ALL CHARGED UP

While the Mopar guys were clean­ing up in NASCAR and the NHRA, Chrysler of­fered a street ver­sion of the Hemi for 1966.

Mopar Muscle - - Contents - TEXT AND PHO­TOS BY RICH TRUESDELL

Why is it that the ’66 and ’67 Charg­ers get less love than their ’68, ’69, and ’70 coun­ter­parts? Is it the styling, de­rived from the ’65 Dodge Charger II con­cept car? Is it be­cause to many it’s ob­vi­ously based on the more ple­beian 1966 Coronet two-door hard­top? Is it its size? These ques­tions will be de­bated by the Mopar faith­ful for as long as there are Mopar faith­ful.

In­tro­duced on New Year’s Day 1966 as a 1966 model, the Charger was clearly not a di­rect re­sponse to the suc­cess of Ford’s Mus­tang pony­car. The Charger was a spe­cialty car, a Coronet hard­top with a fast­back roof, and a unique seat­ing pack­age with four bucket seats and an ex­pen­sive to build (and re­pair) electo-lu­mi­nes­cent in­stru­ment clus­ter — tech­nol­ogy that first ap­peared in the ’60-’62 Chryslers. The first-gen­er­a­tion Charger had an in­ter­est­ing, al­beit short, ges­ta­tion orig­i­nally. The in­ter­me­di­ate-sized Dodge Charger was planned as a lim­ited pro­duc­tion 500-unit sporty hard­top as a fol­low-up to Chrysler’s run of 55 Chrysler tur­bine cars. In the prior two years, these cars were put into the hands of 203 fam­i­lies be­fore the pro­gram was can­celed. The work on the po­ten­tial tur­bine-pow­ered car was handed off to Dodge. In­ter­nally at Chrysler, man­age­ment was un­der pres­sure from Dodge deal­ers for some sort of counter to the Mus­tang. Chrysler man­age­ment didn’t want a di­rect cor­po­rate com­peti­tor to Ply­mouth’s Bar­racuda. This was part of an over­all mar­ket­ing plan to have Ply­mouth com­pete with Ford and Chevro­let and Dodge com­pete against Mer­cury and Pon­tiac.

At the same time, Chrysler’s sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Hemi head en­gine dom­i­nated NASCAR in 1964 to the de­gree that it was es­sen­tially banned for the 1965 rac­ing sea­son. NASCAR’S

Bill France, see­ing grand­stands empty and Ford dom­i­nat­ing the 1965 sea­son, had the Hemi band re­scinded and Chrysler re­turned for the 1966 sea­son. Richard Petty won his sec­ond Day­tona 500, and David Pear­son won the NASCAR cham­pi­onship in a Cot­ton Owens–pre­pared Dodge Charger. The 426 Hemi fea­tured dual-quad carbs and pro­duced an ad­ver­tised (but un­der­rated) 425 hp. Tech­ni­cally avail­able on all B-body Mopars across the Ply­mouth and Dodge mod­els (in­clud­ing four-door sedans and sta­tion wag­ons, al­though no Hemi gro­cery-get­ters were built ac­cord­ing to Mopar ex­pert and Mopar Mus­cle con­trib­u­tor Ge­off Stunkard) with Ply­mouth pro­duc­tion com­menc­ing first in late 1965. And that brings us to the car you see here, an early build ’66 Dodge Charger Street Hemi. Ac­cord­ing to owner Joseph Stark, this ’66 Charger Street Hemi left Chrysler’s Lynch Road plant in Detroit on Jan­uary 26, 1966. On Fe­bru­ary 14, it was shipped to Mo­bile Dodge Inc. in Mo­bile, Alabama.

