Legendary 1970 Dodge Challenger 426 Street Racer Known As 'The Black Ghost' Entered Into The Library Of Congress

Around here, we think cars are pretty important. It’s kind of surprising to learn that cars weren’t really entered into the Library of Congress until the Historic Vehicle Association created the National Historic Vehicle Register in conjunction with the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2013. I mean, what kind of crap were they putting in there before, if not cars?

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Books? Really? What a bunch of nerds.

The HVA undertakes a painstaking scanning process in order to enter these vehicles into the largest library on Earth. One vehicle entered into the National Historic Vehicle Register in 2020 — alongside a 1921 Duesenberg — has a particularly fascinating history. The HVA documented the story of this 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, known as The Black Ghost, in a documentary that I urge you to watch from start to finish. It is just a really good story about family, friends and the making of an American legend:

It goes without saying, but what the heck, I’ll say it anyway: This car is something special. The real secret sauce to this Challenger is how the original owner, a man named Godfrey Qualls, optioned the car. Step one for Qualls: the 426 Hemi engine rated at 425 horsepower. His other options were a whole smorgasbord of rare details, including the 4-speed transmission, an all-black interior and exterior (very rare, considering the dozens of color options offered by Chrysler at the time) and the Special Edition trim package, which added chrome accents and an overhead console.

Qualls’s story is an all-American one: Drafted in the ’60s, Qualls served as a Green Beret paratrooper in the Dominican Republic, where he earned a Purple Heart. He actually re-enlisted before he came home and spent 37 years as a Detroit police officer. Being a cop didn’t slow down his street racing skills, however. Qualls would run light-to-light down Detroit’s main drag, Woodward Avenue, but the more serious races happened on the industrial back roads of the city, where he made it his mission to smoke every challenger.

Qualls’s car quickly made a name for itself in the drag racing community of Detroit. None of his opponents knew who he was, but they knew the all-black Challenger that would resurface every couple of weeks or so to smoke every other car on the road, only to disappear again. Its ephemeral quality led to its nickname: the Black Ghost. Soon racers were building whole rigs just to try and take down the Ghost.

The enthusiasm and love that people still have today for the Black Ghost are truly remarkable. The story of its domination on Detroit streets, to how it rose again after decades of neglect, is a remarkable slice of Americana. If you’re having a tough time believing in America right now (and who could blame you) this might just be the automotive salve for your patriotic soul.

Managing Editor of Jalopnik.

DISCUSSION

orlove
Raphael Orlove

I did watch this whole doc and sort of expected that there would be more reckoning about his service in the armed forces being used to fight against democracy in the Dominican Republic. I sort of thought there might be more of a moral question about it, about the money and honor he gained from it that he himself might have felt was misplaced. Or might not have felt was misplaced. I wondered if the car might have been a way to talk about the weird legacy of fighting bravely for your country in an unjust war, what one does with those memories and the money and career that comes out of it.

They did talk about the thrill of parachuting gone and the thrill of drag racing picked up, and they did talk a bit about him being a “good cop” when he came home, but I don’t know. I feel like this car is being taken to stand for a lot of America at the time, and if you take it as such, that raises a lot of questions not answered in this doc.

Not that it’s not a worthy inclusion into a historical record, quite the contrary! That it intersects with all of these issues makes it interesting, and you could spend a lot of time with this car.