This is the story of a car that never left home.
I was Service Manager at the local Mopar dealership in the 60s, so I got to see a lot of neat cars go through the shop. It was late summer in 1969 and I had received some shop manual updates, and in the packet was a picture of the new 1970 Dodge Challenger that was going to be released. It had a lot of different engine options and was pretty cool looking. My wife was the title clerk in the same dealership so I took the picture in and said “what do you think?”
She also liked it, so we started talking about getting a new car. I currently had a ‘68 Plymouth with no power steering or power brakes, which she hated.
So one evening I met with the boss’s son to order a new Challenger. Now remember that they had not been released yet, so we were ordering one sight unseen. We sat down and started going through the order book.
Well let’s do the R/T package, as that had the better suspension and some little extras. I guess we had better add the SE Edition, as this gave you the leather front seats (no fine Corinthian leather in those days), small back window and upper console. Let’s just order the standard steel wheels with dog dish hubcaps as I will have a set of mag wheels by then. Incidentally, the dog dish hubcaps are still in the paper wrappers and in the box they came in. They have never been installed!
Let’s do a stripe delete on the hood and side stripes as they would fade badly, and I didn’t want to mess with that. Let’s not worry about power windows or A/C as I/we won’t be keeping it very long. We also added a rear luggage rack as the trunk was pretty small. I knew the rack would at least hold a case of beer. We also added the new AM 8 track radio which still has a Jim Croce tape in it.
We had pretty well spec’d out the car. It was going to be Plum Crazy Purple with a black vinyl top. The first comment by one of my friends was, “Why did you order purple, are you OK?”
The last thing to do was decide on the engine. The boss’s son said, “What about the motor?” I wasn’t sure so he pulled out a coin and said “heads 440, tails Hemi.” He flipped the coin and it came up heads. I had thought of a hemi, but they had kept us busy in the shop and I was looking for something to go out and play at night and not have to mess with. Little did I know what these cars would be worth. Besides I was going to order a new car next year and would put a hemi in it.
So the order was placed, now the waiting game. The total was $4300.00, how in the world will we pay for this?
I received confirmation that it had been built and shipped, once again the wait. The boys in the shop knew to keep me informed if a car transport showed up. One afternoon I get a holler from the back of the shop.
“Denny you need to see what is on this transport.” She was here. Out the door I went to take a look at her as this was the first one to come to the dealership and the first in town. Wow, that picture didn’t do it justice, it was neat!
The transport driver was unchaining it and I said, “that’s my car, do you mind if I back it off the transport?”
He laughed and said “I’ll help you.”
Boy was that sweet. It immediately went into the new car prep stall to get prepped. While he was prepping it I had one of the guys mounting the new mags to go on her.
My wife and I decided we would wait until Friday night to pull her out on the street. Those were the days when cruising was a big deal and legal in our town. Friday evening we rolled out onto Main Street to make the first loop. That purple car was attracting a lot of attention as it was the first Challenger in town.
It was November of 1969, and that was the same year that my wife and I decided to take up the sport of snowmobiling. We didn’t know in those days that you were supposed to have a big diesel pickup with 4-wheel drive and fancy enclosed trailer, so onto the Challenger went a frame mount trailer hitch and we towed a 2 place sled trailer behind it for 5 years!
By the way, we now have a big diesel 4-wheel drive and enclosed trailer to haul the sleds!
As time went by my wife started to drive it to work and it went through the usual fads. Remember when side pipes were in? Yep, she had a set but they didn’t like the snow in the winter so they came off.
I continued working in dealerships and, most dealerships allowed the service manager to have a demo, so the car started to sit. At the time it had to sit outside a lot and the sun started to take its toll on her. Sitting outside, people would stop by asking if it was for sale. I would tell them, “No, I am going to restore her.” Then I would get the look like “yeah, I have heard that before.”
As time went by and the Mopars became popular I told my wife, “Let’s get the Challenger back on the street.” This was about 25 years ago and replacement parts were hard to come by.
It came completely apart. All the suspension off and almost a frame off resto. The top was replaced and front seat covers also. The rear seat was okay, as it probably never had more than 4 people in the back seat. If you look in the back you know why nobody would get back there!
A lot of the pieces we carefully cleaned and reused, as nothing was available. I learned how to polish stainless and detail some of the pieces. I used all of the original glass except the windshield, but was able to find an NOS windshield to go in it.
We buffed the other glass as best we could. I have people ask about the scratches in the glass and I explain that in those days we didn’t have a fancy ice scraper to clean windows, it was normally a metal spatula. I wanted to keep the original glass and as many of the original parts on it as possible.
I would say that 98% of the car is original parts that were cleaned or reconditioned. After about 2 years of work, she was finally finished. Then guess what? With all the pretty new paint I didn’t want to drive her, so she sat a lot covered up.
As I started the restoration on my first car, a ‘63 409 SS Impala which Ed featured in one of his first editions, I got to thinking that we need to start driving that purple car. We can always fix paint, so three years ago I took it to the Goodguys show in Loveland, CO. It was the first show she had been to in year. She was awarded the Mopar Muscle award.
Then that Impala came along. I would take the Challenger to some local shows and it was funny when someone would come up and say “is that your original Challenger? I didn’t know you still had it.”
We recently took it to the Goodguys Southwest Nationals in Scottsdale, AZ. and received another Mopar Muscle Award. It’s fun to talk to people when they find out it is a one owner car and we tell them some of the experiences we have had over the years. As all car people know, it is a great feeling to get into one of these old cars, fire it up and remember the fun we have had in them. Remember, the days of the church key that you got when you purchased a six pack of cold adult beverages? Well, the church key still rides in the ashtray where it has been for 46 years. Incidentally it has had some use over those years, but not now due to modern engineering and the invention of pop tops.
After all these years we have decided we will keep that old purple car, as we have had a lot of fun in her and many fond memories. So, we always have to grin when we hear someone say, “I used to have one like that.” I always tell them, “we were so poor we couldn’t afford anything else and had to keep it so long it became valuable.” Lol.