WINGED WARRIORS/NATIONAL B-BODY OWNER ASSOCIATION
SPECIAL FEATURE CAR
GENE LEWIS'S 1969 HEMI CHARGER, 1960 C500 TRUCK, AND DAYTONA
by Gene Lewis
My story starts off at the earliest age for me, since my parents' family car when I was born was a 1964 Plymouth Belvedere (361 cid, floor-shifted manual transmission!). More instrumental in the development of my interest in Chargers would have to be my cousin's triple green '69 Charger (318 cid, with the 3-on-the-tree). While that car wasn't exactly a musclecar itself, at the time you could not have convinced me of that--since any car that had a 150 mph speedometer MUST be fast (at least that's what you believe when you're six or seven years old).
Fast forward about 25 years, to 1997 (and skipping over my whole misguided Pontiac Trans Am phase)...when the opportunity to purchase a mildly modified 1968 383 Charger arose, I couldn't resist purchasing that second generation Charger body style which had captivated my attention for so long. Almost immediately, I began gathering parts to convert this car into what I really wanted--a 4-speed Hemi Charger. Probably halfway through the parts gathering process, I started adding up what I would have invested in parts alone, and the total parts cost would have been well in excess of what some nice Hemi Chargers were selling for at the time.
I had already subscribed to Hemmings due to my '68 parts quests, so when I spied the ad for a 4-speed '69 Hemi Charger in September of 1998, I realized that this was a much better alternative. After a quick consultation with my wife (always a good idea for you married guys out there), I responded to the ad within 45 minutes of first seeing it. It is a good thing that I responded as quickly as I did, since I spoke to the gentleman about three days later and he had received over forty calls from that same ad!
The owner had also advertised the car for sale locally in the San Antonio, TX area, and one person was feverishly trying to gather up the cash to buy the car. As a result, I was #2 on "the list", and had to wait and see if #1 could round up the money within two weeks. Those were some very long days spent waiting! After 1-1/2 weeks, the owner called me up on a Thursday evening, and said that I could come get the car since he had given up hope that the first potential buyer would come through. I responded that I could be at his home the following weekend. He told me, "Either come get the car THIS weekend, or I'm going to the next guy on the list." So much for my pre-arranged plans to have a buddy go with me and make a nice, leisurely drive down....Apart from an unfortunate meeting with a deer at 4:00 am outside of San Antonio, my trip to get the car was long but uneventful.
Once I got the car home, my initial intensions were to leave it just like it was and drive it as much as possible. As many of us do, we find things that we would like to change if the opportunity ever presented itself. So, when an unfortunate timing chain incident prompted me to do some engine work, I went looking for as many correct parts as could be found--including a date-correct engine.
The car is not an original V2 car, as it is coded to be F8 green. The gentleman that I purchased the car from had repainted the exterior in V2 Hemi Orange in the early 1990's. Somewhere during its previous history, it was also painted R4 red, and when I bought it the engine compartment was still wearing the R4 with the V2 exterior. Not too much has been done to the body itself since that repaint, although I have had most of the chrome and trim parts refurbished. The engine compartment was painted to match the exterior while the engine swap was underway. Since the car would have had 15" wheels, I secured a set of "H" wheels and redline bias-ply tires to complete the sleeper/taxicab look. Within the last couple of years the seat covers have been replaced, and the trunk was just detailed out last summer.
I have debated about re-doing the exterior of the car, but I'm torn between taking the car back to its original dark green, or sticking with the current Hi-Impact hue despite the obvious remarks it draws about the Dukes of Hazzard.
The history of the car is somewhat unknown since I have not had much success finding the owner(s) prior to the early 80's. There are only rumors that the car was ordered by a Dallas-area Dodge Dealer for his son, and that it was street raced in/around the Dallas, TX area until the motor gave out. The car was supposedly parked for many years, which might explain the relatively low mileage total (it had 52K miles when I bought it, and has 66K now). It had also been converted to an automatic car sometime too, but a replacement 4-speed was mated back up before I purchased it. If any Texas members remember this car from "back in the day", or remember a Greg Cody (the early 1980's owner, with whom I have not spoken), from the Dallas area, I would love to find out more about its history and/or contact Mr. Cody.
The basic options the car came with are: 426 Hemi, 4-speed manual, A33 TrackPak (3.54 Dana), manual drum brakes, 3-speed wipers (required with the Hemi), turn signal indicators, a console, AM radio, black vinyl interior, and a black bumblebee stripe. Other options the car currently has (but can't be 100% confirmed due to lack of a broadcast sheet) are power steering, wood-grain steering wheel and 6-way seats. Someone added a tachometer in the past, but the car was not coded on the tag to receive it.
One of the unique things that I like about the car is the fact that it was assembled at the St. Louis Assembly plant, which is apparently unusual for a 1969 Hemi Charger. That plant is only about 35 miles from where I live, and I was actually invited to take the car back inside the same plant in 2004 during the Open House they hold every five years. I have had several former Chrysler workers who have talked to me about the car--and one of them explained that a good-sized dent in the firewall was actually a trademark from the second shift in the plant's Body Shop!
The car is not 100% concours correct, but it is much closer to factory-correct than it was when I purchased it. Just last August, RC2 (formerly known as ERTL) came out and documented the car with over 300 photos, for use in a retooled 1:18 scale diecast car. They are going to release this in their "Authentic Series", which will include 1968 and 1970 versions too. If you haven't seen an RC2 Authentic Series diecast, they have operable headlight doors, glovebox and console lids, opening hoods/trunks/doors, active suspension and steering, plus the engine has individual soft spark plug wires and hoses. The radio antenna is even retractable. That was a very cool deal, and I was floored to have that opportunity.
