'70 Dodge Challenger R/T convertibles are rare enough as it is. They made up less than two percent of the total production that year. Rarer still are R/T Six Packs. Ninety-nine R/T Six Packs came out of the Hamtramck, Michigan, plant, and only 38 had automatics. Of those 38, three are known to have had automatic on the column. One of them was purchased by Ontario Motor Speedway to be its pace car. How's that for rare?
Sheldon Liebowitz of Parkland, Florida, is the owner of this '70 Challenger R/T Six Pack convertible. He weaves the tale of how he got it:
"I had been looking for a 440 Challenger convertible for about two years," Sheldon says. "After several near-misses, I hired Bob Oxier, a well-known Corvette restorer in Phoenix, to locate one for me. Bob called me about two months later on a Friday morning and said an ad had just come out for a '70 Challenger R/T convertible 440 Six Pack. The ad said it had been a pace car at Ontario Motor Speedway. He told me I'd better hurry because everyone would be out Saturday looking at it. Bob called me two hours later and was there looking at the car. He said it was all original, but he didn't know if it was a pace car. I told Bob, 'Let's buy it right now!' He gave the owner a check, filled out the bill of sale, and arranged to trailer it that Sunday. When he returned, the owner had changed his mind because, apparently, the whole world had called to come look at it. It actually went to court, but the judge awarded us the car, and it was shipped [to Florida] about a week later."
But if you're looking at the dark green exterior and wondering how this car could have paced anything except an Army jeep race, then, as Paul Harvey might say, you don't know the rest of the story.
In 1970, the fledgling Ontario Motor Speedway wanted to purchase one of the new '71 Challenger pace cars, but they were slated to go to Daytona. Instead, OMS bought this car, which now looks just as it did when it was delivered to Pomona, California. If OMS couldn't buy a '71 pace car, it would just make its own, and did, painting the exterior blue with wide white stripes down each door and black trim on the hood. The seat vinyl was switched out along with a few other items, and viola-a '71 pace car. "On the old paint job, you could see where the pace-car stickers had been removed," Sheldon says.
When OMS closed after 1981, the car bounced around before finally landing in Sheldon's hands. It wasn't in bad shape when he got it. In fact, Sheldon used it as a driver for several years just the way it was. But when Galen Govier's research turned up the car's unique history, Sheldon decided to restore it.
"Galen said since the car was not a factory pace car, I should restore it to original, so I did," Sheldon says. "He's the guru, and his suggestion carried a lot of weight [with me]. It's always been a controversy. I have people all the time telling me I should have restored it as a pace car. I drove it for a while just trying to decide what I should do."
Sheldon had taken the engine out a few years before the resto "just to freshen it up," but during the restoration, it remained in place. OMS hadn't bothered to repaint the engine compartment, which was still its original color. The block was bored .030 over, and the carbs were sent to Holley for refurbishing, but the engine work was minimal. Otherwise, the car was completely disassembled, restored, and reassembled. Sheldon tried to keep as many original pieces as possible. Rather than replace the door panels, they were dyed the proper color. The carpeting, the seat covers from Legendary Auto Interiors, the seatbelts supplied by Ssnake Oyl, and one door handle are the car's only repop parts.
A major part of the restoration was returning the car to its original color, so Florida Auto Body in Fort Lauderdale applied PPG EF8 Dark Green Metallic with a V6F longitudinal stripe.
The Challenger was ordered with a lot of options, including the performance axle package, TorqueFlite automatic, hood pins, bumper guards, power convertible top, radio, power steering, performance hood paint, and the emission-control and noise-reduction packages.
Although Sheldon has seen his car in its pace-car days twice on Speed Vision, including the first NASCAR race held at Ontario, further visual documentation has been hard to come by.
But the difficulty of finding information doesn't dampen Sheldon's enjoyment of this unique vehicle. "When I was 14 or 15, my brother got a new Road Runner," Sheldon says. "I always liked the Dodges because they were unique; everyone had a Camaro or a Chevelle. My favorite was the Challenger. This wasn't what I had in mind, but I knew I wanted a 440 convertible, and when the Six Pack came along, I couldn't pass it up."