When we first spied Gary's Challenger at the '02 Mopar Nationals, we knew it deserved to be photographed. When Gary returned the tech sheet with the information about his car, he attached the entire story about how the car came to be, and here it is, in Gary's words:
To be perfectly honest, for most of my life, I wasn't a Mopar fan. In 1986, I was forced to sell my SS 396 Chevelle to pay for college tuition. I vowed to buy another musclecar as soon as I graduated from college in 1990. When that time finally arrived, musclecars were financially out of reach for me. In 1997, I started looking for another car. My wife, Nicole, liked GTOs, and I was stuck on Chevelles-we couldn't agree on one. I started getting frustrated because I was finding only overpriced junk, and to be honest, they all started to look the same to me. I remember stopping at a drug store, picking up a copy of a Mopar magazine We hope it was Mopar Muscle], and thinking how different a Mopar would be and how much I would have to learn about the other camp.
On the way home from work one day, I spotted a '70 Charger parked beside a house, and I stopped to check it out. The owner, Jack Irons, came out to talk and informed me that he was the second owner of the car, and unfortunately for me, it wasn't for sale. I quickly became good friends with Jack Sr. and his son, accompanying them to the '98 Mopar Nationals, and I was hooked for life. I don't know if it was the High-Impact colors, the distinct sound of a Mopar through Flowmaster mufflers, or breaking all the plates and cups in Jack's motorhome while doing bunny-hops on Brice Road that hooked me, but that's ancient history now.
So, the hunt was on when we returned from the Nats. I answered an ad in the local paper about a '73 Challenger Rallye that was said to be a solid southern car with a 440 engine, a 727 tranny, and an 8 3⁄4 rearend. The asking price was $5,000. I was so excited about the car that I went to see it during my lunch break and told the guy's wife I wanted the car. It was 100-percent rust free and had a steel-crank 440. The following day, I completed the deal for $4,200, and the fun began.
I actually had a plan for the car before I bought it: I wanted to keep it on the road as much as possible and do the work during the winter. My goal was to run low 12s on pump gas. Although I didn't like the Ford Citron Green color, the paint was presentable, so that would be the last thing addressed.
During winter 1999, I disassembled the engine and sent the block, crank, heads, and rods to Vince Impastato at Impastato Racing Engines in Chesterfield Township, Michigan. I've known Vince for 20 years, and he is the only person I trust to do my machine work. The 906 heads were mildly ported and received new Ferrea 2.14/1.81 valves. The block was punched .030 over, and the crank was cut .010/.010. The rods were Magnafluxed, reconditioned, and shot-peened. Vince also installed the new Ross flat-top pistons onto the rods. When all machine work was done, it came home for me to assemble.