Furthermore, £15,000 didn’t actually seem to get much in the way of a sought-after mainstream muscle car in today's market. It might get you into a clean notchback Mustang, a mint Buick or countless Seventies' classics, but they didn't appeal to the same extent. I’d sold my ’68 Firebird for £13,000 and suspected, even though it wasn’t quite on the same page as the prime collector's choices, that it too was probably worth more now. After all, everyone was buying up the popular cars, forcing the price of the less well-known examples up.
I then made the dangerous decision to pay Summit Racing’s website a visit and totted up the prices for a complete suspension rebuild, new brakes and some other light restoration work. Putting further pen to paper suggested I could get the whole thing rolling, provided the powertrain was good, for about £3000. Click, my bank’s website. Click, yes, we will loan you some money. I could take all of my savings, totalling some £12,500, and borrow £7500. The finances, at a glance, appeared viable.
By this point I was in the dangerous position of a) having convinced myself I could do it and that b) it was a good idea. Phrases like “Mopar or no Car” began bounding around my Dodge-addled brain. Lots of interest in the car was now being expressed online, too, adding gallons of high-octane to my already brightly burning Charger-shaped fire. “It’s a steal,” said one forum member. “Assume the gentleman has had his arm bitten off for this,” added another.
I could feel my dreams of burbling around Teddington sinking at a vast rate of knots, so I picked up the phone. It was still for sale, and after half an hour’s chat with the owner, Steve, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what the car was like. Somewhat annoyingly, it sounded really rather good. For the sake of my own sanity, if nothing else, I arranged to have a look at it. I had to satisfy my curiosity.
Spool forward a few days and I’m standing in front of a closed single-car garage in Dunstable. I ring the doorbell and Steve, a very amiable gentleman, greets me. We chat about the car as he grabs hold of the bottom of the garage door. He swings it open in one swoop and, uh-oh, I'm in trouble. In the shadows, pressed hard up against one wall, is all 17-feet-plus of 1968 Dodge Charger. It looked, quite frankly, amazing – and it immediately exceeded my expectations.
I donned my sensible hat, swallowed my initial excitement, and inspected the car as best I could. Truth be told, I found little to ring any alarm bells. Structurally the car appeared sound, the paintwork was bright, the panels were straight and even the interior was in pretty good shape. After all, the Charger had survived for 47 years, so there had to be some integrity to it.
The 7.2-litre V8’s sump was admittedly wet with oil and, similarly, the transmission appeared to be losing a little ATF from the front and rear seals, but the mechanical side of things would be comparatively easy to deal with. Given that it had been parked so long I wasn’t surprised to find it a little wet underneath anyway, given that seals tended to shrink and wither following extended periods of disuse. The brakes were shot, too, but that was entirely predictable and the least of my concerns.
A quick check of the vital fluids revealed them to be passable. The oil was glitter-free, the transmission fluid was dirty but not burnt, and the coolant was clear. Much to my surprise, Steve then offered to fire the engine up. He hooked up the battery, pumped the pedal, cranked the key and – despite being stone cold – the 440 thundered into an erratic idle. I was already using my phone and its flash to snap clearer shots of the underside of the car and managed to grab the moment the Dodge fired up on video.