Joseph’s fas­ci­na­tion with cars started with his fa­ther, Doug, who grew up dur­ing the time of early mus­cle cars. “My fa­ther had a triple black Road Run­ner when he was go­ing to high school,” re­lates Joseph. “Of course, as most teenagers would do, he beat the car up and tried to make it go faster. When he turned 19, he bought an­other car, which he still owns to­day,

an orig­i­nal sur­vivor ’69 Hemi GTX. The car was a daily driver, which we drove ev­ery­where. Af­ter my older brother and I were born, we were driven in the back seat strapped in our car seats to the gro­cery store. Of course, fam­ily life and bills put the car off to the side. The car sat for many years un­til 2004 when he de­cided to go thru the car and get it up and run­ning again. I was go­ing to a lo­cal ju­nior col­lege and spent time be­tween school, work, and help­ing him put the car back on the road. Once the car was work­ing, we would take it to car shows and to a lo­cal car get-to­gether on Fri­day nights dur­ing the sum­mer. Go­ing to shows and mak­ing new friends, I knew I needed to own one my­self.”

Joseph em­barked on a quest to pur­chase and re­store a car as a fa­ther/son pro­ject. He found a ’66 Hemi Charger on ebay. “I was in­ter­ested due to, of course, it be­ing a Hemi car, like my fa­ther’s, and the unique style of the ve­hi­cle,” says Joseph. “I con­tacted the owner, and af­ter some dis­cus­sions back and forth, I went to see the car with my fa­ther. The car was lo­cated in a city only about 15 miles away from our home. Af­ter look­ing at the car and check­ing to make sure the en­gine matched, I de­cided to pur­chase the ve­hi­cle. An in­ter­est­ing fact was that the car was be­ing stored at a rel­a­tive’s house, but the owner ac­tu­ally lived less than a half-mile away from our home.”

“Af­ter a deal was struck, we took the car home and the many boxes of parts, as well as a donor car. Once we got the car home, we re­al­ized there was a lot more to the story. The car was es­sen­tially a roller with no in­te­rior, no en­gine in­stalled, a pure shell of a ve­hi­cle. Af­ter fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the car, we no­ticed that it was once a race car. The fend­ers had been cut for larger tires, then re­paired. The in­ner fram­erails had been cut and moved in to ac­com­mo­date larger tires. There were signs of a rollcage that had to be re­paired. It also seemed the car had not been reg­is­tered since 1993, since the plates were Ten­nessee plates and had a 1993 reg­is­tra­tion sticker. There was ev­i­dence that up to four peo­ple owned the car be­fore who tried to re­store the ve­hi­cle and who knows how many own­ers be­fore that. This was an early sign of what was to come and the is­sues mov­ing for­ward.”

Joseph’s ul­ti­mate goal was to build a driver-qual­ity car, be­ing that this was the first time that the fa­ther/son team had at­tempted to re­store a ve­hi­cle. So with the help of friends in the lo­cal car group and fam­ily mem­bers, the pro­ject moved for­ward. Once they started work­ing on the car, ev­ery­one re­al­ized that there were other is­sues, in­clud­ing the poor paint and body­work to con­tend with. Most of the parts that came with the car were ei­ther in­cor­rect or needed to be re­built or re­stored.

“I re­mem­ber the first time we pres­sure­washed the car the paint was com­ing off the en­gine bay in sheets,” says Joseph. “As a re­sult, we de­cide to take the car down to bare metal and paint it. We used a lo­cal shop called Bay Auto in Con­cord, Cal­i­for­nia, that was rec­om­mended by some friends. We as­sumed the car was very sim­i­lar to other Mopar B-body ve­hi­cles, but we were very wrong. The main struc­ture, frame, and en­gi­neer­ing were, but in all other as­pects very dif­fer­ent than the other B-body cars.”

