The year 1966 was an important one for Chrysler car enthusiasts. The B-Body lineup was restyled, and leading the new Dodge Rebellion was model Pam Austin and the just-released Charger. Akin to the restyled-for-'66 Coronet to some extent, the inaugural version of this muscular machine featured some pretty interesting standard and optional equipment and was Chrysler's first mid-sized musclecar for the street. Four bucket seats, with the rear pair capable of folding flat, meant the Charger could haul just about anything that would fit through the trunk door. A console ran the full length of the passenger area, and the dashboard looked similar to something from an imaginary '60s-era rocket. For Ken Garrett, who was working at a Dodge dealership as a young mechanic, the version with the Hemi in it was love at first sight. Two came through the dealership that year, and we'll let him tell the story about his Hemi car from here..
"Throughout the years, my wife, Pat, and I have owned about 35 '66-'67-era Chargers, but this one is really special. The dealer-ship where I worked, Greco Dodge Sales and Service in Darien Center, New York, received this particular car as one of only two Hemi Chargers that came through the doors that year. The dealership owner, Speedy Greco, handled a lot of warranty work and refused to sell any high-performance cars with four-speed transmissions, so the dealership sold only TorqueFlite musclecars. I prepped this car when it arrived. The first owner brought in a clean, red '64 Hemi Polara drag car to trade for this Charger. He called the Polara 'The Deacon' and raced it all over western New York, but he needed a dual-purpose car. He got the red Hemi Charger to escort his real-estate clients in, and Speedy raced the used Polara for a couple of seasons. The first owner would bring the Charger back again in 1968 to trade it in on a high-powered race Corvette that sat on the sales floor.
"The second owner didn't want a Hemi, so we took it out and replaced it with a 426 wedge from a wrecked '65 Coronet. I hammered the firewall in so the manifolds would fit, and we put brackets on the Hemi K-frame to get the wedge in. The car remained in town, and the second owner parked it in 1977. It'd never been driven in the winter, but now it sat outside, and the tops of the fenders and the roof became a little rusty. The original motor ended up in an E-Body after it sat in the showroom as a display item for several years.
"I finally got the chance to buy the car in 1984," said Ken. "We got it home and entirely disassembled and restored it. Because it was a Hemi car, I didn't want it to be different from stock; hey, what more could it need with that engine? Bill Drake of Rochester, New York, rebuilt the engine to basically stock specs, blueprinting the block and heads and using a Racer Brown SSH-25 cam in place of the original. A Prestolite distributor and a Jacobs ignition box and wires are in place of the stock dual-point layout. We added a TCI 3,500-stall converter after rebuilding the 727, and the 831/44 rear uses a 3.55 rear gear. Flowmaster mufflers let that Hemi breathe and sound strong, and the entire mechanical package has been unbelievably trouble-free.
"One unique thing on the car is the dealer-installed NASCAR deck-lip spoiler, which was applied after the NASCAR racers realized the car was light in the back end. Three different versions of the spoiler were made; this was the first design of the three-piece style. The restoration was finished in 1992, and I spent a lot of time and effort getting the parts together to do it right. This car was Bill Miller's Promoter's Choice Award winner at Carlisle in 1996, which was a real honor, considering the number of cars they see. Down here in NASCAR country, I probably don't drive it as much as I should. I wouldn't sell it for anything now; this was the car that really got me started on this stuff!"