In July 1990, I was just a compression test away from buying a '71 Demon, when a cylinder showed up suspiciously low and the guy wouldn't budge on his price. A friend from North Carolina called me that same week to tell me he had found an E-Body for me, and it was a complete big-block car. he told me it was a '70 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 383HP motor and 727 transmission. It wasn't running, but the price seemed reasonable. since I trusted the guy, I told him to load it up and bring it to me, and I'd have the money ready.
The following Saturday, a roll back drives up with a wreck attached to the bed. I thought the driver was lost and needed directions. Nope, this was my Challenger, sans front fenders, hood, bumpers, grille, and all the drivetrain. It was even sporting a crudely pieced-in radiator core support. When I called my friend, he told me this was the car he had described to me on the phone. Needless to say, a heated discussion followed, and I finally told him to take the car back up the road. The seller was there, and he pleaded with me to rethink the deal. after several substantial drops in the asking price, the Challenger was offloaded in my backyard. A contract was signed stating he was to furnish all the missing parts to make the car complete. A two-year battle then ensued to get him to furnish those parts. My education about E-Bodies-Challengers in particular-had begun.
In September 1990, a buddy who owned a body shop agreed to take the Challenger to his shop and bill me by the hour as work was done. He would use slow times at the shop to gradually restore the Challenger's exterior. The body was fairly solid, only a lower passenger-side quarter-panel and the front-driver floorpan needing repair. But shortly after I had stripped most of the old exterior paint by hand, my friend decided to close up the body shop and become a minister-a minor setback.
Restoration guy No. 2 had recently begun a new Mopar-restoration business and needed a couple cars to showcase his work. We agreed on a price to sandblast the car and suspension components, fix any remaining rust, and be delivered ready for paint. Progress was slow because we were on a pay-as-you-go basis. It seemed the learning curve for E-Body correctness was going to be real steep, and since I couldn't find another car to use as a reference within driving distance, I had to rely on magazine articles and friends' advice. even with detailed photos and explicit instructions, the second shop would take short cuts just to get it finished. For example, on one visit to the shop I found my gas-tank filler tube had been completely stripped of its original finish and was now sporting a coat of rattle-can silver. In June 1996, I got a call at work from the resto shop's lead man. He said, "Jim, you need to come get your car today! The local constabulary is going to lock up the shop owner and impound all his equipment and current work in order to satisfy creditors." I arrived at the shop's storage warehouse and we loaded the "Yellow Peril" on a borrowed flatbed trailer. (You haven't lived until you tow a 3,200-pound car on a trailer with a four-cylinder Dakota pickup and no trailer brakes.) once again the project went into limbo, as I search for resto shop No. 3.
Shop No. 3 turned out to be owned by Danny Helm, from whom I had been buying parts for several years. he had decided to sell his tire business and build a paint-and-body shop. He had a lot of experience with E- and B-Bodies, and I had seen some nice paint jobs on his earlier cars. Over the next 211/42 years, he finished the bodywork and laid down the color coat the car wears today. With the drivetrain completed and all the car's components in place, he called me to pick up the car about a week before the '99 Chryslers at Carlisle show. I towed the Challenger home and immediately ran into transmission and engine problems. By Wednesday of the following week, it was apparent I was going to Carlisle, but as a spectator-again.
The last three years have been spent building another engine, rebuilding the transmission, and collecting detail items for the engine compartment and interior.
In 2003, after working 14-hour days the entire week preceding the Carlisle show, the car was ready. Finally getting it to the show field was a huge thrill for our whole family. At the show, the Yellow Peril managed to place second in the '70 Dodge E-Body stock class, and it received Mr. Norm's (Norman Krause) celebrity choice award.
I guess the lesson in all this would be that perseverance and determination do pay off. Many times I was tempted to quit, like when the steering column had to be rebuilt three times. But we got it done, and I was proud our efforts had been recognized.
After returning home from Carlisle, I had an issue with the engine overheating in the Challenger. On August 2, 2004, I replaced the stock water pump with a Mopar Performance high-flow piece and a new thermostat. After I was done, I took the car out for a short test run. Then I planned to cruise over to a local festival, which had parade spots for vintage and classic cars. But suddenly some idiot turned left in front of me, and, after skidding about 100 feet, I ended up pasted to the front end of another car. The South Carolina Highway Patrol showed up and saw this bright yellow musclecar, and immediately I was on the defensive. Luckily, the driver of the car I collided with confirmed my story and told the trooper that the other guy caused the accident.
Since then it's been five months with slow progress on the repair work. Galeana Auto body of Pomeria, South Carolina, has worked hard at hunting down repair parts. It's a busy shop, and collision repair takes priority over fixing musclecars. Since this odyssey began in 1989, I've driven the car less than 100 miles. I guess it's a good thing I'm a patient man.