It's strange when you think about the dichotomy of praise afforded to top cars in the Mopar hobby. On the one hand you've got the OEM restorations that receive the highest accolades from both judges and interested enthusiasts. Tons of money and often years of research and knuckle-busting wrenching goes into building these exquisite machines. And in the end their praise and notoriety are duly granted to their restorers.
On the other hand we find the unrestored iron. These mysterious specimens seem to have rolled through a time portal. These cars are celebrated not for their pristine paint job or their exquisite undercarriage detailing, but rather for their lack of attention. In fact, their appreciation is exponentially rated by how much their owners have stayed their restoration hand. The more warts, it would seem, the better.
One of these unrestored treasures which has surfaced during the last few years is a Burnt Orange '70 GTX currently owned by Bill and Maria Barnes of Hamler, Ohio. And like all unrestored classics there is a strange story behind its preservation.
Bill and Maria first spotted the GTX at the '96 Mopar Nationals in Indianapolis, and knew right away that they had stumbled across a rare find. One of the giveaways was the cardboard tag which was still attached to the 440's water pump. "I knew of only one other car that's still got that on there," says Bill. Another clue was the paint. "You know all the dirt that's in paint when they are original? It's just unbelievable how much dirt and specs are in the paint. I told my wife I know exactly what I'm looking at here that day we first saw the car."
For an unrestored car, the GTX was in remarkable condition. Although the expected dust and aged veneer was evident, the hardtop could just as easily have been sitting on a new car lot almost three decades earlier. The Burnt Orange vinyl interior was immaculate, as was the paint and uncommon Gator Grain vinyl roof. Only the odometer, sporting around 12,000 miles on the clock, belied the car's limited road exposure over the years.
Intrigued, and hoping to add this unusual piece of Mopar history to a collection that already included two '67 R/T convertibles, a '70 Superbird, a '70 Challenger convertible, and a '64 Polara convertible, Bill queried the owner about the possibility of selling him the car. Fortunately, Bill was the first person to approach the owner, a Minnesota resident, who had picked up the GTX from a collector in Illinois. The owner, Bill explained, had a bunch of GMs and Fords in his collection, but this was his first Mopar. He really wasn't a Mopar guy, but obtained the car because it was an original.
Bill figured his chances were slim that he would be able to take the GTX for his own, but about three months after the show the owner wrote him a letter saying that his wife "was hollering for him to get a 'Vette." After some negotiating, Bill and Maria had the pleasure of bringing the car into their collection.
"I've wiped the dust off. That's about all I've done to the thing," says Bill.
"I've completely left it exactly the way I found it. I got underneath and wiped the dust off. I took the drums off to look at the brakes at all four corners-and the brakes-I've never seen a set of brakes like this. They've got all the markings right on it-on the shoes. The springs and everything are just like new. None of them were leaking, so I blew them off and put the drums back on.
So how did Bill's GTX stay in such remarkable shape over the years? A letter to Bill from the original owner explaining the car's history provides some insight...
I bought the GTX in June or July of 1971 from Barnet Chrysler in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, brand new. I paid $3,500 for it...
When I sold the car it was 100-percent original, except for the Cragar SS Mags and the walnut steering wheel. It had been stored in a garage from the time that I bought it and was never driven in rain or snow. At the time, I also owned a '69 396 Chevelle with 4,000 miles on it. I decided to store the GTX and drive a beater to work and back.
As for the original Rally wheels, I also had a '70 Road Runner with plain rims and hubcaps. I put the Rally wheels on that. The only thing that I ever did to it was change the oil, filter, grease, air cleaner, and check the gears.
The car had one scratch on the right rear quarterpanel when I bought it. I never bothered to fix it, and am unsure if it is still there. The car was also always covered while in the garage.
Everything the original owner told Bill and the previous owners of the car seemed to verify the man's claims. For example, Bill says, "I know for sure that the original spark plugs are in the car because they are still painted engine color. I talked to Galen Govier on that, and he told me that they put covers over the plugs because they were already installed in the motor. It's absolutely amazing to me that he never had them changed."
Another verification can be found underneath the hardtop.
"One of the coolest things," says Bill, "is that he was legitimate when he said he never drove it in the rain, because the masking tape is still on the holes underneath where the seats bolt through. They're still hanging there like they did when they left the factory. It was 31/44-inch masking tape that they taped on there, sprayed the undercoat, then they shoved the seats through. To me that's pretty outstanding because it wouldn't take much of a rain shower to drive in and those would be gone.
Although the original owner swapped the stock rims and steering wheel (which has since been returned to the vehicle), interestingly enough he put the car's factory tires on the Cragars. While they are beginning to show some signs of dry rot, says Bill, they have been verified as the original tires for the car. The only other modification was the replacement of the tailpipes done by the Illinois collector. Bill says the guy added fresh pipes because the originals had holes in them, but that the stock muffler, clamps, and everything else is correct.
Obviously tooling around the show circuit with such a well-preserved classic invites studious inquiries from restorers.
"That is one of the main things about the car when we go to a show," explains Bill. "[People] are constantly wanting to lay under the car to check the shock absorbers, the springs, or the tires to document the dates-or, 'How was the undercoating applied?' Things like that. They even come to my shop."
Likewise, the offers to buy are endless.
"It doesn't really go anywhere without people going crazy over it. A lot of people talk about buying it, that's for sure. But we're Mopar lovers, and I really didn't buy it to make a buck on it or anything like that. I wanted something that I new was exactly right. When I restore cars-I've restored quite a few of them-I really love doing it, and they look beautiful. But there's just that thing about an original car that I really like."
From the sounds of it, Bill and Maria Barnes will continue to revel in their perfect original GTX for many years to come.