"We found out that this was one of the very first Charger 500s produced," he says. "The serial number for the 500s, and later the Daytonas, began with the letters XX while the serial numbers for RT models began with XS. On this car, the fender tag has XS for the RT Charger because that's what it started out as. The serial number on the dash says XX, so we know it was one of the first Charger 500s to be produced. It probably came off the assembly line sometime in mid '68."

For a car to be legal for NASCAR competition, a manufacturer had to produce at least 500 of that specific model for sale to the public. That number was too low to be cost efficient for assembly line production, so Dodge hired Creative Industries to take cars that were basically RT models and convert them to Charger 500s. the unoriginal designation for this new model was "500." A window plug was welded into place to produce the fastback glass, and a new grille was installed flush to the front of the car to improve aerodynamics. The fastback significantly shortened the rear deck, so although the trunk was kept, it had to be cut to fit the much smaller opening.

"I'd heard that the work at Creative Industries was done hard and fast," Hodge says, "and, on this car at least, that was apparently true. When we removed the rear seat, I found pieces of glass. instead of removing the back glass, they must have just busted it with a hammer and then swept it up as best they could. Also, when a car came in to become a Charger 500, Creative Industries jerked the seats out and stored them. when a car was done, they just grabbed whatever seat was on top of the stack and used it. The front seat of this car had a broadcast sheet from a car built six months after this one, so it had to have sat at Creative Industries for a while. The broadcast sheet found in the back seat actually goes to a Daytona."

Those were just the changes made during the Charger's first trip to Creative Industries. Remember, after it was stolen and stripped of its engine and transmission, it eventually found its way back to the Detroit shop to be fitted with a prototype Daytona nose for wind tunnel testing. To get the new sheetmetal to fit, Creative Industries engineers had to cut and narrow the radiator supports. This is evidenced by two braces bolted into place on the supports. Other holes were cut in the supports to bolt up mounting brackets, and those too are still in place. Because Owens, the car's original owner, lives so close by, he was able to vouch that these modifications were a part of the car when he purchased it. The best part about the restoration, is that so little had to be done. Summerville knew the value of this Charger's history and kept the car protected from the elements all these years. "The car was completely original when I got it," Hodge says. "Everything that had been done to it prior to when Cotton had it was still there. And the engine and front clip that Cotton put on it hadn't been touched, either."

The focus of the restoration was to keep as many of the original components as possible. Only the headliner, seat covers, clutch, and window gaskets were replaced-even the glass is original. The engine has been refreshed, but the exhaust system was kept intact because it still has the racing headers that Owens installed when he put in the Hemi. On the exterior, only the paint is new-all the Hemi emblems and chrome are original survivors.

Now that the car has been returned to the condition it was over 30 years ago when Owens first sold it to Littlejohn, there is no doubt it is a long way from the scrap heap. instead of just one of 500, this Charger is one-of-a-kind.