1968 TOPLESS CHARGER--BUILDING A PROTOTYPE CAR FROM SCRATCH

Text by Sue George and Jim Rodebaugh; Photos by all who participated

Oklahoma member Jim Rodebaugh is well-known for turning his "visions" into real Mopar machinery. He masterminded  the complete design and assembly of two previous Mopars that turned out to be beautiful works of art: a replica of the 1964 Charger prototype show car and a 1967 Charger convertible which of course never existed--except in Jim's mind. This is the story of Jim's undertaking of replicating yet another fabulous Mopar show car from the '60s...the 1968 Topless Charger. First a little history about the real car.

The Topless Charger began life as a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T and was originally modified for the personal use of Elwood Engel who was then Vice President of Chrysler Styling. To begin the transformation, Engel had the Charger's roof removed, fairings were fabricated and installed to close up that area, extending from the rear of the car all the way to the back of the front seats. They created two huge forward facing scoops that nestled the seats' headrests. The windshield was cut down 10-1/2 inches. There were short A-pillars beside the glass, but there was no frame along the top of the windshield. The windshield wipers were also removed. The door glass was removed, and the door handles and deck lid hardware was removed and those holes were filled, as were the door glass channels.

Finned aluminum exhaust side pipes were installed. Two cone-shaped rear-view mirrors were mounted on top of the fenders. Two very unique racing style fuel caps were installed on the tops of the rear fenders, though only the driver's side had a filler neck and was functional. The car was painted pearl white and unique blue stripes were wrapped around the rear of the car. The hood got hood pins and big blue graphics in the hood indents. Front and rear bumpers were painted body color (white). On the front edge of the door scoops on the passenger's side door, two medallions were installed. One was the Canadian flag and the other a British flag. The interior consisted of two white bucket seats, black carpeting, the original white 1968 door panels, the woodgrain R/T dash and woograin steering wheel. American five-spoke racing wheels finished out the image.

This version of the Chrysler's topless show car was so popular that it was restyled by George Busti's Creative Customs for the 1970 season. Inspired by the racing success of the 1969 Dodge Daytona, a pseudo Daytona nosecone was installed on the Topless Charger's front end. The nosecone actually resembled a Superbird's nosecone with the center body line and the grille underneath the leading edge. There was also a built-in nose spoiler behind the grille opening that had turn signal indicators built right into it. To facilitate cooling of the 440 under the hood, the new version of the Charger had hood louvers that were vacuum-operated. Beside the louvers were rear facing scoops. At the rear. the fenders of the car were redesigned to form a full-width spoiler.

Busti kept the finned aluminum side pipes on his updated Charger, but he got rid of all the blue stripes and hood graphics and the two door emblems. The car was repainted Hemi orange and black hood graphics and bumblebee stripe were added. The interior was updated with a brushed aluminum 3-spoke steering wheel and black high back bucket seats which didn't fit into the huge forward facing scoops quite as good as the original Charger's seats. The American racing wheels were replaced with aluminum polished mags. Along with the new look came a new name: Super Charger. The Dodge Super Charger was most often seen beside the Daroo I show car at Auto Manufacturer's shows. The Super Charger, shown below, is now part of a private collection.

Jim Rodebaugh believes the Mopar building experience should be shared by as many friends as possible. In mid-April 2009, he threw one of his famous "Charger building parties", whereas on a given weekend he assembles as many devoted Chargerite friends as he can at his home. Each person has their own area of expertise and they all look forward to adding their own special touch to Jim's projects. One will build a driveshaft, a couple will assemble an engine, another the transmission, yet another the rearend, someone else will install the gas tank, front end steering, brakes, etc. These Charger building parties run as smoothly and efficiently as the best hospital's operating room. By the end of the weekend, they roll out a completed car, ready to go to the paint shop and then drive. This is truly what the Mopar hobby is all about. The Mopar commeraderie and excitement of seeing his dream car--the 1968 Topless Charger--being born may have helped lift the dark cloud left with the passing of Jim's beloved canine companions, Mindy and Brady, just days before.

Jim began by doing a little preliminary work on his 1968 Charger donor car prior to the party. He built special jacks from 2" x 6" x 3/16" rectangular steel tubes, that passed through the Charger's floor pan and rested on the frame connectors. This helped to stabilize the belly flop during construction once the car was gutted. In the first photo below, you can see the special support jacks in the Charger rear section. The second photo shows the side pipes as Jim was fabricating them. At this point, the fins are rubber-banded on the exhaust pipe. The third photo shows Jim's wooden templates that helped create those huge forward facing fender scoops that complete the back seat and trunk area which are shown in the next photo. The fifth photo shows the unique mirrors that were mounted on the Topless Charger's fenders. The last photo in this group shows the unusual fuel filler caps that were installed on the Jim's Charger. This is actually one of the original fuel caps off the real Topless Charger. It was very generously donated to Jim by Steve Juliano, who owns a large collection of most of the 1960's Mopar prototype show cars.

Here in Jim's own words is recap of the blur of events called the "Charger Building Party":

I need to write but it's not coming as easy as in the past. Maybe it's Mindy and Brady, or the week of rain, or exhaustion, or that it may be one of the last build parties. It hurt more this time, it cost more, but it was sooo much fun! Thursday April 23, the early birds arrived taking supper together at the Golden Corral. We went home for ice cream and cookies and their first look at the '68.

Twenty people shared breakfast at Eggbert's Friday morning and then we went out to the job site. Preassemblies formed, with most of the work completed by supper (at Outlaws Chop Shop). All was in order for the power train installation on Saturday. By lunch, the power train with a running motor was in the car. After lunch, final details were completed.

Lee Hallquist left after lunch, as did Steve Knight and Jim Yaple. The tent came down and outside stuff was stored, with time for naps and cleanup before supper at the TexMex place. Then we went back home for ice cream and cookies.

Life has many great moments and events. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. This weekend was such a moment. It is said that to have one great friend in life is all you can ask for, but a total of twenty-seven people gave me their time, talents, money and sweat freely. It doesn't get any better than that.

For three days, I saw smiling people enjoying themselves with a common cause. I told no one what to do, and it all got done correctly. All I did was pass out parts. It always amazes me on reflection of a build party. Good times, good friends and all I can say is THANKS!   

The rain started Saturday night and continues (3-1/2"). That five-day window was the only time we could have built the car. Five more days of rain is predicted. There is more rust repair to do, then the car goes south to Tommy Martin, where body work, paint, final assembly and details will follow.

I want all of you to know I appreciate so much you giving me your time.

And so the project begins with everyone arriving and autographing the sign-in sheet, and then everyone went right to work on their own special part of the project.

With the work done, let the party begin! Here are all the wonderful folks who helped Jim build the Topless Charger.

And here's what the Topless Charger looks like today. What a beautiful result and many happy memories for all involved! Photos below by Jim Rodebaugh and Rocky Slagle.

 
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This page was last updated 03/10/2010 11:02:04