In 1972, a young Jerry Prater decided that he wanted a Challenger. After an exhaustive search, he found what he wanted, but what he found wasn’t just any Challenger. It was a Plum Crazy T/A with a four speed. Two years later, he married his sweetheart Pam, and realized that he needed a more family-oriented car. Jerry anticipated that the muscle car wasn’t going to serve his needs -- many of us can relate to that, but even after the Challenger was gone, Jerry never forgot about his T/A. On August 18, 1986, just months after the birth of his third child and first son, Koby, Jerry found another Plum Crazy T/A. This one however, was shifted automatically, instead of manually like the first car. It had been modified by one or more previous owners; the white vinyl roof was gone, the original snorkel hood had been replaced by a “tall” version that was also painted Plum Crazy, and the stripes and engine callouts had been removed. Not only was it cosmetically altered, but back in 1972, when David Ramsey owned the Challenger, he pulled the original 340 engine and installed the 440. The 340 that he removed was sold to a fella by the name of Todd Logan, who put it in his green Ramcharger.
Jerry planned to restore the car to its original condition, and he started by locating a T/A block and having it installed. Our story is about this second car.
Tragically, on April 11, 1987, Jerry was killed in an auto accident, and a few months later, Pam sold the T/A to a family friend, Ward McGorder. In most cases, this would be the end of a short, sad story. As it would turn out though, Jerry’s Challenger would become the object of a quest.
Koby Prater was 14-months old when his father died. As he grew up, his mother would tell him stories about his father’s purple Challengers. In the young boy’s mind they attained legendary status. Otherwise, Koby grew up with a fairly typical American childhood. He collected basketball cards, went to college -- earning a Doctorate degree, and ultimately took over the family business that his mother had preserved, Prater’s Pharmacy.
1973: Pam Prater, with Jerry’s first Challenger T/A, in a shot taken on their honeymoon i
In November, 2012 while talking to friend, Tyler Loggains, Tyler told Koby that he had just located a car that his father had owned years ago. This automotive rekindling lit a spark in Koby, and he thought he could find his father’s T/A. The search was on.
Koby started by checking to see if his mother still had any records pertaining to the car, and they combed through any piece of paper work they could find. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, and they found no leads. Since Koby knew that Ward McGorder bought the car in 1987, his next stop was to talk to him. Ward told Koby that he sold the T/A to Clarence “Dean” Burwell in Arkansas. Dean had purchased it on behalf of Ron Slobe, the owner of a salvage yard. Koby reached out to the salvage yard, which was under new ownership, and luckily, one of the employees was able to provide contact information for Slobe’s widow. Cathy [Slobe] had no records of the car, and she could barely recall Ron having owned the car -- another dead end.
Flyer: The flyer that announced to everyone that the Challenger was for sale.
Ward McGorder and Koby then went in search of any records of the car. They contacted banks who had held the Challenger’s title, insurance companies, which had written policies for it, and the DMV of every state in which they knew the car had been registered. They were searching for the VIN, but aside from learning that the Challenger had once been tagged in Oklahoma, they consistently struck out.
Next, Koby approached the Challenger T/A Registry (challengertaregistry.com), and Barry Washington. Barry reported that he had 140 Plum Crazy T/As registered, with no way of knowing which -- if any of them, might have belonged to Koby’s father without the car’s VIN. And with that, the trail was completely cold. Just when it seemed like there was no way forward, Pam identified another potential source of family records and located a file labeled “Cars.” That folder had four documents with the T/A’s VIN. The hunt was on again!
Jerry’s and Pam’s bank loan documents for the Challenger, showing the VIN number, enabled Barry Washington to confirm the family T/A. “The good news,” Barry wrote in an email is, “yes, I have heard of it. The bad news is, it’s in Japan.” The registry had a picture of the car from Japan, with aftermarket white T/A-style stripes in place of the original black ones.
At Koby’s request, Barry Washington sent an e-mail to the owner’s address, but even after two weeks, there was no response. Since Japan had suffered a tsunami and a nuclear accident, he and Koby feared the worst. On January 3, 2013, Koby contacted Barry once again. Somewhat frustrated, he asked “Is there anything else we can do to try and get a hold of the owner? Maybe he has changed e-mail addresses or something.” Just by luck, Barry did find an old email from the registered owner. It went to his spam folder so he didn’t see it,” Washington replied.
Shortly, Koby received another e-mail from Washington. “Success, the car is for sale.” The story that the guys were told, goes like this. In the early 1990s, Kenji Okazaki, the owner of Kennie’s Mopar Service, had a shop that catered to Japanese Mopar enthusiasts. In May of 1993 Kenji purchased the T/A from Shawn Brennan, and had it shipped to Japan. Kenji quickly sold the car to Atsushi Suga, the owner of a body shop near Kennie’s. A few years later, he then sold the car to Yuji Kondou. Yuji owned the car for about 16 years, and it was Yuji who registered the car on www.challengertaregistry.com. Eventually, Yuji sold the car back to Kennie’s, which was now under new ownership, where the car received a freshening and was again put up for sale.
Anyway, Koby contacted the new owner, Hiroshi Asakura immediately, and a few days later they agreed on a price for the Challenger. The rest of the story moves surprisingly quick. On January 21st, 2013 Koby, accompanied by his step-father Jerry Compton, his friend Tyler, and Tyler’s brother Jordan Loggains left for Japan. On January 22nd, for the first time in almost 25 years, his father’s Plum Crazy T/A was back in the family’s possession. It might have been across the ocean, but it was part of the Prater family once more.
Koby contacted Sea and Air Experts, Inc., to arrange for shipping, and Ron at Sea and Air took care of all necessary arrangements. On February 8th, 2013 the Challenger set sail, and then cleared customs in the U.S. on February 26th. Finally, after all those years of wondering where it was, on March 8th, Koby received the T/A from transport.
Some time later, Koby was talking with a vendor at a swap meet; the vendor had a small block Six Pack intake manifold, and Koby asked about the engine for the intake. The vendor didn’t have the block, but one of his friends did have a T/A 340 that he pulled from a green Ramcharger years prior. While Koby waited, the vendor called his friend and checked the serial number on the block -- it was a match. The block had machine work performed, and was waiting to be installed in another project -- a Vitamin C AAR ‘Cuda. Koby contacted the owner, who was sympathetic to his goals, and they made a deal to trade another T/A block and some cash for the Challenger’s original block.
With little time to spare before the Challenger’s “debut” at the 2013 Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals, Koby contacted Wayne Smothers of Smothers Tuned Supercars to get the new (old) engine together and perform a quick swap. “The motor was a bare block on Thursday, one week before Carlisle,” Smothers reports. “I had it running on my test stand on Friday, and I was driving it Sunday morning.” Wayne delivered the Challenger to Koby on Monday, and on Tuesday, the car was loaded on a trailer for the trip to Pennsylvania.
Koby plans to complete this labor of love by honoring his father’s vision and restoring the few items on the car that are still not stock to original form. That being said, the white stripes have been well-received, working nicely with the white top and interior, and they might stay as is.
Regardless of how the Challenger finally ends up though, it’s not hard to picture Koby enjoying a drive and Jerry riding shotgun with an approving smile.
Check out moparmuscle.com for extra, unseen images of this great feature car.