Sometimes the drive for a certain car can get so far under your skin that there's only one way to deal with it. What are we saying, you're a Mopar Muscle reader, you know what we're talking about. You've gotta wonder about the guys that designed and built these cars years ago. How could they have known the passions they would ignite? Everyone has that special hot-button car. For Kevin Bucheger, it was a '71 Charger R/T.
Kevin lived in the frozen land of Michigan's upper peninsula, and if you've ever been there, you know that everyone in Michigan is heavy into cars, from shoe salesmen to brick layers to little old ladies-everyone notices what you're driving, and they're quick to talk about what engine came in which car. So there's young Kevin, dreaming big on a small budget, nursing a bad case of Dodge fever, and trying to figure out how to get his hands on a big league Charger.
"When it came to old cars," Kevin relates, "a person of my limited means settled for the cars found in the local area. I'd been fixing up a '72 Charger SE, but while preparing to get serious about the car, I realized it wasn't going to be the Charger of my dreams no matter what. So I sat down and searched my soul for what would be my dream car."
His laundry list of Pentastar perfection sounded like this: A '71 Charger R/T with the stout 440 four-barrel and four-speed, a Ramcharger hood, 15x7 Rallye wheels, disc brakes, exhaust tips, and FJ6 Green Go paint. Kevin declined the optional high-end engine because, as he says, "Even in a dream world I couldn't see a Hemi or Six Pack car in my future."
To that end, Kevin set out for the '94 Mopar Nationals for a little dream chasing. He got there early to get first shot at the pickin's, but what he saw was more like a nightmare. "What I found was one pile of junk after another," Kevin says sadly. "If it wasn't an incomplete car, it was butchered or rusted up to the windows." Yep, sounds familiar to us.
Day one of the Nats proved to be a big disappointment. Downcast, Kevin walked through the show field only to find a '71 Charger R/T with a "For Sale" sign on it. To the untrained eye, it looked pretty gnarly-faded paint, torn-off vinyl top, banged-up front and rear valances, and ripped-up seats. All that stuff was easy enough to fix, but substantial enough to set off some alarms and provide some bargaining leverage. Asking price was $6,500, which included some interior parts to change it from white to black. Kevin shifted into negotiation mode and worked the price down to $6,000, and the guy could keep the black interior parts. Kevin handed over a deposit and agreed to meet the guy the next day. The deal seemed a go, but he'd have to do some fancy financial footwork in a big hurry.
The game plan was to get a giant cash advance on his credit card, and cover it with a loan later. Now, Kevin was close enough to his dream car to taste it, but stressing over the possible ways the deal could fall through. "I barely slept that night," Kevin recalls, "thinking of all the things that could go wrong." Up early that next morning, and out to the track, Kevin met the seller, handed him a fistful of cash, and drove off with one sweet Charger and one huge Charger-powered grin. Needless to say, Kevin was in, well, a dream-like state on the drive home. In fact, he barely noticed the Wisconsin police that had been following him, finally pulling him over for having no license plate.
Back in the UP, the restoration got underway. There were some rust spots in the usual areas that needed fixed, plus lots of interior and engine rehab. Dan's Auto Body in Hurley, Wisconsin, handled the paint and body, while Kevin did the rest as a labor of love. No additional options were added, nor were any hop-up parts, seen or unseen. Kevin feels strongly about retaining the original feel and driving experience. But just between us, those feelings may be moderating. Kevin is considering swapping the original four-speed for a Tremec five-speed manual.
Kevin's been showing it for 10 years now, but he doesn't consider it a show car-it's a work-in-progress driver. Sometimes he drives it to work where it always receives a warm reception, which shouldn't be too surprising considering Kevin has relocated to Georgia and now works at Year One.
Considering that so many great musclecars have wound up crashed or crushed, and that only 2,659 '71 Charger R/Ts were built in the first place, it's nice to know that this story has a happy ending: boy meets car, boy restores car, boy drives happily ever after-definitely a dream come true.