Barn finds and vintage race cars seem to make everyone's heart beat just a little bit quicker, increasingly rare as they are these days. For W.D. Goad of Lexington, Virginia, coming upon this Dodge Challenger in July 2005 was completely unexpected. At the time, W.D. was working on restoring a Burgundy Red '68 Hemi Charger and had begun a search to find out if the original motor was still around.

"That's a long story," says W.D. with a grin. "I was searching the title history and had tracked down the original owner-Robert Crocker. His exwife had sold the Charger during their divorce proceedings." The engine was indeed still around, and Robert had put it to good use. He was a hands-on Mopar guy from Spartanburg, South Carolina, who spent his spare time working for NASCAR legend Cotton Owens. (Robert's real job was with the phone company.) After doing a bit of street racing with his Charger, he bit the bullet in 1971 and asked Cotton to help him build something a little stronger. The result is what you see here. This is not just some old acid-tripper from back in the day; it is a real Owens-built Gas-class drag machine, complete with parts and pieces from some of the biggest names in Mopar history.

The project started life with a factory-supplied body-in-white '71 Challenger that was one of two such cars Cotton picked up directly from Detroit in the spring of 1971; the other one was reportedly turned into a street machine.

When the Challenger was started, the Hemi came out of the Charger at that point and was rebuilt for this car. It would benefit from some serious speed parts that likely originated from Ted Spehar's workshop through the late Don Carlton, including a set of Hilborn injectors, a tach-drive Ramchargers magneto, and Ramchargers motor plates. Carlton also came through with a Lakewood bellhousing for the Clutchflite transmission and a factory narrowed-and-assembled Dana 60, complete with a 5.38 gear set. Then Sox & Martin sold Robert a Milodon oil pan outfit and a set of Airhart front disc brakes; the worked 727 Torqueflite came directly from Fairbanks.

Meanwhile, Cotton and his crew were busy on the body and suspension. Working with plans supplied by Carlton, they built a drag-racing cage similar to that used in the '71 Motown Missile, but added a few NASCAR tricks to it. Since the car was not going to be raced in Pro Stock, the rear floor and seat area are completely open (no metal behind the driver's area or between the wheeltubs). The car also got a rack-and-pinion steering outfit and some reworking of the firewall for engine placement.

The price on the wild paint job is something that Robert couldn't recall, though he did remember he brought airbrush artist Doug James a case of beer every few days as it was being sprayed. Doug, from Lyman, South Carolina, outdid himself, putting on layers of multihued lacquer in all sort of cosmic shapes. The finishing touch was a mural painted on the decklid.