A Tale of Two Chargers

Illustration for article titled A Tale of Two Chargers

I met Randy in the 90s, back when both of us worked at a certain musclecar-parts company with the same name as an X song, and since then he's been helping me out with the scoop on all things Mopar. He's also a pretty good writer and has quite a story to tell about a pair of '69 Chargers he's owned since the 80s...

Illustration for article titled A Tale of Two Chargers

Imagine how it felt to be a Tennessee high school kid with a genuine 4-speed-equipped big-block '69 Charger R/T back in the Late Malaise Era. Probably even better than it felt being a California high-school kid with a genuine Hurst dual-gate-equipped '67 GTO, I tell you what!

Illustration for article titled A Tale of Two Chargers

So, let's hear Randy's tale in his own words. Fasten your seat belts, folks- plenty of twists and turns, heartbreak and redemption ahead!

A time when VW diesel Rabbits and late model Cutlasses with big tires on all four corners roamed freely among the few big blocks that were still being daily driven. The once proud 'shine running country of East Tennessee was being taken over by "good on gas" econoboxes. The horror, the horror.
There were still a few wild-eyed southern boys with a need for speed. I was one of them. The muscle car was my P-51 Mustang, my Sopwith Camel, my pure adrenaline rush. Unfortunately, I didn't have one. So, I set about rectifying that in the summer of 1982. I must have looked at every Camaro and GTO for sale within 40 miles. One day after looking at Camaro's all day, my best friend (Jimmy) and I were eating a burger at the local drive-in restaurant. The C&W, great local place to cruise. It's still around, but in a more sedate form with inside seating. As we sat there talking about the cars we'd just seen, a '71 Challenger pulled up. Gold with Black interior, rally hood. Jimmy went crazy telling me how cool Challenger's were. How fast they were. He already had the Mopar bug - but no car. It was definitely a good looking car.
As we sat there, I looked up and down the line of parked cars, and saw an F3 Green 1969 Charger R/T parked a few feet away across from us. It had slots with 3-bar spinners. I looked at it, then the Challenger, then back at it. Finally, I uttered the immortal words, "Jimmy, that car is me."
Jimmy elaborated that it was a Charger and was also great, but not as great as the Challenger. I left the drive-in not really thinking much more about it. A couple of weeks later, on the first day of my Senior year in High School, I passed the same Charger on a used car lot for sale. Less than an 1/8th mile from the drive-in, just up on the right. Jimmy caught me at school, he'd seen it to.
Well, you know we went straight to the car lot after school. It was a 440 4-spd. R/T SE in triple Green. Stripe delete. Virtually unmolested 80K mile car. I couldn't even drive a 4-spd. The owner of the lot, drove me to see my Dad (the local insurance agent) with the car. Dad had been, shall we say, less than friendly toward my previous muscle car desires. For some odd reason, he agreed to this one. I was shocked. He got a "90-day" note on the car, and told me to sell my current car, and use the money to pay off the note. I made enough money off my other car to pay off the note on the Charger, and buy 2 new tires to replace the L60-14 Tiger Paws on the rear. I put some Sears Superwide 60's on it. G60-14. Did they match the front? Nah, I didn't know any better at 17, and couldn't afford 4 new tires anyway.
The first Sunday I had the car, my Dad decided to drive it after Church to take the family to dinner. As he wound the car out in first gear, he looked over at my Mom and said, "This thing's geared like a tractor". Then he proceeded to bounce the front-end a little before shifting to second. My Mother was not thrilled. Her words to my Dad were, "He'll get killed in this car, and it'll be your fault". Somehow, I pleaded enough that she let me keep the car, although she was very nearly right. It was, and is, way too much car for a kid. The Dana had been swapped for an 8 3/4 with 3.91's. So, my Dad was pretty much on the mark, it was geared like a tractor. He still tells me that to this day. On a side note, I recently called him and thanked him for letting me get that car. I told him Mopars have provided me with much joy, and even some pocket change over the years.
The car brought me instant celebrity at school among the car guys. Yeah, I had the quickest car in school. My driving stunts brought me celebrity and scorn from my other classmates. The car had another dramatic impact on my life at that time. I had been shy and introverted before I got the car. I went through a sort of Christine effect with this car, and came out of my shell so to speak. I still didn't hang out with the cool kids, but they were afraid of me......or was that my driving? Oh well, the older I get, the better I was. But, Jimmy and I survived it all. Jimmy got a '70 340 Challenger a couple of years later, and still has it along with a '70 383 car.
I left for the Army shortly after graduation and moth-balled the car for the next couple of years. After returning from the Army, I rebuilt the drive train in the car with help from a buddy of mine. It was pretty much stock, with the addition of a Direct Connection Street Hemi grind cam and ch4b Edelbrock intake. It ran very well. Succumbing to the trends of era, I traded out the 14" American Racing slots (with 3 bar spinners) for a set of polished 15" Centerlines. Yeah, I was in high cotton. Never mind the fact I didn't change the tranny speedo gear. I never drove the speed limit anyway. Many a Chebbie saw those Charger taillights over the next 18 months or so, and then tragedy struck. The car was stolen late one night from where I work. I cannot put into words the pain I felt walking out from work and seeing my car gone, and realizing what had happened. I called the Police and they were less than interested in a stolen vehicle report on an old Dodge, without theft insurance. Many unflattering things have been written about small town