R/T Charger auto

A chance dis­cov­ery in a Welsh wreck­ers’ yard re­vealed not only the rarest of all Aus­tralian mus­cle cars, a one off Charger R/T auto, but also led to a res­cue mission and, ul­ti­mately, to an am­bi­tious restora­tion.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

A chance dis­cov­ery in a Welsh wreck­ers’ yard re­vealed not only the rarest of all Aus­tralian mus­cle cars, a one-off Charger R/T auto, but also led to a res­cue mission and, ul­ti­mately, to an am­bi­tious restora­tion.

When it comes to barn finds, it doesn’t get much better than this. In 1989, Tony John, a Welsh car en­thu­si­ast serv­ing in the Bri­tish army, spot­ted an Aus­tralian Charger sit­ting on the top of a stack of cars in a wreck­ers’ yard in Wales. It had a bro­ken oil pump and the body was in very poor con­di­tion, the vic­tim of the UK salted roads, no doubt. It had 10 pre­vi­ous own­ers and 90,000 miles on the clock.

Tony bought the Charger with the in­tent of get­ting it back on the road, later pur­chas­ing a new crank­shaft and camshaft from Aus­tralia. He never did get the Charger back on the road, though, and it re­mained in stor­age in his own­er­ship for 13 years. He would have known that this was a gen­uine Aus­tralian Charger R/T, but he didn’t know there was any­thing else that was spe­cial about the car. That would be found out later.

It is most likely that the R/T Charger – which we now know was one of two im­ported new into the UK – would have been or­dered by a cus­tomer to that spec­i­fi­ca­tion, and the ‘Spe­cial Or­der Ac­cepted’ or SOA num­ber (see box) on the in­ner guard con­firms that. It was de­liv­ered in 1972 via a Chrysler dealer in Clapham and a Tu­dor/We­basto soft-style sun­roof was in­stalled in Lon­don. Other un­usual fea­tures in­clude Lu­cas side in­di­ca­tor lights to com­ply with UK reg­u­la­tions, and dif­fer­ent door han­dles from the stan­dard fit­ted to all Aus­tralian Chryslers from VH on­wards.

Then there’s the fact that it was sold new with an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, mak­ing this car truly one-of-a-kind!

The next owner was Stephen Har­ri­son, a UK Chrysler en­thu­si­ast who had ac­tu­ally seen the car in Gil­ford when it was 18 months old. Stephen re­called there were ru­mours of a Charger R/T in Cardiff and after a two-year search, he even­tu­ally tracked down the elu­sive Tony John and pur­chased the car in De­cem­ber, 2001. Stephen said he ini­tially thought the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion was a mod­i­fi­ca­tion car­ried out by a pre­vi­ous owner. He was a mem­ber of the UK Charger club and over the years has owned six other Aus­tralian Charg­ers. When other club mem­bers checked the body and en­gine num­bers with the Aus­tralian fac­tory build list, the as­ton­ish­ing dis­cov­ery was made that not only was it a fac­tory auto, but also the only R/T auto ever built. As with the pre­vi­ous owner, Stephen Har­ri­son planned to re­store the Charger but after a closer in­spec­tion, he con­ceded the cost of re­fur­bish­ing this very spe­cial car was out of his reach.

When Gavin Farmer and I were writ­ing the first edi­tion of Hey Charger, I learned of this unique Charger in the UK.

A phone call later and Stephen sent me photos, which just made it be­fore the pub­lish­ing dead­line. It was an un­ex­pected and wel­come scoop for our new book.

The ap­pear­ance of this pre­vi­ously un­known Charger cre­ated quite a stir when Hey Charger was re­leased in 2004. The car caught the eye of Stephen Gay, who at the time was the Charger Club of Vic­to­ria’s trea­surer. Stephen has been an avid MOPAR en­thu­si­ast since buy­ing his very first car at age 15 while in high school in the USA. This was an orig­i­nal and one owner 1970 Ply­mouth Bar­racuda with a big block 383ci auto and with orig­i­nal In-Vi­o­let (Plum crazy) FC7 paint. He paid $800 for the Bar­racuda and still owns it to­day, now re­stored and in stor­age in the USA. He also owned a tidy VJ Charger and was al­ways on the look­out for a Ma­genta Charger R/T to match his Bar­racuda.

“Hav­ing read the Hey Charger book, I was very aware of the UK R/T auto’s ex­is­tence and the fact that it was a ‘one of one’, but fig­ured it was a pipe dream that I could ever own it,” Stephen Gay ex­plains to­day. “In­stead, I kept my eye out for a Ma­genta R/T up for sale in Aus­tralia, but this never even­tu­ated.”

How­ever, a trans­fer to the UK meant Stephen had to reluc­tantly sell his Charger. He re­mem­bers his club mates jok­ing that while in the Old Dart he could find that elu­sive Charger R/T auto.

As fate would have it, fel­low Vic­to­ria club mem­ber and good friend Arnold Patch no­ticed the Charger for sale on eBay. Gay was soon in contact with Har­ri­son who had the car in Es­sex, just an hour and a half away from where Gay was liv­ing in Green­wich.

The car had some pretty rough panel and paint­work done to it – on first sight, Stephen said it was barely recog­nis­able from the car he’d seen in images. But all the num­bers matched con­firm­ing it was in­deed the one and only Charger R/T auto. There was a cu­ri­ous one-digit anom­aly with the en­gine num­ber, which was for the stan­dard 265 auto, not the HP 218bhp auto that came with the car (see box). Stephen con­tacted me in NZ to dis­cuss the num­bers and we put the anom­aly down to the fact it was

a one-off auto. Sat­is­fied that it was the real thing and de­spite its rather daunt­ing con­di­tion, Stephen made a suc­cess­ful bid on eBay and the Charger had an Aus­tralian owner for the first time.

