Where else but in the arid desert of the Southwest would you expect to encounter a true beast of burden like this? Phoenix, Arizona, is the home of this '72 Dodge Monaco station wagon and its owner, David Henriksen. His Monaco proves that camels aren't the only pack animals equipped for long hauls through barren wasteland.
David's first exposure to the big Dodge station wagons came in 1972, when he worked at a local Dodge dealership prepping new cars for delivery. He performed service and road tests on many wagons like this one and developed an appreciation for them. In 1977, when David's wife, Peggy, gave birth to their second child, they decided they needed a station wagon of their own.
"I remembered I liked the '72 Monaco, and then I found this one on a used car lot with 77,000 miles for $1,300," David says. "It was in rough shape. In 1980, we started using it to haul a camping trailer into the forest three to five times every summer."
Ten years after that, David decided to perform a frame-off restoration out of his own garage. "We had added 100,000 miles to it by then, and it looked so bad, it was embarrassing my [three] kids," he says.
Over the course of three years, David completed the entire restoration at his house. "I parted out three Monacos during the '80s, and I bought another station wagon in 1988, so I had a good stockpile of parts," he says. While he was able to do most of the work himself, David hired local Phoenix bodyman Jim Pitts to handle the exterior and some of the bodywork. "He does good work," David added. "He would work, then I would come in, block-sand everything and tell him I wanted it straighter. It took a long time, but the end result is there." The Monaco bears its original Sunfire Yellow color.
The original, numbers-matching 440ci block is still in place but now carries a displacement of 490 ci. It features Stage 4 heads with stainless valves, Arias pistons, a Crane cam, an Edelbrock Performer intake, a 750 AFB carb, a stroker crankshaft, and Carillo H-beam steel rods. It still has the original electronic ignition, which was in its first year of production in 1972, and David has added a 100-amp Chrysler alternator and Bosch platinum plugs to it.
The interior was redone by Ace Auto Tops in Glendale, Arizona. They produced the headliner and installed new tan cloth on the seats. The original seats were vinyl, but David insisted the cloth match the vinyl pattern exactly. The carpet hasn't changed since David replaced it after buying the car, and the door panels are original. The interior is designed for comfort, with six-way power seats and a passenger-side reclining seat. The Pioneer stereo with six-CD changer, Cobra CB, police scanner, and mechanical oil-pressure gauge keep David on top of things from inside the cockpit. But while the inside may be plush, David says his wagon makes for a bad night's sleep. "[Peggy and I] got to a house we were staying at one night, and we didn't have the keys," he says. "Then the headlights started to go out, so we had to sleep in it that night. That was no fun; it was not comfortable."
David made many improvements to the wagon over the years, but the twin gas tanks get the most attention and cause a double take when passers-by glance at the rear quarters. "When we took our trailer deep into the woods, we would take the kids and drive around on all the forest roads. I always had to go back into town to get gas. Now, I can fill it up in the morning and drive all day without stopping."
To create the extra tank, David began by cutting the floor underneath the third seat. Then, after measuring, he fashioned with cardboard a model of what he wanted the tank to look like. He took the cardboard mock-up to a local shop that created an exact replica from aluminum. After the tank was installed, David cut the fill door next to the original one, ran the 3⁄8-inch fuel line, and wired the tank-changing switch to the dash. Each tank functions independently, and David switches between the two from the dash. There's only one fuel gauge, and it resets to read the appropriate tank when he switches over. The new tank holds 33 gallons, and the two combined carry 56 gallons.
In the summer of 1993, the Monaco was back together and once again hauling the family trailer into the woods; although David was a lot more careful with it then. But by 1998, the children had grown up and away, and David and Peggy turned their attention to touring the United States. They have visited more than 40 states, hitting every Mopar show and American landmark they can along the way. They also took the Monaco to Canada for the Moparfest in Ontario. "We really enjoyed Yellowstone, Colonial Williamsburg, Cooter's Garage, which was close to [Williamsburg]," David says. "Crater Lake [Oregon] and the giant Sequoias in Northern California were impressive also. We want to take it down to the Southeast next. Our goal is to hit every state."
However, David had to put those plans on hold when, just before Spring Fling 2003, he was run off the road and into a road marker while making a trip to the corner for gas. He was not injured, but the Monaco was. The original windshield was destroyed, the hood was damaged, and the fiberglass between the hood and grille was cracked. "I pretty much threw my summer calendar in the trash after that," David says.
Alas, such battle scars are the price we pay for driving our Mopars regularly, as we should. Few of us, however, drive them as much as David does, and he will no doubt have his camel hoofin' across the country again soon.
Common Name: Bactrian camel
Scientific Name: Camelus bactrianus
1. Extremely adapted to withstand wide variations in temperature-from freezing cold to blistering heat.
2. Stores fuel (fat) in twin humps.
3. Has the remarkable ability to go without water for months at a time, but when water is available, it may drink up to 57 liters at once.
4. Speeds of up to 40 mph have been recorded.
5. As pack animals, they are virtually unsurpassed, able to carry 375-600 pounds at a rate of 29 miles per day.
Common Name: '72 Dodge Monaco
Scientific Name: Dodgicus Monaconus
Family: Station wagon
1. Adaptable to all North American climates, from the East Coast, to the Southwest, to Canada.
2. Stores fuel in twin gas tanks.
3. Can travel 600 miles without refueling, but when gas is available, can hold up to 56 gallons at a time.
4. Speeds of up to 90 mph (16-second e.t.) have been recorded in the quarter-mile.
5. Weighing in at 6,000 pounds and 19 feet in length, the Monaco can safely hold up to nine passengers.