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!"
Ken's younger brother, Jim, had seen all of this from the sidelines. While he had no emotional connection to any particular '66 Charger, he decided he wanted to have one as well. To that end, he and Ken began looking together for another one. They came across a 77,000-mile 383-powered machine at Carlisle in 1997. There was more to this one than met the eye, how-ever; here is Jim's story
"I've always had late-model Mopars to drive around, but I liked the cars Kenny had," said Jim, "so I began looking around for one of the '66 Chargers to own. I finally located one here in New Hampshire. It had been found in Texas and shipped up here in pieces, but it was a solid body; its owner had already gotten a lot of the work done on it, but it was missing a lot of the small stuff and some of the other parts. For one, it was a 383 A/C car, but all the air stuff under the hood and under the dash had been removed. Still, the price was right, so I bought it. That car was running and painted yellow.
"So Ken and I went to Chryslers at Carlisle in 1997 to look for pieces and parts to make the yellow car right when we saw this red one come through the gate. From a glance, it looked like an older restoration, but once we got a closer look at it, it became apparent it was actually unrestored, a real survivor. It'd been sold to a gentleman named James Henderson in Oklahoma City, and his son said it'd been garage-kept most of its life. From there, it went to a used car lot in St. Louis, where the seller at Carlisle had come upon it. I bought it and decided to sell the yellow car. The red car has the Certicard in Henderson's name, the buildsheet was under the seat, and I've got the receipt from the used car lot.
"The car is a real time capsule. When I got home, I went to tune it up and found out the original plug wires were still on it. The driveline was what I wanted from the factory: 383 four-barrel, automatic, air conditioning. The fact that it'd never been repainted and has existed all these years in its present condition makes it very special to me as well. My wife, Lynn, and I have no intention of doing anything to the car now but preserve it."
Because Ken, who is in industrial sales, now lives in North Carolina and Jim is an air traffic controller in New Hampshire, the two aren't able to get together often with their cars. Last spring when Ken told us they would meet with the cars at the North East Hemi Owners' Association in Newark, Delaware, later that year, we thought it would be a great opportunity to show how these two guys had pursued their Mopar dreams. The result of that brother-to-brother effort is shown here.
While Ken was showing us his car, he mentioned he had something in the trailer that might surprise us. He pulled out a Dodge item that may be one of the scarcest promotions Dodge made. While many of us know about, have seen, or own the two-car race sets manufactured by Eldon for the '67 Charger release, this is a single car set that depicts the Chrysler test facility in Chelsea, Michigan.
"A buddy of mine, Mike Gemza, had heard about this thing," says Ken with a grin. "He did some horse trading, got it, then gave it to me as a present. He's a great guy, because he's an even bigger Chrysler nut than I am; it would have been hard to let it go!"
The course is in excellent condition and duplicates hills, different road surfaces, corners, and other features of the test track. The car is a single '66 Charger, and the set is powered by electricity with a hand control. We've seen some cool stuff, but we think this particular set is one of the neatest toys to come out of the supercar era.