Big Block Chargers
We all marvel at the skill, patience, and tenacity it takes to bring a worn out and run down classic musclecar back to showroom condition. We are equally enchanted by unrestored original Mopars which, through quirk or twist of fate, managed to survive the decades relatively unscathed. In those treasured examples we overlook, or accept as worthy battle scars, the orange peel paint, rusted exhaust manifolds, and a ding here or a scratch there. The fact that we are blessed to look upon a car that carries with it the same undercarriage dust it grabbed the day it left the dealer lot is a rare treat for any Mopar fan.
Yet, there is one particular car residing in America's heartland that rides higher and shines brighter than all the rest. That this '66 Dodge Charger is in pristine original condition both inside and out is a marvel in its own right. The fact that it also sports a 426 Hemi makes the Charger a veritable legend.
Interestingly enough, the museum-quality preservation of Keith Arteman and Cora Case's '66 Hemi Charger was neither planned nor anticipated. And that, perhaps, is what saved it in the end.
Cora, a seventy year-old lady from Bloomington, Illinois, grew up in a Mopar family. Chrysler products were all her father drove, and, by default, young Cora fell in step with the family penchant for all things Pentastar. Cora was also a keen fan of the high-performance Mopar set, and held a significant appreciation for a rising star of the NASCAR circuit during the early '60s-namely Richard Petty. When Chrysler rolled out the 426 race engine in 1965-with Petty manipulating the aggressive big-block on the oval track-then introduced the Charger in early 1966 (basically a reworked fastback version of the Coronet) with a detuned 426 Hemi available on the option sheet, Cora knew what she wanted.
Early that year Cora placed an order for a gold '66 Charger with a 426 Hemi. The dealer, who raised a skeptical eye to Cora's request, tried to get his customer to instead select the standard 383 cid, 230 horsepower V8, but Cora wouldn't hear of it, remarking something to the affect that if the 426 was good enough for Richard Petty it was good enough for her. So, working under no uncertain instructions, the dealer placed the order for the Charger as specified.
Weeks passed, and Cora received a string of letters and telegrams from Chrysler updating her on the progress, or lack thereof, on the assembly of her car. Finally, with all patience lost, Cora asked the dealer if he might be able to locate another 426 Charger somewhere in the area. Remarkably, one was found on a lot in Springfield, Illinois.
Why was a hot-footed car like that sitting on a dealer lot? Quite simply, it was the color. The Springfield Charger sported an uncommon Mauve topcoat-not exactly the top color choice for those young speed freaks who were apt to purchase a Hemi-powered car in the first place. As it turned out, the Springfield dealer was more than happy to unload this slow seller, so Cora's dealer bought the car, shipped it to Bloomington, and handed her the keys.
For the next summer and a half Cora sped around her central Illinois home town in fine fashion, but for reasons known only to herself, she abruptly put the car in storage and bought a van to serve as her primary transportation in the ensuing years. A scant 6,800 miles had been put on the odometer during this period, with nothing on the car being replaced. Even the 200 mph-rated Blue Streak Goodyear tires, which were standard only on Hemi cars for 1966 and usually ditched by their owners before leaving the dealership, remained in place and in exquisite condition.