police departments, and in that day at that time, many of those stereotypes were true of this department, in my opinion. I didn't wait on the Police. I got a ride home, threw my buddy a .357, got my M1911A1 and we went hunting car thieves. We came to within a mile of where they had the car, but didn't know it. It's probably good I didn't find them. I don't know what would have happened, but I probably wouldn't be writing this today had I found them. We looked all night, and I went home depressed and dejected. The next few days I spend looking for the car to no avail. One of the guys at work said his cousin had found a car stripped on his farm and it sounded like my car. This guy was a habitual liar, so I didn't believe him. Then, the guy said they had come back and burned the car. Again, I didn't believe him. I got to work the next day and several people expressed their condolences on my car. I was confused, and asked what they were talking about. It turned out the car had been found, and was announced on the local news radio show as having been recovered. Funny, the Police didn't bother to tell me, but the local DJ knew. I called the Police Station and inquired as to the status. I was told nothing had changed. Really?!? I mentioned several people had heard it on the local radio and was put on hold. The officer came back and said, it had indeed been recovered, and the officer who covered the incident was off and had not turned in his report yet. I managed to find out the impound yard it was at, and went to look at it.
The car had indeed been burned. I suffered the same pain all over again as I had the night it was stolen. Only for some reason, this was deeper, harder. Seeing the burned hulk was incomprehensible. I would have rather it was sold out of state than to see this. Evidently, the farmer had discovered the car while it was only stripped and called the Police to come get it. After several days the thieves came back and torched it. Then, the farmer called back very irate and they went to get the car. If memory serves me correctly the dispatcher lost the original farmers report. If only they had recovered it, or called me then.
The Police could not get good finger prints off the car even though it was covered in them. I did my own detective work and learned who had stolen the car. I turned the evidence over to the Police and they confirmed it. The person had left town. I found him down in Florida. The Police said they couldn't extradite due to various reasons that escape me now. Long story short, I sued the Police for negligence, incompetence and several other things. When all the facts were reviewed, they chose to settle out of court. They took their revenge in several undeserved speeding tickets for myself and my family. Ok, some might have been deserved by me, but not the family. I was young and didn't have a very good lawyer, I settled for less than the car was worth.
I kept what was left of the car. The front clip was intact and not harmed. VIN on the dash was ok. They took my intake, carb, battery, distributor from the engine compartment. Centerlines gone. Took my tools, jack, original Red Line spare. Rear bumper and valence were unharmed. Everything in between the rear bumper and firewall was pretty much toast. I spoke to the farmer that found the car on his property and investigated the site. I picked up lots of parts and even some evidence that I turned over to the Police (prior to suing them). It seems they had a party, drinking beer while stripping the car and they had raced it in a circle prior to torching it. They also shot the farmers dog sometime during the night.
I stored the car at a friend's place for several years while I attempted to find a nice body to use to restore the car with. College, jobs, women, other cars, and life went by and I never found the right car, until a few years ago. I found almost the exact same car, except it had a 318. I bought it, rebuilt the original engine and tranny from my car and installed it. Put the core support from my car in it. Got a correct Dana for it. Put many of the original parts from my Charger on it. Hope to be driving it by the time you are reading this. Lots of controversy in the hobby these days over re-bodied cars. Regardless of one's opinion, when I get in the car, grab my old shifter, and know the heart of the old car beats under the hood, I am transported back to a simpler time. It works for me.
Sometime around 1996, I did a title search through the state. I received copies of all the previous titles, and was able to track the original owner down, including the MRO for the car along with the bill of sale submitted to the state. I got a bunch of great info from the state. I managed to talk to, and even visit, the original owner. The car was bought new at Citizen's Dodge in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The owner chose F3 because he liked the color. Okay, would not have been my first choice, but it was the 60's. I asked him why he got a 440 instead of Hemi and he said, the Hemi was still largely unknown in his part of the state, whereas the 440 was a proven engine. He was afraid if he had problems with the Hemi, he wouldn't be able to get it fixed. So, he chose the 440. He also said he wanted a/c and a 4spd. They told him to choose, he couldn't get both. So, he chose the 4spd. Ahh, a man after my own heart. When it was delivered, he pulled off the wheels and installed chrome reverse wheels with baby moons. Hmmm, not sure about that decision. He asked me if the car had teeth marks in the dash pad just above the glovebox. I told him yes, it did have them. He said his 3 year old had bitten the dash while her Mother held her in her lap. His wife told me that was the only time he ever got really mad at their daughter and yelled at her. His daughter offered to come over and bite the dash again after the car was restored. I politely declined. Unfortunately, he had no pics or parts left over as he'd had a house fire and lost it all years before. I guess I'll own this one 'til I die. I don't really like Green, but we have a history together. - January 2007

