TAKE CHARGE

CATCH DODGE FEVER IN A 1968 HEMI CHARGER R/T

Mopar Muscle - - Hard-nosed Negotiation - TEXT AND PHO­TOS BY CHRIS HOL­LEY

It was the fall of 1967 and, for the 1968 model year, Dodge in­tro­duced the all-new sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Charger that was an in­stant hit with car buy­ers and would even­tu­ally be­come an iconic sym­bol of the mus­cle car era. The ap­peal­ing “Coke bot­tle” flank pro­file ac­cen­tu­ated by twin-door scal­lops and a faux fast­back ap­pear­ance with the pop­u­lar long­hood, short-deck look dif­fer­en­ti­ated the Charger from the rest of the 1968 of­fer­ings. For 1968, Dodge started the suc­cess­ful Dodge Fever cam­paign, and for many, the fever was se­vere. A prospec­tive buyer could check off the de­sired per­for­mance op­tions when or­der­ing a new Dodge, work out the terms for a man­age­able down pay­ment and monthly in­stall­ments, and drive out with one of the bum­ble­bee-striped Dodges. If a twin-tail striped Charger R/T was pur­chased, the new owner now owned one of the “five from the hive” Dodges, which in­cluded the Swinger 340, Dart 340 GTS, Coronet R/T, Su­per Bee, and the Charger R/T. Pick­ing up one of these Dodges au­tho­rized the owner to “Run with the Dodge Scat Pack,” which was al­ways a cure for the fever.

Ron­nie Stocks of Southaven, Mis­sis­sippi, was one of the lucky few to catch the fever in 1968. While in Viet­nam,

Ron­nie had the op­por­tu­nity to see pre­views of the pro­duc­tion Charger in var­i­ous mag­a­zines traded be­tween sol­diers of the 1st Cavalry Di­vi­sion, and he was hooked. It was the sleek lines that piqued Ron­nie’s in­ter­est in the Charger. In the mid ’60s, Ron­nie had read about the for­mi­da­ble power of the 426 Hemi, and he was im­pressed with the at­ten­tion the en­gine re­ceived. Ron­nie de­cided if he was go­ing to get a Charger R/T, why not have the most pow­er­ful bul­let in­stalled be­tween the fram­erails. He got se­ri­ous about get­ting the Charger, so he had his fa­ther send the lat­est Dodge brochures about the Charger of­fer­ings, and he quickly made his de­ci­sion about the Charger, but where

he was lo­cated in Viet­nam, there wasn’t a post ex­change (PX). An or­der couldn’t be pro­cessed, so Ron­nie had his fa­ther re­lay a dealer or­der form, and Ron­nie selected the op­tions he wanted. The or­der form was sent back to his par­ents, and his fa­ther took the pa­per­work to the lo­cal Dodge deal­er­ship. Two weeks be­fore Ron­nie ar­rived home, a beau­ti­ful MM1 bronze Charger R/T, sport­ing a black vinyl top and un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally miss­ing the eas­ily rec­og­niz­able bum­ble­bee stripes ar­rived at Fort Dodge Inc. in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee (Ron­nie’s home­town in 1968). On June 8, 1968, a mere 12 hours af­ter ar­riv­ing from over­seas, Ron­nie picked up the Hurst-stirred four-speed Hemi Charger R/T.

For the first few months of own­er­ship, Ron­nie made many high-speed trips be­tween Mem­phis and Fort Camp­bell, Ken­tucky, un­til he was dis­charged from the ser­vice. From that point, the Charger was des­ig­nated a daily driver sta­tus, and it was drag raced at Lake­land In­ter­na­tional Race­way on the week­ends. The Charger was slowly mod­i­fied as the 15x6 steel wheels gave way to Cra­gar GT mags. The fac­tory ex­haust man­i­folds were swapped for a pair of Hooker head­ers, and the fac­tory coil was re­placed by a Mal­lory coil fol­lowed by an Ac­cel coil. The mas­sive valve cover’s black crin­kle paint was re­moved, and a lit­tle flash was added when the valve cov­ers were chromed. Ron­nie re­moved the R/T badges from the Charger, and that cou­pled with the bum­ble­bee stripe delete led to many sur­prised would-be street chal­lengers, think­ing they were pick­ing on a fee­ble 318 or tem­per­ate 383 in­stead of an awe-in­spir­ing pachy­derm.

