Some cars get "loved to death"--driven until the ravages of time make them unsafe. Mike Lavigne's '66 Charger was almost one of those cars, but a sheetmetal-transplanting restoration saved this wedge-back from a ferritic finale.
Legendary's reproduction seat covers and carpets make the cabin look spring-of-'66 fresh a
Mike found his Charger back in the mid-'80s, in a place known more for Mopar enthusiasts than a sheetmetal-friendly climate."I'd purchased it in St. Paul, Minnesota, back in 1984," he recalls."It looked OK, but a little rough around the edges. The interior was a little ratty, the suspension was completely worn out, and the engine was running on seven cylinders. But, otherwise, it looked pretty good." A fix here and there, and Mike had a sharp-looking, though well-used, driver.
Mike took his Charger to a lot of events, big and small."I drove it through the '90s to car shows, and took it to the Mopar Nationals and Chryslers at Carlisle multiple times."
In 1991, it was time to repair some things like mechanicals and the interior, plus a little paint and bodywork."Even though it looked good on the outside, the main structure--the framerails, rocker panels, and stuff like that--salt had taken its toll on them," he adds."Even though it looked really nice, when you crawled under it, it was a little scary underneath."
By the time 2007 rolled around, the Charger's sub-structure had become too scary to drive, thanks to years of exposure to salt, rain, and weather. That year, he'd scored a wedge-fastback Charger parts car for $200 from a scrap yard. Mike says,"I was going to part it out, but I started looking at it and said to myself, 'This body's more solid than the current one I have,' because it was a southern car."
Rechromed dash bezels by Mr. G light up the dash under the P&G Classic repro dashpad.
Mike's 383 now sports a Six Pack setup atop a pair of 906 heads and .030-inch overbored OE
A parts car yielded the intact rear quarters, while six-leaf B-Body wagon springs went in
Mike then decided to start his rebuild with the parts car, and his original Charger would become the parts car."I started on the second car's body, getting that massaged and ready to go," he says of the rotisserie resto's first phase."Then, I started parting out my first car, and using the parts." Fortunately, Mike was able to re-use plenty from his long-time driver."I salvaged all the bolt-on sheetmetal," he says."Doors, fenders, the hood and trunk lid, all the suspension, interior and glass. Anything that would bolt to the body, I salvaged all that and transferred it to the new body."
Also going on: one of the first reproduction early B-Body floorpans from Auto Metal Direct (AMD). The condition of both cars' floors was why he made that decision."The parts car's floorpans were gone," he recalls."It was home to a bunch of squirrels and mice, so it was full of acorns, walnuts, and other stuff." With the original floorpans not worth saving either, he turned to AMD and used their new metal to replace everything from the firewall to the trunk floor.
Inside, the resto combined original and reproduction parts, too."I went with the dark navy blue interior from Legendary, that was the original factory color," Mike says, while adding that a Legendary carpet kit also went in.
But much more of the Charger's cabin is original than you might think."The headliner's original, and the dash gauge bezels were rechromed by Mr. G's," says Mike."The dashpad is a new reproduction from P&G Classics. Otherwise, all the chrome in the inside of the car is all the factory original stuff." Since completing the restoration a couple years ago, Mike hasn't driven his Charger as much as he did before--but he says it's still one sweet ride."It's fun to drive," he says."It's nice and tight--it feels just like a brand-new car."
'66 Dodge Charger
Owned by: Mike Lavigne, Columbia, South Carolina
- Engine: Original 383 was rebuilt with a .030-inch overbore, TRW pistons, and a Mopar Performance hydraulic roller camshaft. Six Pack intake setup tops port-matched '69-vintage 906 heads with hardened valve seats, bronze valveguides, and Mopar Street Hemi valvesprings.
- Transmission: Restored original 833 four-speed, with its reverse-lockout-equipped OEM Inland shifter
- Rearend: Restored original 8¾ with 3.21 rear gears
- Suspension: Restored original '66 Charger, with reproduction torsion bars in front, station wagon six-leaf leaf springs in back.
- Brakes: A four-wheel disc swap, with '74 A-Body (large bolt pattern) discs in front and '98 Jeep Grand Cherokee ones in back.
- Wheels and Tires: American Racing five-spoke wheels (14x7 inch front, 14x8 rear) wear BFG Radial TAs (215/70R14 in front, 245/60R14 in rear)
- Body: Original '66 Charger unibody was restored with parts-car sheetmetal and the first set of repro early-Charger floorpans by Auto Metal Direct.
- Paint: R&M BASF two-stage base/clear in the original Light Blue Metallic color, which Mike's friend, Jeff Eaton, sprayed on
- Interior: A mix of original and resto: Legendary's repro seat kits and carpets, a P&G Classic repro dashpad, plus the original headliner, console, and steering wheel. The gauge bezels were rechromed by Mr. G's.