The fact that my car is not numbers-matching and has a slightly less than pristine paint job actually keeps me from worrying too much about driving it around. Despite what you might think by seeing this car loaded on a truck, it is driven as often as Missouri's weather and a busy schedule allows. After all, the whole reason to have a musclecar is to enjoy driving them, right?
A lot of the details of the 1960 C500 (2-ton) car hauler were written up in the August 2006 issue of Mopar Collector's Guide magazine. Rob Wolf and Randy Holden were kind enough to do the photo shoot and write the story of the truck after seeing it at the 2005 Mopar Nationals. I am fairly convinced that the truck by itself, or the car by itself, would not generate the same interest as the combination of the two vehicles. The pair together usually elicits a positive response, although interest in the truck almost always overshadows the Charger R/T--probably since Chargers are almost considered mundane in comparison to the old truck.
The story of the truck starts with my business, which is commercial/industrial general contracting. Beyond that, however, my interest in trucks again goes back to my childhood and the days when I would sketch out the trucks I saw on nearby I-44, in Ad Tracker magazines, and the AMT models that I built.
Initially, the goal was to build a dump-bed truck capable of hauling material out to my business jobsites, and to have something a little out-of-the-ordinary. I had envisioned finding an old truck, doing some quickie body job, souping up the motor a bit, fixing up a dump bed, and slapping on a loud set of exhaust pipes. The finished product is a testament to how things can snowball if you don't stick to a plan.
The truck was originally a combination grain bed, with flip-up sides for hauling cattle to market. As many of them were, it had been left outside in the elements for years after its usefulness had diminished. It was advertised for sale in the St Louis Post-Dispatch in December of 2000. I keyed in on it mostly due to the fact that it was cheap, and it was a Dodge. The body was pretty rough, and had I known how difficult it would be to make the repairs and/or find parts, I would have held out for a better vehicle to start with. I really liked the swing-out fenders this body-style has, and many people are amazed that this is a factory-engineered feature. 1960 happened to be the first year for this Low-Cab-Forward style, and Dodge produced the same style with relatively few sheet metal changes all the way through 1976.
The first deviation from "the plan" was due to the fact that we were a little slow at my business. As a result, I chose to keep my best crew of guys (who happened to be good shade-tree mechanics) busy stripping the truck down. Since there was enough time to do so, they sandblasted the frame and we coated it with POR-15. From that point on, a whole lot of conversations went something along the lines of, "Well, while we're at it we might as well go ahead and fix that too." Then, you get to a point where everything that you haven't fixed needs to be redone, in order not to waste the effort that was put towards the other things. Incidentally, the truck's color (1969 R4 Red) was selected to match the Daytona that I was negotiating to buy at the time the bodywork was being done.
Once the truck's level of restoration became apparent, Norm Brandes (the same Norm that provided the block and built the Hemi engine for the R/T), kept suggesting that the truck would make a great car hauler. I had downplayed that suggestion since most car hauler beds with the upturned/fixed siderails do not lend themselves well for hauling construction materials. It wasn't until I checked into what Jerr-Dan could custom-build that I finally decided that a dual-purpose vehicle was the way to go. My rationalization was that by having the truck all refurbished, it would be dependable and could do work during the week, but perhaps haul a car to a show on the weekends. The combination roll-back bed, with a wood floor and oak stake-bed siderails allows both work and play options.
Norm rebuilt the original Polysphere engine with a Mopar Performance 4" Stroker crank, and we made other modifications to work with this heavy vehicle type of application. One of the most unexpected modifications is the late 1950's ('58?) dual-quad manifold that would have originally been installed on a Sport Fury. The pair of 390 cfm carburetors looks a little unusual in this truck, but the combination actually performs quite well. On my 2005 trip to the Mopar Nats, I got 7.5 mpg over the 1,000-mile round-trip while hauling the R/T. I had expected much worse, to be honest. While at cruising speed in high gear, it is turning approximately 3,500 rpm at 70 mph.
The truck is somewhat of a handful to drive, since it does not have power steering. They put those large diameter steering wheels on those trucks for a reason, and it is a little bit of a workout to maneuver the truck around in tight spaces. The drivelines (transmissions and axles) were also not made for sudden shock loads, so in an effort to keep from breaking parts I take things fairly easy as I'm running through the gears getting up to speed--a quick speedster it is not. Most of the Hydro-Vac braking system is original, and although it has been completely rebuilt it does leave a bit to be desired. You've probably hear of the computer jargon "Plug and Play" before--but my truck's brakes are more like "Press and Pray". Overall, it is a neat truck to have, and it was a true experience putting it together.
I am very happy that Winged Warriors/NBOA chose both the car and the truck as the "Best Mopars" for the 2006 Fall Meet. Hopefully you have enjoyed reading a little more about how I acquired them, and what got me into Mopars in the first place. The restoration work on my R4 Daytona has begun, so I am looking forward to loading up the Daytona and having a color matched set sometime soon.
***Gene's Charger and truck were awarded the "Best Mopar" sterling silver tankard award from the Mopar Musclecar Association of Great Britain at the WW/NBOA Fall Meet in September 2006. Congratulations Gene! The R4 Red Daytona is is pretty rough shape after having been pulled out of a barn in Iowa--yes, this will be a true "barn story" someday! We'll be looking forward to seeing it done.
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