It would have been hor­ren­dously ex­pen­sive to have the Charger re­stored in the UK so Stephen had it shipped back to Aus­tralia, ar­riv­ing in Mel­bourne in June 2009. To­tal cost landed in Aus­tralia was $37,000 but the real spend­ing had yet to be­gin! In De­cem­ber 2009 the car was moved to Valiant Spares and Re­pairs in Bayswa­ter (now in Croy­don) and placed in the care of Valiant spe­cial­ist Brad McKen­zie. Brad had the car stripped and as­sessed, parts col­lected and quotes sought from brave body shops.

The body was in ex­tremely poor con­di­tion, very much in the bas­ket case cat­e­gory. To re­store the badly rusted body was go­ing to be a mas­sive task and just find­ing some­one suit­able to take it on was a chal­lenge in it­self. For­tu­nately Glenn Maggs at Black Edge Au­to­body in Bayswa­ter stepped up to the plate. Glenn spe­cialised in restor­ing Alfa Romeos, and so was used to see­ing rusted-out wrecks ar­riv­ing in his work­shop... After tak­ing a deep breath, Stephen in­structed Glenn to go ahead.

The Charger’s rusted-out shell ar­rived at

Black Edge’s work­shop in May 2010. The rust was par­tic­u­larly bad from the A-pil­lar and fire­wall rear­wards, and it was sug­gested that a donor Charger be used to com­pletely re­place the rear of the car. But to do so would mean los­ing its au­then­tic­ity, as well as cost­ing the life of another Charger. It would cost an ex­tra $12,000 to re­pair the badly rusted sec­tions, but Stephen ar­gued that it would cost about the same to buy a suit­able rear sec­tion of a donor Charger any­way. So the de­ci­sion was made to re­pair the orig­i­nal body and thus main­tain­ing the Charger’s au­then­tic­ity. It took just un­der five years for all of the rust re­pair work to be com­pleted in what Black Edge Au­to­body de­scribed on its Facebook page as the big­gest job they have ever un­der­taken.

In April 2015, the body re­ceived its fi­nal paint­ing by Black Edge’s Al­lan Gib­son, be­fore mov­ing back to Valiant Spares and Re­pairs for fi­nal as­sem­bly. Brad McKen­zie and Jared Pich car­ried out the as­sem­bly work with a dead­line of the Chryslers on the Mur­ray gath­er­ing in March 2016. The orig­i­nal dual out­let ex­haust man­i­fold needed re­plac­ing and after much search­ing, another sports air cleaner unique to the HP 265 en­gine was found. For­tu­nately, apart from odd­ball items such as the door han­dles and side in­di­ca­tor lights, many parts were sourced off the shelf at Elko Per­for­mance Parts. After rum­mag­ing through boxes of parts that came with the car, the com­pli­ance plate was found, in very poor con­di­tion but enough to con­firm its au­then­tic­ity. This was cleaned up and fit­ted back onto the fire­wall. For­tu­nately the car still had the orig­i­nal in­ner guards with the body and SOA num­bers clearly stamped on it.

Fi­nally, on March 17, 2016, the restora­tion was deemed fin­ished and the car was of­fi­cially in­spected and regis­tered in Vic­to­ria. It had taken seven years and around 1150 pro­fes­sional man­hours and $50,000 in parts to com­plete.

Its first pub­lic dis­play was Chryslers on the Mur­ray in Al­bury, mak­ing it part of the Chrysler Charger’s 45th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions. This co­in­cided with the launch of the new edi­tion of Hey Charger.

For those in the know, Stephen Gay’s VH Chrysler Valiant Charger R/T auto was the stand out star of the show, with crowds of ad­mir­ers flock­ing around the car through­out the week­end. At the prize giv­ing, the Charger picked up the Leo Geoghe­gan Memo­rial Tro­phy pre­sented by Leo’s sis­ter, Marie-Louise Howard, and was also awarded a tro­phy as one of the ‘Top Five’ cars at the event.

The res­cue of this one-off Charger in the UK

and sub­se­quent re­turn to Aus­tralia must rank as one of the most sig­nif­i­cant Aus­tralian car restora­tion sto­ries ever told. It’s a fit­ting tribute to Stephen Gay for his per­sis­tence and dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­turn this unique piece of Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing his­tory to its right­ful home and then bankroll its mas­sive restora­tion. A very spe­cial men­tion must also be made to Stephen’s wife, Fiona, who tol­er­ated the lengthy restora­tion process and the eye wa­ter­ing, ever-in­creas­ing cost. Fiona was over­whelmed by the re­sponse to the car at the Chryslers on the Mur­ray in March.

On be­half of AMC and all Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­asts, we salute Stephen Gay and the skilled crafts­men who un­der­took this land­mark restora­tion pro­ject, and con­grat­u­late them on a job very well done in­deed.

Left: Aussie Stephen Gay lib­er­ated the Charger from an English garage with barn doors and the jour­ney back home, half a world away, be­gins.

The orig­i­nal Tu­dor/We­basto soft-style sun­roof is un­der­stood to have been in­stalled by the first owner when the car was new. Re­stor­ers elected to re­place the sun­roof to re­tain its orig­i­nal UK-spec.

From left to right: Look Ma, no floor – and one bloody big job ahead of the team; stripped down and on the ro­tis­serie in May 2010; new front-clip and fire­wall; body with primer ap­plied; weld­ing of the quar­ter pan­els.

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