By 1973, the swiftly ris­ing fuel costs due to the oil em­bargo and in­creas­ing in­sur­ance sur­charges per­suaded Ron­nie to re­move the Charger from its daily driv­ing du­ties. Over the years, the Charger’s ser­vice was re­duced un­til it was fi­nally put in stor­age for al­most a decade. In 1982, Ron­nie de­cided to sell the Charger, and af­ter a few weeks, the low-mileage orig­i­nal Charger R/T only gar­nered the in­ter­est of one per­son that thought the $3,000 price tag was too high. Ron­nie changed his mind and kept the Charger, but it wasn’t un­til 1985 when he got se­ri­ous about re­turn­ing the Charger to the street. In 1986, the Hemi was re­built with fresh bear­ings, rings, and pis­tons. Ron­nie had trou­ble find­ing the fac­tory 10.25:1 pis­tons, so he con­tacted Herb Mc­can­d­less, and Mc­can­d­less ma­chined a set of eight 12.5:1 pis­tons down to the lower com­pres­sion ra­tio. Ron­nie had a small amount of rust re­pair per­formed at the bot­tom of both sail pan­els, and in 1987, the en­tire Charger was reshot in fac­tory MM1 Bronze Poly paint, and a new-old-stock (NOS) black vinyl top was reap­plied to the Charger.

Since the late 1980s, the Charger has been driven to lo­cal car shows and shown at the larger Mopar events through­out the United States. In June 2011, the Charger was awarded Sur­vivor sta­tus at the Bloom­ing­ton Gold Sur­vivor Col­lec­tor Car event in St. Charles, Illi­nois, and that was fol­lowed by a month-long dis­play at the Tu­pelo Au­to­mo­bile Mu­seum in the Mopars at the Mu­seum ex­hibit in No­vem­ber 2012. As the value of this 1 of 211 four­speed Hemi ’68 Charger has in­creased, Ron­nie has be­come more re­luc­tant to drive the Charger to car events fur­ther than about 10 miles, rather he prefers to tow the Charger to events. Ron­nie has no con­cerns with peo­ple re­fer­ring to the Charger as a trailer queen. He knows the value of the Charger, and the sim­ple fact that it can­not be re­placed if it were dam­aged in a ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent.

Even though the Charger has been rel­e­gated to trailer queen sta­tus, it doesn’t mean the Charger never gets driven. The Charger R/T has be­come a bit of a star as it was used in sev­eral scenes in the Cine­max se­ries Quarry in June 2013, and it was again used for the se­ries in July 2015 in nu­mer­ous scenes through­out down­town Mem­phis. While the Quarry se­ries was the Charger’s ini­tial de­but on the small screen, the Charger had made its big-screen in­tro­duc­tion in the sum­mer of 1971 in the movie Two-lane Black­top. If you look care­fully, the Charger can be seen in one of the stag­ing lane scenes at the Lake­land In­ter­na­tional Race­way.

Af­ter 50 years of own­er­ship, Ron­nie is still amazed that the Hemi at­tracts a crowd, and af­ter all those years, it still as­ton­ishes him when some­one stops by to peak into the en­gine bay at those mam­moth valve cov­ers of the 426, and then ad­mit to him “I’ve never seen a Hemi car be­fore.” If you are ever at a Mopar show and see a crowd around a clean bronze 1968 Hemi Charger R/T, stop by and take a peek at the Hemi, and then ask Ron­nie to tell you about the Charger; he has 50 years of Dodge Fever sto­ries that he is will­ing to share.

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