The Charger arrived at Naples...
The Charger arrived at Naples Dodge from England in this non-descript container, its first-ever visit to a Dodge dealership!
With the door open, Al Eckstrand...
With the door open, Al Eckstrand gets his first look at the car since he packed it into the container in England over a month earlier. Thanks to secure tie-downs and support, it arrived without a scratch.
Now the crew from Naples Dodge...
Now the crew from Naples Dodge and the shipping firm are moving the car out under Als watchful eye. The height of the trailer/ container would have required an equally-high loading dock as ramps werent feasible, but...good ol Yankee ingenuity won out.
This seal is used to make...
This seal is used to make sure the delivery is to the right person and location (quite important considering the number of containers that might come over in a given cargo vessel). The number compares to that on the delivery receipt from Rail Connection Transport.
Everyone was all smiles as...
Everyone was all smiles as that big Hemi motor came to life. As noted by the lettering shown on the front quarter panel, Al has restored the car to its original as-toured paint.
Rolled into the front of the...
Rolled into the front of the dealership as the star of an impromptu car show, Al (right) stands with Chris Sweet (left) and Willie Rae (center).
After posting a career of drag race victories, Elton Al Eckstrand, a lawyer by trade, retired from his competition driving role in late 1965. Despite his love of performance automobiles, he recognized that the advent of the latest musclecars could have an immense potential for disaster. Among the large number of American serviceman returning to civilian life after their tours of duty were many who did not realize the hazards 400hp machinery could have; these men were among the 50,000 fatalities a year on the highways at the time. So, working closely with upper management at Chrysler in early 1966, particularly Als mentor Byron Nichols, Vice President, Corporate Sales for Chrysler, Eckstrand was given a 66 Hemi Charger to use in a planned tour of U.S. bases in Europe, beginning with a demonstration at the Santa Pod track in England in early June.
This unique machine was Dodges first press pool Charger, an example driven by the media for a few weeks in the spring of 1966 prior to the cars formal introduction to the American public. Like the 426 Street Hemi motor, the Charger was new for that year, featuring fastback styling and a performance orientation. Under Eckstrands control, the LL1 Dark Turquoise Metallic would serve well the purpose of introducing safe driving to civilians and soldiers alike. Unlike virtually any other car that came from the Chrysler Corporation, the example given to Al was never sold through a dealer and, to date, has never been formally titled. Noted Chrysler historian and documentation specialist Galen Govier has confirmed this information based on the cars IBM build record from the Chrysler Historical Foundation; it is indeed very unique, as even cars for upper management at the corporation were always processed at the dealership level.
Once in Als possession, the Hemi press car, which had left Chryslers Lynch Road assembly line near Detroit on March 23 of that year, was quickly prepared and flown to Europe. After lettering it up with the fabled Lawman name, Eckstrand began to do a series of driving demonstrations at race facilities on that continent as well as present safe driving courses to U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe. As a result, this car, together with others that Chrysler later presented for this program, gave these men a primary and critical look at the high-powered cars that were being created by Detroits major manufacturers. During the ensuing eight years, this program (supported by various corporations and the United States Marine Corp) eventually went all the way to the Southeast Asian war theater, where Eckstrand and the United States Motorsports Association he founded gave demonstrations to 250,000 outgoing soldiers.
But back to the Charger. After its six-week tour of duty under Eckstrands tutelage in 1966, the Hemi car was left in England with acquaintances when it was determined by Chrysler management to not be financially feasible to ship it back to the States. Due to potential liability, Al removed the Lawman name at that time, and the car reportedly only made a couple of more trips down the dragstrip before going into storage. Al would return to Europe again in 1967 and use a 383 Barracuda for the program that year, but the Charger was always considered special. Eventually, a gentleman named Ian Frankland became its keeper with Als blessing.
Frankland, a mechanic by trade, would be responsible for its preservation during the next twenty-plus years. He did so caringly, restoring the Lawman moniker to the sides and displaying it at various car shows. Later, Al himself moved to Europe in the mid-1970s, and the Lawman driver would make occasional cruises in the Lawman car at British Chrysler and performance car events during the next two decades. However, by 1997, a couple of changes had developed. For personal reasons, Frankland wanted to sell the car, and Eckstrand was intending to return to America permanently. In late 1998, a deal was consummated between the two and Eckstrand began to make the necessary plans to bring the car back to the United States when he returned.
The Hemi was pulled out of the car and a set of new bearings put into it, and a coating of spray-on black asphalt (a popular rust preventative in England) was scrapped away from the engine compartment. At some expense, Eckstrand had new paint and the original-style gold-leaf lettering restored on the car (the replica letters had been done in vinyl). Due to some wear to the machine during its 30-year stay, some parts on the car have been replaced, so the purist may find fault if they look hard enough. Nonetheless, due to its early release date, racing background and remaining originality, it is a very significant piece of Mopar history.
The car was put into an overseas container and left England in late December by transport ship. Since the container would be directed toward Naples, Florida, where Al had taken up residence, once it arrived, a suitable truck was needed. By chance, Eckstrand met Alan Harris, the manager of Naples Dodge. Harris, a diehard Mopar fan who owns a 68 440 R/T Coronet, found exactly what type of support semi-tractor the container needed (one without ramps or needing a commercial unloading dock). So consequently, the Charger hit American soil again at a Dodge dealership (its first ever appearance at one) in February 1999!
Although Eckstrand could have been a major force as drag racing grew into the world-class sport it is today, his desire to pursue his other cause was to benefit and impact positively on the driving attitudes of tens of thousands of returning servicemen. This car is the original tribute to that effort.