Back To The 80s: Outrunning The Tennessee Highway Patrol In A Shelby Charger

Illustration for article titled Back To The 80s: Outrunning The Tennessee Highway Patrol In A Shelby Charger

Those of you who remember Mopar restoration expert Randy's Tale Of Two Chargers might have a tough time believing this, but this man once owned a Tercel! Thankfully, he ditched it in favor of a Shelby Charger.


Randy's a good writer and he loves his Mopars, so we'll turn the storytelling duties over to him. Enjoy:

In the fall of 1987 I started back to college after a year hiatus. After getting my GI Bill worked out, I decided to buy a new car. Being a Mopar guy, I went to the Dodge dealer. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to choose from performance wise then. I test drove a Turbo Shadow. Yawn. I wasn't really into trucks, and they were slow anyway. I reluctantly decided on a ‘87 Shelby Charger. Maroon with Silver stripes, Gray interior, sunroof, rear louvers, turbo 4 cyl and 5-speed. It wasn't really fast, but it was better than the Toyota Tercel I had previously been driving. It did handle well in curves.

You see, with my pride ‘n joy 69 Charger burnt, and all my other Mopars sold. I had been reduced to driving this little '81 Tercel that I usually had to roll off as it wouldn't start on it's own most of the time. Can you believe I sold a 71 383 Plum Crazy Challenger just a short time before? Ok, so it had no heater. I mean NO heater. The heater box was gone and it had rags stuffed in the firewall. I drove it all winter hanging my head out the window and scraping ice with my "Sears" card. It really wasn't that bad a car, but it needed some work. It had 2.76 gears and would do 130 quite easily. It even had a little bit of pedal left. However, the nose would start to lift at those speeds, and I decided not to drive it that fast until I got a front spoiler or something. I called it my race car because it had soo much fiberglass stuffed in the quarters and rest of the body. But, it had pretty Purple paint and Cragar Wheels. You know, the kind that were Centerline knockoff's, in chrome. Very nice. Oh, the shame. A Tercel. It was bright Yellow, so it stood out. You couldn't miss it.

Well, as luck would have it, I got a few dollars ahead and decided to have the local foreign car expert fix that dang starting problem. His name was Randy Also. He told me that Toyota didn't make a rebuild kit for that carb that would fix the specific problem it had. Instead it would require a new carb. The new one was something like $350, which was way out of my budget at that time. So, he says he thinks he can do some machining and fix it for around $150, but doesn't know how long it will last. I tell him to go ahead and do that, I'm gonna trade it anyway when I start back to school and the GI Bill kicks in.

While it's at the shop, he experiences a break-in and several cars have their stereo stolen. Mine was one of them. The only decent thing in that car was the stereo. I think it was some sort of current issue Pioneer. He tells me to give him a bill for the radio and his insurance company will reimburse me. Well, guess what? My radio was worth exactly what his bill was for. We made a deal, even swap. He didn't report it on his insurance and I didn't pay for a "modified" carb. I went to the local cheapie electronic store and bought a "Bestco" cassette stereo for around $20 and installed it. I threw the box in the back seat. It worked well enough, for $20 it was awesome.

So, I drive the Tercel to college and trade it on the Shelby Charger within a couple weeks of being there. I didn't get a good deal. Think I paid $12K for it. I was just a kid and they saw me coming. Reeled me in hook line and sinker. Live and learn I guess. When I left in the Charger, they couldn't get the Tercel started. Snicker, snicker. I saw it about six months later at a "‘tote the note" car lot in town. I stopped to be sure it was the same car. I think I got $500 trade-in and they wanted $3500 for it on the lot. I knew it was mine by the dented gas filler door and Bestco box in the back seat. Yep, they never moved it. Well, I laughed it off and went about my business.

I wish I could tell you the Charger was a great car. It wasn't. It had lots of mechanical issues and the dealer was awful to deal with. Yet, another learning experience.

Anyway, one winter day in '87, I stayed in my hometown over the weekend a little too late. In order to get back to school in time, I had to get up around 4 or 5 in the morning and haul butt back to college which was about 3 hours away.

I'm hauling butt down I-75 and around the Ooltewah, TN. exit, a light Blue Dodge Diplomat gets on the interstate behind me. The State Trooper's drove these during that time period and I was pretty good at spotting the headlights and grille from a distance and slowing down. So, as he pulled on the interstate behind me, I noticed the grille and slowed down. He pulled around me. I noticed the guy driving was in civies (civilian clothes) and the car had a normal Tennessee state license plate on it, not a government service plate like police cars usually did. I also noticed it had one single antenna on the decklid. Looked like a cb antenna. So, I thought to myself, "This guy is a businessman with a cb. I'll just follow him."

He takes off and runs it up to 80 mph. I park it about 2 car lengths off his bumper and stick with him through the very light traffic. He starts to go faster. And faster. And faster. We get up to 110. We are now zig zagging through traffic and tractor trailers at 110. I'm still 2 car lengths off this bumper. Did I mention the little car handled well? We went that way for several miles. Somewhere before the transition to I-24, he suddenly slows down and pulls up beside me. I look over and he's looking at me real mean. I shrug it off, drop my car into fourth and pull away from him. I get some distance on him, and drop the speed down to 80. He pulls up beside me again, and we repeat the same sequence of events with me leaving him behind. On the third time, I'm thinking, I've offended him somehow and he is probably going to flip me the bird or something. He pulls up and this time his dome light is on. He has a badge in his hand and is motioning for me to pull over.

Oh no, I'm in big trouble now. I just knew I was going to jail. I pulled over and he pulled a few cars in front of me. I got out and, was standing by my car. He got out and said, "Tennessee Highway Patrol. Son, you need to slow that thing down." I started babbling and explained I was going to school on the GI Bill and was late for finals. I thought he was just someone to follow and make some time. He asked how he could tell I was really a student. I showed him my parking pass hanging from the rear view mirror. He said, "That's a fine running machine you got there. Slow it down, I've got a drug bust to go to." And with that, he walked off. I was shaking the whole way back to school and drove 55. I was sure he had radioed up ahead and said, "If this kid comes through speeding, throw him under the jail !! "

It was an odd encounter. I guess he was scared I was going to blow his cover, or was maybe one of the bad guys. Maybe he realized stupid college kids are not as big a threat as drug dealers. Don't know, but standing on that interstate in the cold early morning darkness, I realized that following him was probably not the brightest thing to do. If by some strange chance he ever reads this, I want to say thanks for not throwing me in jail, or writing me a huge ticket.


LandofMinos: ...sent down to strike the unroadworthy!

What?!! Call that FWD French engined shitbox a Charger? I find that thing offensive, such an iconic badge ruined.

I wonder what if Australian Mopar ever lived past 1980 would we've seen such an abomination creating eye pollution on Aussie roads in a cynical attempt to hark back to the good old days of proper muscle cars. I think not.

I'm sorry but Randy is the reason why American cars became so woeful. Randy is the reason why the malaise era happened. Here's a guy who had real cars, a '69 Charger, a '71 Challenger. Big V8 with the power headed south to the rear bags and gorgeous proportions.

Then with enough money to spend on a new car, he buys plastic clad, front wheel drive, 4 cylinder polished turd with overhangs to rival a city bus and styled by a blind man with a ruler.

And he's kinda proud of it. The cop calls it 'fine running machine'. Well America, you got what you didn't ask for and you accepted it.