One afternoon, we here at Mopar Muscle got to listen as Linda Hoffert of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, told us how her husband Dave blew up this Challenger before they even bought it. When she told us how it finally came together, we thought you guys would also like to hear her story. -MM
It all started three years ago when I decided I needed my own musclecar. I'm married to a street rodder, and we go to a lot of cruise nights, so I thought it would be fun if I had something of my own to drive. I knew I didn't want a street rod, and I've always been a musclecar fan. Dave, being the Chevy guy that he is, thought I should have a Camaro. I went onto eBay and saw there were over 200 of them for sale. I didn't want to be like everyone else. I had seen a '71 Cuda at a show the summer before and decided that it was Mopar for me.
After looking at several Challengers and 'Cudas, I realized the ones I could afford needed too much work to restore. One day, while on our way home from a hiking trip, we stumbled across a '71 Challenger. The owner had just put it in his front yard with a "for sale" sign on it. Because we were going hiking and not car buying, we had no money for a down payment. Luckily, the guy was nice enough to hold the car. We went back the next day with the down payment, but couldn't transfer the title because it was Memorial Day weekend. That day, my husband and brother took the car for a testdrive along with the owner. I waited in the driveway for what seemed like hours, but it was probably only 20 minutes, until the owner came back in someone else's car. It turns out, the engine blew up during the testdrive! We didn't know what was wrong with it, but the body was in such good shape we gave the guy half of the payment, and he towed the car home for us. We immediately began to rip into the engine to see what the problem was and found that there were two holes blown through a cylinder. The whole engine was shot. When we met the guy to transfer the tags and pay him the balance due, we renegotiated the price.
Now I had my Challenger, but I couldn't drive it. At that point we decided to pull the junk engine and everything else out of the engine bay and repaint it. We knew that one day we were going to restore the whole car, so it was my job to pick a color that I'd eventually want it to be. We spent almost an entire summer prepping the engine bay. I puttied and sanded all the body welds smooth, and the engine bay was perfect and ready for paint. At that point, summer was almost over, so I decided not to put it on the road that year, and restore the entire car over the winter. We pulled off all the chrome, ripped out the interior, and tore the vinyl top off. Then we sent it out for media blasting, and when it came back a few days later I just about fainted. They had accidentally blasted the engine bay and eliminated all that work I already did. Back to square one.
I wanted to do everything by myself. It was my car, and I was going to do the work. That changed after about 10 minutes of running the long-board on the door. My puny little arms just would not holdup. I pretty much got the job of prepping the engine bay (again), the trunk, and the interior. That was enough. My car was in excellent shape when I got it, so now I can truly appreciate the work that goes into restoring some of the cars that have holes rusted through them. I can also appreciate why guys lift the hoods at a car show. I didn't think I'd ever do that, but after working on the engine bay twice, the hood is the first thing to get opened when we park at a cruise night.
Finally, we sent the car out for paint. At this point I still didn't know what color it was going to be. My daughter and I ended up putting three colors, Hemi Orange, Panther Pink, and Yellow, in a hat and picking. Yellow won. Six weeks later, we finally got it back from Jerry's Auto Body, and it was time to start reassembly.
As we pulled things off the car they went into little baggies and got labeled. Every screw had its own little bag. When I saw the pile of new parts to go back on, parts that I had collected over 12 months, including a brand-new 360/380 horse crate motor that the warranty had expired on a year prior, I didn't think there was any way they would all go back on that car, but they did, ever so slowly. Every part had to be sanded and painted.
The interior started its life as brown. Someone in the past had painted the entire interior tan. I had to have it white. My brother set me up with paint stripping material that the body shop had suggested. Believe it or not, it only took me about two hours to melt a perfectly good brown interior, console and all. I felt like giving up, but instead I just waited for the Carlisle show in July where I got lucky and found another used interior that Dave helped me restore.
Our two years of hard work paid off. I made my little "plain Jane" challenger, as it's been called, exactly how I wanted it. From the incorrect Honda paint to the beep-beep horn, I made it my car. It is so much fun to drive. At first, I wasn't sure if I would like it, since I never got to drive it before Dave blew the engine (he'll never live that down). When I would sit in it, the hood looked really long. I got used to that. I'm even getting used to the feel of stepping on the gas and the car responding. That part is fun. But the best part of the whole experience has to be the number of Mopar enthusiasts I've met. I've met so many nice people that it has made the time and energy spent on restification well worth the effort.