CATCH DODGE FEVER IN A 1968 HEMI CHARGER R/T
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.