WINGED WARRIORS/NATIONAL B-BODY OWNERS ASSOCIATION
CAL GAS DAYTONA HISTORY
Text by Sue George
Photos by John Houlihan, Tony Oksien and Doug Nations
On February 18, 1970, a company by the name of California Liquid Gas Corporation (known across the U.S. as Cal Gas) purchased a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona. The car was #XX29L9B410759, Hemi Orange with a white wing, black interior and equipped with a 440 4-bbl and 4-speed transmission.
Two 30-gallon tanks were mounted in the trunk of the Daytona, which were then filled with propane gas. The Daytona was converted to propane so Cal Gas salesmen could drive it all over the states to promote propane as the new fuel for combustion engines. The promotional campaign was called the Cal Gas Clean Air Crusade. A big white decal proclaiming "Clean Air Car" was glued to the Daytona's doors. Part of the Cal Gas campaign included the claims that propane is: (1) essentially free of dangerous fumes, smoke and contaminants; (2) the engine is free of sludge and carbon; (3) it extends engine life and cuts maintenance costs; (4) results in cleaner oil, higher octane fuel, smoother power, longer spark plug life, instant cold weather starting with no flooding or choking of carburetor.
By late 1973, the Daytona had made its way to Arkansas and had lived out its usefulness as the Cal Gas promotional car. Sometime during this time, the Daytona was painted blue. Brian Thornburg saw the Daytona on a used car lot in Corning, Arkansas, and bought it for his daughter to drive. It was soon discovered that she couldn't drive the 4-speed manual transmission, so her father pulled it out and replaced it with a 727 TorqueFlite automatic (leaving the clutch pedal in the car). All of the propane conversion equipment was also removed from the car by Brian. The daughter drove the car daily and eventually got married. Her husband, Clyde Hendrix, did not like the blue color, so he repainted the car copper brown and left the Daytona stripe off.
In 1977, the Daytona was involved in a wreck that left the nose cone damaged on both sides and one fender dented. The car sat until late 1979, when it was finally shipped to a body shop in Bloomfield, Missouri. During the years it sat at the body shop. it developed a bad case of rust in the quarter panels and the engine froze up.
While being stored at the body shop and waiting for repairs and a new paint job, several people saw the car. Mr. Hendrix had been trying unsuccessfully since 1982 to sell the car for $3,500. Once word got around to the winged car clubs that this tattered and torn Daytona had been sitting neglected outside a body shop, Californian Ken Finwall heard about it and became interested. He offered Clyde Hendrix $3,000 and in August, 1984, Ken paid for the car sight unseen and arranged to have it shipped to Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Ken proceeded to restore the Daytona back to its original EV2 Hemi Orange and put in a 4-speed transmission.
Once the Daytona went to California, we figured Ken Finwall would own it forever and pretty much lost track of it. In the summer of 1999, I received a letter from Scott Dorris in Greenville, Missouri. Scott explained that he had purchased the numbers matching 4-speed transmission that belonged to Daytona #XX29L9B410759--the Cal Gas Daytona--from his friend, Brian Thornburg, and he would like to see the tranny reunited with the car. Scott also claimed that Mr. Thornburg still had all of the original propane conversion equipment stored in his garage and said he'd try to obtain those pieces to reunite them with the car also. Supposedly, Scott also contacted someone else about the Daytona's transmission. That person contacted Ken Finwall in California, who replied that he was not interested in buying back the numbers matching 4-speed transmission or the propane equipment.
Across the pond, John Houlihan (then of Middlesex, England) had been thinking about buying a nice Mopar. On February 1, 2000, John lost his beloved wife to bowel cancer when she was just 38 years old. It was on this date that he decided tomorrow may never come and to live for the moment. He must have that Mopar. He remembered a photo of a Superbird that his father had brought him years before from a visit to the States. John thought it was both a brutal and beautiful machine and after buying up a stash of car magazines, he realized that Mopars were at the top of the tree as far as musclecars are concerned. After looking at a 1969 440 4-speed GTX in Detroit in November, 2000, he decided maybe a Hemi car would make him happier. But when he started comparing the Hemi car prices to the winged car prices, he made the decision that he had to have a Superbird.
Having made that decision, John thought it would be as simple as surfing the internet and finding a car to buy. He then realized it wouldn't be that simple as he was not finding what he wanted. He wanted a 4-speed car, wouldn't even consider an automatic, bucket seats were preferable, he didn't want a green car, a console would be nice, and a sixpack car would be better yet!
After having made prior arrangements with a seller to check out a Superbird that he had his heart set on, John flew into California only to be very disappointed. When he called from the motel to make arrangements to view the car, the seller informed him the car had been sold. Since he was already in California, John decided to look at a Daytona that he had seen for sale on the Hemmings website. The Daytona turned out to be Hemi Orange with a white wing and black interior, 440 with a non-numbers matching 4-speed transmission. After a little bit of haggling, John finally owned the Daytona. But come to find out, this was not just any Daytona--this was the original Cal Gas Daytona!
After the Daytona arrived in England, John drove it home from the docks and was surprised at all of the people who took notice. The very next weekend, he drove it to the Mopar Euronationals, held at SantaPod Raceway, and surprised a lot of people who didn't know the Daytona was being imported. The Daytona won the Winged Warriors/NBOA Best Mopar trophy at the Euronationals, which his daughter accepted and held all the way home. It's almost as big as she was then! (See photo below)
At the time John joined the Winged Warriors/NBOA, he told me he had recently purchased the Cal Gas Daytona. The information about Scott Dorris having the car's original transmission and having access to the original propane equipment was shared with John. He would very much like to get all of the original equipment back that belongs to the Cal Gas Daytona, however all attempts to contact Mr. Dorris so far have failed. He is not returning calls left on his answering machine, nor will he reply to letters sent. Hopefully someday the Cal Gas Daytona will be reunited with its original parts that made it a legend in the winged car world. Incidentally, John now lives in New Zealand and has added that Superbird he wanted so badly to his collection!
UPDATE ON THE CAL GAS DAYTONA
In the summer of 2004, I received a very interesting letter from Doug Nations of Atlanta, Georgia. Doug added yet another piece to the Cal Gas puzzle, as he not only remembered the car but also sent some photos of it as it sat decomposing after being wrecked. Here is what Doug said:
"I grew up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. When I was 17 years old, myself and my cousin were cruising around town in my 1964 Chevy. We came up on a Charger sitting next to a house in the middle of town. We could only see the rear end and weeds were growing up all around it.
When we asked about it, the owner told us it was indeed for sale and the asking price was $3,000. That seemed very steep for a non-running car. We asked if we could look at it anyway and she said yes.
Being Mopar guys, we saw the flush back glass and realized it was a Daytona. The wing was removed and laying out in the yard. It had been sitting for quite a while.
A few months later, we were in a neighboring town and happened upon it once more. She had moved it from her house to a body shop, but it was still for sale in its wrecked condition. I had a little 110 camera and snapped the photos of it below. While looking at the car, a few things caught my attention. I could see it was blue beneath the copper paint. This seemed odd since I had never seen a picture of a blue Daytona. It also had an aluminum intake manifold and chrome air cleaner. We could tell it had been converted to an automatic, but I'm not sure now what made us think of that (your website story says the clutch pedal was still installed). **Photos are circa 1984.
After seeing the blue paint, I realized I had seen this car many times. My school bus would pass right by their house and I would see the blue Daytona sitting in the driveway! I thought they had traded it for the copper one, not realizing it was the same car!
It was great to see someone took the time and money to restore such a fabulous car. I really wanted to own this car but honestly I don't think I could have restored it to such a level."
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