Sometime in 1987
I first saw this car driving down the road and the owner hammering it. It was Red, primer, rust and Green. I thought, "What a pile". Later there was an ad in the local paper for a Charger for $500. I went to look at the car and it was the same car. It still had the Dana and for $500, I thought it would make a good parts car for the F3 R/T SE 4spd car I had. Somewhere along the line, the Dana in the F3 car had been exchanged for an 8 3/4, and I wanted a Dana back in the car.
The owner of the R6 car said he had smoked the clutch. I wanted it for the Dana, so I really didn't care about much else. As I walked down the length of the car looking at the bondoed up quarters, something caught my eye. The sail panel had 2 small holes close together. Could this be an SE? Yes, the owner said he had the emblems in a bag in the house. This was a R/T SE 4spd, R6 Red car. I knew it was something special and decided to buy it. I told the owner I'd be back the next day with the cash. Can you guess what happened?
Yep, I was beat to punch. Someone else bought it. A few months later I was sitting at a gas station and an older guy who looked like the main character in Sling Blade approached me in my F3 car and started asking questions. He said he had one like mine only Red. This happened a lot and typically didn't pan out, so I thought, "sure you do". Still, he seemed to know about cars and asked about parts. I got his name and number and said I'd see what I could find.
Turns out he was a distant relative. I got a kick out of that one. He and his brother were big Mopar guys from back in the "day". His brother had (and still has) a 69 GTX 440 auto car he bought new.
Several months later, either he called me or I called him about buying the car. Can't remember which now, but I bought the car for $900 with a ton of parts. Sold off most of the parts like an idiot a year later.
The car sat untouched for a couple years while I finished college. Then, I sent it to a buddy of mine to build the engine. Three attempted engine builds and several years later I got the call to come get it.
It's a long story, but basically the car sat neglected for the better part of 10 years while I played with other cars. My buddy that was building the engine piddled with it in his spare time and something would always go wrong in the engine build to prevent me from picking it up. Like the 400 flywheel on the 440. My buddy didn't bother to check prior to putting it in the car. Can you say, "beat the bearings out of itself?"
Anyways along about late 1996, I picked the car up and took it home. 3 engine builds later, it ran ok. I got rid of the redneck six-pak setup, put the stock intake and carb back on - it ran and runs great.
Shortly after getting it home, I did a title search through my home state of Tennessee. I got a record of every owner, including the original owners name, address, and MRO for the car along with the bill of sale submitted to the state. It is a bunch of great info. I could not reach any of the previous owners (20 or more) except for the original owner. He still lived at the same address and had the same phone number.
He remembered the car and told me he had ordered it optioned the way it was for racing. He originally ordered it F8 and went back and changed it to R6. Whew ! Good move dude !
He said he street raced it and was very successful along with a friend who had a 70 440-6 Cuda. After an engine fire (which he suspects was sabotage from a sore loser) he traded the car on a Roadrunner. He said he always missed the car. Unfortunately, he had no pics or parts left over from the car as he'd had a house fire some years before and lost everything. I hope the guy is still alive, I need to make the time to go meet him. He bought the car new at Burgin Dodge in Knoxville, TN. and lived South of there in Tallassee, TN.
Anyway, back to the car. I have had it back in my possession since 1996 and have been collecting parts ever since then. I am almost ready to begin the restoration, 20 years after I first bought the car. As a side note, I did have the car at my wedding in 1997 along with some Mopars of my friends and yes, my wife's car. She had a 455 Cutlass Convertible at the time. I'm not a GM fan, but a 455 convertible is ok, if it has to be a GM. She is a Mopar gal now, and knows more than most guys I run across in the hobby. But, most importantly, we share a love of old muscle cars together and she supports me totally with my cars. Maybe I'll get this car finished before my hair turns completely White. Donations appreciated. :0)

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TexanIdiot25- needs moar horse powah

Brings a tear to my eye:

"Regardless of one's opinion, when I get in the car, grab my old shifter, and know the heart of the old car beats under the hood, I am transported back to a simpler time. It works for me. "