HOLY GRAIL

1966 DODGE CHARGER

New Zealand Classic Car - - EDITORIAL -

In 1964, Chrysler cre­ated a leg­end. Its highly ef­fi­cient hemi­spher­i­cal-headed V8 de­sign of the ’50s was re­vised, and the re­sult­ing mon­ster be­came the foun­da­tion of an au­to­mo­tive leg­end that per­sists over a half-cen­tury later. If you were to at­tend a cur­rent Na­tional Hot Rod As­so­ci­a­tion ( NHRA) drag meet­ing, you’d note that the ground-shak­ing and eardrum­burst­ing ni­tro-fu­elled weapons that make up the ranks are pow­ered by mod­ern­ized de­riv­a­tives of that leg­endary lump of ’60s iron — the 426 Hemi.

An all-out race en­gine de­signed pri­mar­ily for Nascar and used in the Ply­mouth Belved­eres of the year, the Hemi’s un­ri­valled per­for­mance put its rac­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity into ques­tion — so a milder ‘Street Hemi’ be­gan de­vel­op­ment in 1965, for in­clu­sion in cer­tain Chrysler mod­els to en­sure that the num­bers of Hemiengined ve­hi­cles sold to the gen­eral public would meet ho­molo­ga­tion re­quire­ments. This Street Hemi de­sign was fun­da­men­tally the same as the race en­gine, with sev­eral con­ces­sions to­wards im­proved street driv­abil­ity. Most no­table of these were the re­duced com­pres­sion ra­tio, down from 12.5:1 to 10.25:1, and a milder camshaft pro­file, while ex­ter­nal changes in­cluded cast-iron head­ers in place of tubu­lar-steel head­ers and a dual-plane alu­minium in­take man­i­fold topped with two Carter AFB four-bar­rel carbs. While it might be called a ‘street’ en­gine, the 426 Street Hemi is any­thing but …

As luck would have it, at the time that Chrysler’s rocket sci­en­tists were busy re­de­vel­op­ing the Hemi en­gine, the cor­po­rate big­wigs had also cho­sen the Dodge Di­vi­sion to spear­head an all-new mar­ket seg­ment. It was in­tended to be a mid­size model to slot be­tween the lower-end ‘pony-car’ seg­ment and the more up­mar­ket, lux­ury-ori­ented sec­tor of the mar­ket, and Dodge started with the most suit­able base — the Chrysler B-plat­form used be­neath the then-cur­rent Coronet. As the new model would strad­dle two very dif­fer­ent mar­kets, Dodge’s de­sign­ers did some­thing both log­i­cal and un­ex­pected. They ef­fec­tively chopped the roof off the ex­ist­ing Coronet and re­placed it with a sportier fast­back de­sign. In fact, the 1966 Dodge Coronet shares its front-end pan­els with what would be­come the 1966 Dodge Charger.

With its po­lar­iz­ing ex­te­rior de­sign and rather high base price, the 1966 Dodge Charger cer­tainly didn’t en­joy the same num­ber of sales as the pony-car mar­ket. And, of the 37,344 Charg­ers pro­duced in 1966, only 468 were

op­tioned with the 426 Street Hemi. How­ever, of those 468, even fewer were built to the holy-grail spec­i­fi­ca­tion of late’60s Mopars — with the 426 Hemi and A-833 four-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. Only 250 of these were built, and you’re look­ing at one.

Too good to be true

“We bought the Charger four years ago, in June or July of 2013,” Rod­ney Hol­land re­calls. But where the car’s story re­ally starts is with Owen Grigg, whose ’57 Chrysler 300C Rod­ney painstak­ingly re­stored and which we fea­tured in the April 2012 is­sue of New Zealand Clas­sic Car. Owen had also sold Rod­ney and his part­ner, Zeta, a gen­uine Hurst Oldsmo­bile — one the cou­ple ended up driv­ing for quite some time.

Rod­ney and Zeta en­joyed the Hurst Olds, not least be­cause it was com­plete and ready to go with no work re­quired — some­thing Rod­ney couldn’t over­look, as he was work­ing around the clock at his Rod­ney’s Restora­tions busi­ness. But an­other op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self when Owen cruised around one day, as he tends to do, and told Rod­ney and Zeta about a mate of his in Texas in the US who knew of a “cheap Hemi Charger”. This was promptly shot down with a, “Nah, there’s no such thing!” from Rod­ney and Zeta both, but, in this case, the Mopar nuts were to be proven wrong.

