The Mopar Nationals are a lot of things to a lot of enthusiasts. Some show up for parts and deals, some show up to race, some show up to watch the burnout contest, and frankly, some show up for Brice Road. However, there is one group who invests more than any other to make it out each year: the owners and restorers of cars entered in the O.E. Certification program. These cars are restored and detailed to a level of perfection normally reserved for prewar classics like Deusenbergs and Packards. Every nut, bolt, detail, and marking is examined by the judges, requiring several hours per vehicle-only a handful are even considered. To take top accolades and the accompanying Mopar Muscle-sponsored Best of Show Car award is an honor for the owner and restorer. Few could argue that Jerry Hubble's '70 Charger RT/SE was not the best car in 2001.
Jerry is a true Mopar guy who has owned this car for 28 years. That's correct; he bought the Charger in 1973 as a daily driver, and driven daily it was. Rain, sleet, snow-whatever the winters of Virginia offered, the Charger was up for it, and that included a fender crunching incident that totaled the car several years ago. Like a trusted friend, though, the Charger stayed put in the Hubble family, and as the truth about its rarity became evident, Jerry decided it was worthy of restoration despite 150,000 miles of real-world driving.
Jerry had long been friends with Mark Coates of ABM Restorations in Kingsport, Tennessee, and Randy "the Trim Doctor" Stilwell, both well known in the Mopar community. Together, the three decided to perform a restoration that would replicate a fresh-off-the-transporter appearance. Every part would be restored or replaced with the proper date-coded pieces-not an easy task given the car's high mileage and the aforementioned crash.
With camera and notepad in hand, the work of carefully documenting every aspect of the car's history began. According to Mark, the disassembly was treated like an archeological dig. One of the most amazing things found was the haphazard sunroof installation. There were dents poking outwards on the top where an air chisel went awry. The sunroofs were installed by the same subcontractor who performed the Daytona and Superbird conversions... 'Nuff said!
The body was smoothed to "factory fresh"... yes, you can still see the file marks in the lead seams, and even the chisel mark in the top was left in place. With the body work ironed out, it was time for a fresh covering of FK5 Dark Burnt Orange-no ultra shiny base clear job, just two coats of plain old acrylic enamel, complete with runs and dry spray in all the hard-to-reach areas. The body itself was highlighted by the seldom-seen reflective tape stripe. It seems there is no order code for this stripe color, but there have been a few cars documented with them, a white vinyl roof (roof covering was mandatory with the sunroof), and a luggage rack-a rare combo.
Inside the cockpit, things get more interesting. There's a Charcoal and Black leather interior, wood-grain steering wheel, six-way seat, power windows, air conditioning, cruise, radio delete-HUH? For many, this was the homerun on an already unique machine; why the buyer opted out of the factory radio (even the standard AM) we'll never know. We like to think it's because he/she simply wanted to hear that big block purring away under the hood (or perhaps had teenagers who would have blown the factory speakers out right away anyhow).
Under the hood lies the standard R/T 440 Magnum engine, which had a factory-penciled output of 375 horses. Randy rebuilt the original engine to stock specs with "a little extra work here and there." Date-coded parts abound. In the engine bay, everything that could not be found NOS was painstakingly restored to assembly line specs-quite a job given that the car is optioned with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.
The undercarriage will make the "concourse" crowd cringe, because all the bare metal components were left just that way, meaning one thing...rust. For the bare metal parts that couldn't be found NOS, some creative trickery was used to make them look rusty (when asked how this was done, the three men responsible for the restoration just giggle uncontrollably). During disassembly, pieces of masking tape were found covered in undercoating and still sandwiched under the seat bolts (used to keep undercoating out of the interior). This, too, was reproduced.
In the end, the car only needed one thing to prove its pedigree: an OE Certified Gold Award from the Mopar Nationals. When the points were tallied, the Charger scored an amazing 96.7 out of 100 to garner that honor plus take Best of Show. The biggest detracting item according to the judges was the lack of wear and tear from components being stored in bins on the assembly line!
There are some who say you can take the restoration deal a little too far, that you can overdo the effort, time, and expense put into a project. Today, Jerry's car is amazing in its perfection. And frankly, if he put that first 150,000 miles on it the way we would have back in those days, this might actually be a deserved rest.