Buying a car is, without a doubt, usually a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. Doubly so when you’ve not had a chance to inspect it in daylight, or to drive it. Triply so when you’ve sunk everything you’ve got into it.
That said, I was surprised to find myself comparatively unfazed by the purchase of this '68 Dodge Charger, during which I’d ticked all of the above boxes. Sure, I’d made transactions like it before – but at most they were for a third of the value. Positive waves were keeping me afloat; it looked, felt and sounded like an honest, solid car.
Well, that was what I dearly hoped, at any rate. It was somewhat of a bold assertion, given that I’d not even seen the car in the cold hard light of day. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to engineer in a little safety net: although I’d agreed to buy the car, I’d only done so on the basis that I could give it one final inspection once we’d got it out of the garage.
My reasoning for that, besides not really being able to get a clear look at the underside, was that the car was pinned against one wall. Consequently you couldn’t see much of the passenger side at all, let alone anything underneath. I wasn't looking to get into a weldathon, so it needed to be as clean on that side as it appeared on the other.
I didn't think that getting the Dodge out into the daylight was going to be the work of a moment, though. It just about ran, sure, but the brake pedal had zero effect on the drums at each corner – unassisted drums, at that – and the handbrake had long retired from its duty of holding the Charger on a gradient.
This was a problem because the garage faced onto a small slope that led immediately into a fairly busy road. Visions of some 1800kg of unrestrained Dodge careening through traffic, having escaped from our grasp, and barrelling into the house opposite flicked in and out of my mind.
I decided that I would cross that bridge when I came to it. An erratic and busy work schedule, however, meant I would have few chances to actually go and collect the car. Compounding the issue was the fact that Steve, the owner, worked long hours. Then there was the matter of arranging transportation. The planets, it seemed, would need to be in alignment for the move to come off within a reasonable timeframe.
I didn’t want to leave the car there indefinitely, though, as the sooner I got it home the sooner I could tear into it and start ordering parts. It would be no fun if I couldn’t get at least a few legal miles under its wheels before the summer was out, and the required parts to get it back on the road weren't going to arrive overnight.
Fortunately, with a bit of cajoling, I managed to create a window of opportunity whereby I could go and extricate the car from the garage. Date confirmed, I excitedly rang my regular transporter – the ever-proficient Scott Middleton of ‘Move That Car’ – only to find that he didn’t work weekends. Quite rightly and sensibly so, I thought, and damn, there goes my cunning plan, too.
I leapt onto the internet and began trawling websites for shipping quotes but then it occurred to me that I knew the perfect person to call. Tony Russello, the owner of a workshop called ‘Wheels in Motion’, was a local American car specialist that had worked on the Firebird I’d owned. He was bound to know someone suitable and, as luck would have it, he did – and they were available.
So, come one damp Saturday morning, I was stood outside the Dodge’s garage again, waiting for a chap called Andy with a low loader. I’d also brought along my dad, who had a long history with classic and American cars, for a second opinion.
He had a quick look around and, interestingly, picked up on similar points that had originally sold the car to me. “It’s not as it left the factory, but it tells its story very easily,” he said. “You can see the changes to colour even though the current finish is very good, so there is very little sense of anything being hidden. For such a substantial car with expanses of flat sheet metal it is incredibly straight, too.
“It’s enchanting, as well, because it isn’t overly restored; it’s rather like a good 10-year-old car that's had a life. In the 1970s when I looked at cars like this in the UK it was very easy to find ruined decade-old cars; this isn’t and it’s nearly fifty. It’s an honest car with a used character that adds to its charm.”
Andy then arrived on cue and instantly negated, much to my delight, any potential drama around getting the car out. He simply backed his truck onto the drive, lowered the bed down to the garage door, and set about winching the Dodge straight out.
The Charger rolled freely and cleanly up onto the truck, and Andy and his son quickly had it strapped down. Watching professionals work is always a joy; the whole process was remarkably slick and took mere minutes. People passing by immediately began slowing to have a good, long look at the American behemoth that was illuminating the otherwise dark, damp street.
We then made a quick inspection but, truth be told, with the car on the loader I'd as good as bought it anyway. There were certainly no huge holes or chunks of missing chassis rail immediately visible, so I was happy enough about the condition of the previously uninspected side. More importantly, I just felt like I should get the money transferred and the car away, before Steve changed his mind about selling it.
My dad offered to jump in the cab with Andy and guide him back, so I handed him the £100 to cover the cost of the transport, and watched with Steve as the Charger rode off to its new home. I almost felt guilty as I signed the V5C, as Steve was evidently sad to see the car go, but I hoped the fact that I’d just electronically drained my bank account into his would come as some consolation. Well, that and the fact that the Dodge would now see the road again, rather than simply slumbering in the garage and continuing to degrade.
By the time I'd finalised the paperwork, set off and reached home, what had occurred was another remarkable demonstration of skill by Andy. In seemingly one single motion he had reversed his truck, replete with wallowing Charger, around a 90-degree bend up a gravel-covered slope, through a gate and parked it squarely alongside the house. He lowered the truck’s bed, gently depositing the Dodge on the driveway, and that was that.
We all stood there, just watching the Charger rock gently as it settled on its suspension. “So, how much was it,” asked Andy, “because that looks like a £40k car.” He was wrong but, damn, was he also so very right.
1968 Dodge Charger
Price £15,000; Economy 0.00mpg; Expenses £100.00; Running total £15,100; Budget remaining £4900; Faults Untested powertrain, exhaust manifold gasket leak, transmission fluid leak, failed braking system, blown bulbs
1. First report
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