According to Cotton, "A few weeks after I dropped the car off, they called me back and said if I wanted the car I could have it. They said they'd sell it to me for three or four hundred dollars-I don't remember exactly how much anymore-and I told 'em I'd come get it. I had a couple of brand-new street Hemi engines and transmissions laying around the shop, so I put one in. It wasn't any trouble, whoever had stolen the car had taken the engine and transmission out as pretty as you please. All the lines and hoses were still right there." Cotton continued, "Then, I guess about a month after they sold me the car, they told me to go down to Charlotte, North Carolina, and get a load of sheetmetal. Back then, we raced the stock sheetmetal, and we were always tearing up fenders and stuff. When I went to get more sheetmetal for my race cars, they had fenders and hoods the same color as the Charger, so I got them. I put them right on the car and didn't even have to paint it. And that's the way it is today."
When the Charger was finished, Owens gave it to his son, Donnie, who only drove the car for a short while before it was sold to Joe Littlejohn, another Winston Cup racer and a family friend. Littlejohn, who according to Owens was notoriously tight with his finances, gave the car to his son to drive, but never quit chirping to Owens that he had paid too much for the car.
"Joe Littlejohn was accusing me of overselling the car to him," Owens continues. "I told him I would buy the car back from him, and if anything I had sold it too cheap. I said, 'Listen, that car will make you money any day of the week. All you've got to do is let it sit.'" But Littlejohn wouldn't listen. According to Cotton, "This went on for about a month, and then a gentleman from Tennessee called and asked if it was for sale. I told him 'yeah', and he said he would be down to see it that Saturday. I called Littlejohn and told him, 'Look, a man is coming to see your car. The price is $3,500. That's a profit, and don't take anything less than that.'
"They didn't show on Saturday, but they called Sunday morning. It turned out he had gotten snowed in while in Asheville, North Carolina. He wanted to know if he could come down that afternoon. So he came, and I hauled him over to Littlejohn's to see the car.
"Littlejohn's shop was in the basement of his house, so we went through the house to see the car. When that fella saw it, his eyes got about this big (Owens holds his hand apart the approximate width of a hubcap) 'cause the car was just beautiful. There wasn't a scratch on it. Anyway, he said he'd like to buy it, but he'd have to go get a check to pay for it. I thought the deal was done," Owens says with a growing smile. "But then when we were walking back up the stairs, Littlejohn says, 'I'll tell you what. If you want the car I'll go ahead and sell it to you for $3,250.' I could have kicked him right back down those stairs!"
The buyer that Sunday afternoon was Lewis Summerville, and he's owned the car ever since that fateful day in 1971. A true Mopar enthusiast, Summerville has kept the car as-is all these years, until he brought it to auto restorer Lee Hodge to be freshened up recently. It was sort of a homecoming for the 500, since Hodge's shop (Hodge Restorations) is located in Owens' backyard. Hodge and his two-man crew (brothers Trey and Shannon Bogan) spent two-and-a-half months bringing the car back to the luster Summerville first found in Littlejohn's basement shop. Besides specializing in classic Mopar restorations, Hodge is a longtime friend of Owens (who, despite being in his '80s, still works everyday in his salvage yard) and knew about this Charger's special history when Summerville brought it to his shop. Hodge completely stripped the car, repainted it, and painstakingly put it back together, all the while uncovering more clues to its past.