Joseph de­cided to do more re­search and in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the car be­fore mov­ing for­ward. He discovered that the car was an early pro­duc­tion ’66 Charger. These ve­hi­cles had many spe­cific and spe­cial­ized parts dif­fer­ent than other B-body ve­hi­cles of the same year. Parts were dif­fer­ent, be­cause for both 1966 and 1967 Charg­ers com­pared to other B-body ve­hi­cles there are spe­cific parts only for early pro­duc­tion ’66 Charg­ers (one part, Joseph noted on his car, was an an­ti­sway bar that came from the full­size C-body chas­sis). The good as­pect was that all the im­por­tant parts that came with the car were cor­rect and orig­i­nal to the car, in­clud­ing the en­gine. Joseph noted that there were com­pli­ca­tions, as there were very few Charger-spe­cific re­pro­duc­tion parts avail­able. As a re­sult, Joseph had to pur­chase many NOS parts and orig­i­nal parts to re­store. Joseph says that even to­day, there aren’t many re­pro­duc­tion parts and many are not ac­tu­ally 100 per­cent cor­rect. The re­sult was he was no longer

build­ing a driver car, but ac­tu­ally restor­ing the car to a show car with the cor­rect parts and date codes. Eas­ier said than done.

“We worked on the car in our garage al­most ev­ery day — af­ter work, af­ter school, on days off,” re­mem­bers Joseph. “Some­times work­ing on it for 10 hours a day, try­ing to com­plete it in the fastest man­ner pos­si­ble. We tried to min­i­mize the num­ber of car parts lit­ter­ing the ex­tra rooms in the house, the bane of my mom’s life. Friends would come by to help when avail­able. Many times we had to do things two or three times to get it right. There were days when I didn’t even know if it could ever be done, and I wanted to give up. Af­ter about two and a half years, we com­pleted the car and had it run­ning on the streets. It was great to see the car up and run­ning and com­pleted. I re­mem­ber hear­ing the en­gine for the first time when we started it, and many of our friends in the car group wanted to be there to hear it run for the first time and be part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. It re­ally showed the fam­ily at­mos­phere in the car com­mu­nity and the re­la­tion­ships we built.”

Once com­pleted, Joseph started get­ting the car out to his Fri­day night car group get-to­geth­ers and car shows. “I was very proud of what we were able to do, and the work paid off,” says Joseph. “The ex­pe­ri­ence of the restora­tion work is the most im­por­tant as­pect of the process and be­ing able to say I built this car and did some­thing not ev­ery­one can do. That’s what’s so re­ward­ing. But, of course, win­ning awards isn’t a bad thing ei­ther. The car has won many awards and shows very well.”

One of the big take­aways for Joseph was the pride that comes from do­ing the work him­self with the help of his fa­ther. It was a learn­ing process, and he gained so much knowl­edge through the restora­tion. He was able to show off his me­chan­i­cal knowl­edge, while ex­press­ing his artis­tic side. He learned to paint with a paint gun and do body­work, skills he thor­oughly en­joys and is now able to help friends with their own projects.

Need­less to say, the Starks are a Mopar fam­ily. His brother, Doug Jr., owns sev­eral clas­sic Mopars while Joseph’s daily driver is a 2013 Chal­lenger R/T. His par­ents, Doug and Lisa, own sev­eral Mopars, in­clud­ing a Chrysler 300, Dodge Ram truck, PT Cruiser, and, of course, the Hemi GTX. Noth­ing can re­place the ex­pe­ri­ence, new friends, and ex­tended car fam­ily he’s gained. Hope­fully, a new pro­ject is on the hori­zon.

Our first en­counter with Joseph and Doug was at the 2018 Mopar Spring Fling in Van Nuys, Cal­i­for­nia. There we talked with Joseph and when the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self to pho­to­graph in early June in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, we asked what might be a car-re­lated lo­ca­tion close by? Doug told us that there was a closed-down Chrysler-ply­mouth deal­er­ship in nearby Martinez. Ar­riv­ing, we noted a brick build­ing dom­i­nated by a vin­tage Chrysler-ply­mouth sign from the 1960s. With a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion (and some help from Pho­to­shop) the blank panel — which Chrysler and Im­pe­rial ex­pert Bill Adams thought could have been an Im­pe­rial panel — was “painted” red and a Dodge logo was added. It turned out to be the per­fect lo­ca­tion for what is a per­fect car, a clas­sic Dodge Charger that marks the start of the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Hemi era.

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