to point out everything that he found cool and intriguing. But first we got the full walkaround on his ride.


1970 Plymouth Road Runner

Jeff’s Road Runner is something rather special. The Mopar nerds among you might be wondering what’s up with all the chrome and the lack of racing stripes, as Jeff was when he first went to look at the car. Is this a Road Runnerized Satellite? Nope, the VIN checks out as a natural-born Road Runner. The previous owner reluctantly shared the infamous history of this car. It was special ordered with a décor group that bought the lower rocker trim, a stripe-delete package, and—via pulling some strings at the factory—Satellite chrome trim ringing the rear taillamp panel. Then the dealer receipt shows two more options installed prior to delivery: the accessory wheel-opening chrome and an extra leaf in each rear spring. What? The original owner was reinforcing the rear suspension to shoulder the weight of moonshine and ladling on the chrome to lend some stealth to this muscle runner.

Designers often find it difficult to leave a car completely alone, but Jeff’s mods have been minor and reversible. He’s done some suspension work to improve the handling, and of course he mounted the wider, lower-profile wheels and tires (but the original rally wheels are in storage if he ever takes it to Mopar Nationals). He also restored the metallic argent grille surround himself, starting with a base coat of matte gray cast iron paint then shooting it lightly with silver spray glitter from Michael’s and clear-coating over it all. “It looks exactly like the original finish.”


1971 Plymouth Cuda 440/6 Pack

When Jeff began his Mopar muscle quest, he was searching for an E-body Dodge Challenger or Plymouth Barracuda, but the price lines of those cars started shooting up at a steeper rate than that of the slightly larger B cars Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite/GTX/Road Runner and Dodge Coronet. (The Dukes of Hazard made the Chargers scarce and pricey.)


1932 Ford Roadster Hot Rod “Rolls Powered”

“Hey, that looks like Mark Allen’s car!” Sure enough, we doubled back and parked to confirm that indeed this spectacular roadster was once owned by Jeff’s boss in the Jeep studio, Mark Allen. Mark detailed the engine compartment with a serious sense of humor. The engine is a regulation-issue Chevy small-block, to which Allen managed to attach modified valve covers with Rolls-Royce embossed in them. He also managed to fake a Rolls-Royce engine-casting VIN number. The automatic choke is hidden by a decoy glass fuel bowl that appears to have dead bees sitting in a bit of old fuel. The finishing touch, fake engine mounts that appear to be installed with spring-loaded wing nuts. Very fun indeed.


1960-66 First-Gen Chevy C/K pickup

“Man, those vintage trucks are really getting popular,” Jeff mused as we rolled along near this beauty. Then he conveyed a story about working at one of his pre-Chrysler jobs. He was running just a bit late for a meeting and overheard one of the engineers saying, “We’ll let the design guy say his piece and then we’ll get down to business.” Recalling the anger that inspired, he pointed to the Chevy truck again and said, “My face turned as red as that truck.”


1969 Dodge Dart Swinger

Jeff has a Dodge Dart “not quite as nice as that one” at home awaiting some further ministrations. This one, like hundreds of other recently buffed-up cars parked along Woodward, is for sale.


Rat Rod Pickup

Tom Gale has built a few custom hot rods in his day, so we asked Jeff if he any ambitions to do likewise. “I’d kind of like to build something wild—kind of a lakes racer, but a pickup. I like the irony of building a speed machine but making it a pickup.” Shortly after we had that discussion, this rough facsimile of what he was talking about rolled by.


1953 Ford Crestline Ranch Wagon

It’s no Mopar, but Jeff was loving on this fairly heavily patinaed Ford Crestline Ranch Wagon, built in Ford’s Golden Jubilee year, 1953.


1999-2001 Lamborghini Diablo

“My dad worked on that design. Flew back and forth to Italy to do it. He was even invited back for the recent 50th anniversary of Lamborghini celebrations.” The Nissan 300ZX headlamps give this model away as a late-run 1999–2001 model Diablo.


1973-1980 Volkswagen Type 2 Westfalia Camper

“Who can help but smile when you see one of those?” Not us. This one looks fully outfitted for a weekend at a lakeside state park campground, with curtains, screened side-door windows, and hookups for water.


Ca. 1970s-’80s Jeep CJ5

“Man, you don’t see those hardtop Jeeps around much.” Life was certainly simpler for Jeff’s predecessors in the Jeep design studio back in these days. The left-hand drive rules out a postal service past for this one. The diamond-plate is probably an ex-works upgrade.


1955 Forcury

“That is a tasteful custom.” This 1955 Ford appears to be running Mercury Monterey wagon taillamps, along with side pipes with cutouts, spotlights, a tuck-and-roll interior—you know, the usual.


1965 Ford Mustang

“Those first-gen Mustang fastbacks are pretty classic.” The smoothness and flow to the lines of this original ponycar still impress today’s crop of working designers. Long may it be so …

 

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