The Challenger was an appropriate name for Dodge's new ponycar model introduced in 1970 as an answer to the Mustang/Camaro/Firebird/Cougar. The new model was stylish and well received by both the press and the public. Almost 20,000 performance examples found a new home; 2,500 of those were R/T models built with the 383 and a four-speed (another 400 were R/T-SE models with this driveline combination).
But this one is special because it played a key role in promoting the new model. This car was presented as an award to Bobby Isaac after he won the pole for the first Grand National NASCAR race at the original Texas Motor Speedway in late 1969. Isaac was at the top of his game behind the wheel of Harry Hyde's Dodge Daytona at the time; he would go on to win the event. the following season, 1970, continued success would give Isaac the coveted season-long crown for the series. It would become the Winston Cup Series in 1971.
But it was more than a simple prize. This car was also associated with the infamous "Sheriff Joe" commercials that had the memorable "boy, you're in a heap loada trouble!" tagline. Several photos exist of Isaac accepting the keys from actor Joe Higgens, who portrayed the law enforcement agent.
As built, it was quite attractive, but nothing out of the ordinary. The standard 335-horse 383 Magnum was backed by the optional A833 four-speed (a three-speed manual was the standard equipment) and the 3.91-cogged 831/44 differential. The car was painted in EV2 Hemi Orange with black accents. it also had such niceties as a rear Go Wing, rear window louvers, 15-inch Rallye wheels, and front spoilers.
Inside, the interior was black vinyl buckets with the Rallye dash cluster giving out the vital stats, and the ubiquitous Hurst Pistol Grip jutting up from the floor. An AM/eight-track rounds out the creature comforts.
Bobby Isaac would die from a massive heart attack while racing at the same track he had started racing at in the '50s, Hickory Motor Speedway in Hickory, North Carolina. The Challenger was then driven by his son as high-school transportation, but ended up getting heavily damaged when it was driven under a barbed-wire fence. Later, an electrical fire destroyed the dash, and a subsequent underhood fire ruined the niceties in front of the firewall. Given up as trash, it ended up in the junkyard where enthusiast Dwight Arrowood found it. the factory rear wing and louvers were still on it, but the front end was gone, and the car was a sorry sight.
During the next several years, Dwight, who runs Arrowood Car Care in Lenoir, North Carolina, directed the effort that brought the car back to the condition it is in today. Kowalsky Motors rebuilt the original 383 engine back to stock specs. The exhaust system now feeds into a set of tti pipes, and Dwight himself applied the flawless paint. The car is a real head turner, even without a Hemi under the bonnet.
The Challenger is now owned by collector Tres Wilson, also of Lenoir, North Carolina. Tres, who owns a grading and paving company and is a regular weekend racer at Hickory Motor Speedway, wanted to add the historic E-Body to his own small group of Mopars. Unlike some of the high-dollar Hemi cars he owns, this one gets its legs stretched out once in a while.
"This is a great car," he says with a grin. "Of all of the cars I own, this is the one I just get into and drive when I want to go for a ride. It is important to me because Bobby Isaac is one of my heroes."
we called the folks at Hickory Motor Speedway, and they agreed to let us take the car out on the historic track. The car looked right at home making laps on the .363-mile asphalt oval under Tres' control. it is indeed part of the legacy of one of NASCAR's forgotten legends.