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Remembering my Hemi Charger

In last month’s column, titled “My First Mopar”, I told the story of how I was given the rusty, rolling shell of a once proud ’69 Charger R/T back in 1979. A black L-code 4-speed (driveline missing), it was the right car at the wrong time. Heck, I was a 15 year old in high school, my budget was zero and I was way over my head. I sold the sleek Charger for peanuts (the money actually bought lots of pizza and M&M’s) and continued with my school work. But my infatuation with Mopars continued to grow. Yeah, I used to watch the Dukes of Hazzard (which we used to call the Douches of Hazzard) but I’m proud to say I never once, for a second thought those cars were cool.

Quite the opposite, I was immediately pissed at the bozo graphics, truck wheels, goofball CB whip antenna and dumb ass push bar. To me the cars were not heroes, they were victims. I used to get real close to the TV screen during the action sequences so I could check the front grilles and rear tail light panels for R/T emblems. When absent, I’d feel a bit of relief and think “at least they didn’t wreck an R/T this time”. I also used to watch the silhouette of the rear axle during jumps to see if the subject car had an 8-1/4 (square-ish), an 8-3/4 (round) or Dana 60 (triangular). I knew the Dana meant the donor car was likely something special, and while the vast majority displayed the half moon of an 8-3/4, a few did show off the puny 8-1/4 axle, indicating the likelihood they started life as 318 cars. Happily I didn’t spot too many Danas, maybe one if any at all.

At high school between 1979 and graduation in 1982, I ran a one-man campaign to inform my fellow students that Mopars were way cooler than the crap perpetuated by the Dukes. I attended a small private school in Worcester, Mass. and even though I was about the only gear head in the place, I had a growing collection of vintage car magazines I scored at yard sales. I’d pull out full color centerfolds like a shot of Don Carlton in the Motown Missile doing a smoky burnout, the Sox & Martin Hemi Duster launching at Pomona, or Gene Snow’s ‘69 Charger flip top Charger at rest. I’d pin or tape these color centerfolds to the cork bulletin boards in the hallways and classrooms. I did this early in the day, before anybody was around then I’d see how long it took before a teacher removed them. Some went for as long as a day, while others were gone by the end of first period. Usually, I was a little bummed out that my subversive propaganda campaign didn’t get bigger notice from the student body.

So I occasionally took things a step further and would write 426 Hemi, Super Bee, R/T or Six Pack on desk tops. That’s vandalism, baby, but I just had to get the word out. To my eye, I was doing the school a favor. I’d also sneak into empty classrooms and write Mopar ad slogans on chalkboards. When I wrote; “Even Custer Couldn’t Muster a Stampede Like the Hemi Charger” in huge chalk letters, it did get plenty of attention…in the form of a bulletin warning detention for any unauthorized chalkboard use. It seems the teachers weren’t hip to the task of clearing my scrawlings before they could get down to business once class started. Not even Ms. Tsang, the cool social science teacher who drove her Plum Crazy ’70 Barracuda 318 ragtop with a 3-speed on the floor to school each day. Today, I can’t help but wonder if those same students and teachers – some 25-plus years later – say to themselves “I’ve seen that word someplace before” when confronted by the many manifestations of the Hemi hysteria in today’s media. If so, then my work is complete.

But I digress. I made it through high school and college with my Mopar infatuation intact but it wasn’t until the year after college graduation that I got my first real Mopar. The year was 1987 and my Grandmother had left me a $10,000 inheritance that my Dad told me was NOT to be touched. But I was dead set on buying a Hemi car and eyed the legacy as a means to make the dream real. Plus, at this time the first muscle car price boom was on as Baby Boomers –slightly older than me - got their first taste of nostalgia and prices started to climb. So I knew a Hemi purchase wouldn’t necessarily be money down the drain. Back then, you could still buy a decent 383 or 440 powered Mopar muscle car for under $5,000 and Hemmings was chock full of fresh listings every month. Hemi cars were in the lead and it took at least $8,000 to get on board, as much as $15,000 for a good Cuda or wing car. Crazy money at the time.

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