A bit of on­line dig­ging re­vealed a list­ing on Craigslist for pre­cisely that — a sup­pos­edly num­bers-match­ing ’66 Charger, with all the fruit, all doc­u­men­ta­tion, and an ask­ing price that beg­gared be­lief.

“I asked Rod­ney what he loved more — the Olds or the Charger,” Zeta says. “You want to own both, but you can’t. We could only have one, and, for Rod­ney, it had to be the Charger.”

The Charger was listed for sale by ‘Hemi Don’ Mcil­wain in Yuba City, North Cal­i­for­nia, and, as luck would have it, they were in a po­si­tion to buy it, thanks es­pe­cially to the help of Mar­cus Goldswor­thy at Fa­mous Pa­cific Ship­ping (FPS). This was helped by the fact that Rod­ney was al­ready booked in to head abroad to Road Amer­ica, and he planned to check the car out be­fore the race to en­sure that it was all it was sup­posed to be. That ended up be­ing de­ferred un­til af­ter they’d fin­ished at the track, and Rod­ney couldn’t have hus­tled the boys over to Hemi Don’s any quicker.

He smiles when re­mem­ber­ing some of the Ki­wis’ re­ac­tions to the “primered-up piece of junk”, but, as soon as he set eyes on it, Rod­ney knew it was the real deal. A thor­ough on­ceover of the car only con­vinced him fur­ther, and some­thing in Don’s char­ac­ter told Rod­ney that he was deal­ing with a com­pletely trust­wor­thy per­son. The deal was as good as done, and, af­ter he’d re­turned home to New Zealand, Rod­ney and Zeta could scarcely wait for the Charger to ar­rive.

Just a lit­tle pa­tience

With every­thing re­quired to com­plete it, and a sub­stan­tial quan­tity of doc­u­men­ta­tion dat­ing right back to the orig­i­nal 1966 pur­chase or­der, there was lit­tle ques­tion that Rod­ney and Zeta had their hands on a very rare car in­deed.

How­ever, progress was slow, and any­one who knows Rod­ney will know why. His work ethic is so finely tuned to­wards pro­vid­ing the best pos­si­ble ser­vice for his cus­tomers that he rarely has time to fo­cus on his own projects.

He did chip away at it as time per­mit­ted, although the over­all qual­ity of the metal work was ex­cep­tional for a car of its age — Rod­ney only needed Johno Pan­ton to cut out a small amount of rust around one wheel arch.

“You’ll see that the win­dow rub­bers and boot rub­ber are all the manky orig­i­nals,” Rod­ney men­tions. “We didn’t need to re­move the wind­screens dur­ing the re­build, and that shows how solid the car was when we started.”

He also points out the orig­i­nal paint un­der­neath the trunk lid and around the boot gut­ters, key in­di­ca­tors of the solid state of the car. In fact, all that needed re­plac­ing was the floor car­pets, which had de­te­ri­o­rated in the years of stor­age lead­ing up to Rod­ney’s ac­qui­si­tion of the car.

Due to the value of the orig­i­nal num­bers-match­ing 426 Hemi and to help Rod­ney speed things up, good friend Roger Wil­liams took over the job of over­see­ing the en­gine re­quire­ments. This in­cluded hav­ing Mur­ray Smith at Pa­pakura En­gine Spe­cial­ists tear it down to be bal­anced and blueprinted for peace of mind. The ele­phant en­gine is bolted to an 18-spline A-833 four-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion and Dana 60 with Sure Grip lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial (LSD), nei­ther of which have been fid­dled with since ar­riv­ing in New Zealand yet are in pris­tine work­ing con­di­tion, as you’d ex­pect from such beefy gear.

While Rod­ney was happy to take his time and just work on the Charger when­ever he had a spare mo­ment, Zeta had dif­fer­ent ideas. Know­ing just what the Charger meant to Rod­ney, she felt he needed to have it ready to un­veil at the up­com­ing Amer­i­can Mus­cle Car Club (AMCC) show — the only span­ner in the works was that the AMCC show was less than six months away, and this would be the only chance to make the show, which is held once ev­ery three years.

She be­gan to give him a rev up to get things done, but the real kick up his back­side came at Christ­mas of 2016, when she pur­chased him an Ul­ti­mate Pass to

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