|Vehicle:||1968 Dodge Hemi Charger R/T|
|Original List Price:||$4,600 (approximate)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$50|
|Chassis Number Location:||VIN tag on top of dash; fender tag on left front inner fender, partial VIN stamped on left of radiator core support and left trunk jamb rail under weatherstrip|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped on right side of block above oil pan rail on machined pad|
|Alternatives:||1968–1970 Plymouth Hemi Road Runner/GTX 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6|
This car, Lot S147, sold for $63,600 at Mecum Auctions’ sale on September 17, 2011, in St. Charles, IL.
Few muscle cars were sold new to buyers who were hell-bent on preserving them exactly as they rolled off of the assembly line. Any mass-produced car is the result of a likely brilliant design compromised into mediocrity by cost analysts, government regulations and company bureaucracy before the concept becomes reality. And in the thick of the muscle car wars, this was the worst-kept secret on the street. Muscle car buyers all wanted their new car to run like the magazine road tests said they could — and they wanted them to look the part as well.
An entire cottage industry sprang up to build “Supercars,” which were modified muscle cars from the likes of dealers such as Yenko Chevrolet and Mr. Norm’s Dodge. Starting with a new car, everything from different induction and exhaust systems to mag wheels and bigger tires, dyno tuning, and even entire drivetrain conversions was done either à la carte or as an entire package.
Doing this at the time of purchase meant a lot of buyers could roll the personalization of their muscle car into their new car financing — and be terrorizing the streets for just a few dollars more per month. And beyond waking up the sometimes-lazy performance of box-stock muscle cars, the visual modifications also woke up their street cred by ditching things like wire wheel covers, skinny tires and quiet exhaust systems.
So what to do if you didn’t want to have the dealer pimp your ride, or if you already had a nice stock muscle car? The answer was easy: do all of the same stuff! Ask ten guys who were around in 1969 how many bone-stock muscle cars they spotted at the Dogs ’N Suds drive-in, and I’d bet they would struggle to remember one.
Pristine or power?
Most collectors’ mission with rare muscle cars has been to return them to absolutely dead stock, as-delivered condition, yet many others long for the “good old days” of Hooker headers, Thrush mufflers, Cragar wheels and ladder bars. Cars modified with such go-fast parts are now called “Day Two” cars, as in the second day from new, most of these cars were under the knife, so to speak. For the guys who like to use their cars, this movement has even more merit. Car shows are boring compared to getting wheel hop after banging 4th gear.
Which leads me to our subject car. Any 1968 Hemi Charger R/T, let alone a 4-speed, is a very desirable car. They didn’t make a lot of them, their handsome styling was immortalized by the Charger that chased that green Mustang through the streets of San Francisco in “Bullitt,” and few engines approach the legend of the 426 Hemi.
But truth be told, a stock 426 Street Hemi is disappointing to drive. For Mother Mopar to transform these NASCAR wonder engines into EPA-compliant and warrantable production pieces meant decisions that cost a lot of horsepower. Mild camshafts, restrictive exhaust systems and more meant a good running 440 could dust most Hemis off the line.
A few years ago, it seemed like none of that mattered. Hemi prices went on a rocket ship ride to the moon, with some being multimillion-dollar cars. It didn’t matter if they would shake, shimmy, wheeze and pop just trying to get from the trailer to the show field (or auction block). People had to have that (insert junkie-style forearm slapping here) HEMI!
And then the Mopar market crashed. No longer were people clamoring for any Mopar with that magic Hemi engine — or waiting in line to pay the Mopar restoration specialists $150k for Pebble Beach-level restorations. Today that has made Hemi Mopars a very good buy.
And as hard hit as the flawless, perfect, numbers-matching ones are, the “B Level” cars with non-original engines are even worse off. No matter that a lot of the “original” engine cars are in fact not original engine cars, people heavily discount cars that deviate from that showroom-fresh appearance.
Going for fun instead of awards
So what if you have an original Hemi Charger without its original engine? Why not give it the full “Day Two” treatment in the Mr. Norm’s Mopar Supercar style? That appears to be exactly what the previous owner of this Hemi Charger did.
With a correct, non-original engine built to run and all the hot speed parts of the 1960s bolted on it, this is a fantastic-looking, era-correct piece. I saw the car in person at the auction, and the paint, detail and execution were exceptionally nice. It was a real Hemi car with a replacement heart, in great original colors, with a lot of visual snap to it. Sure, a lot of the big-buck Hemi specific parts were M.I.A., but my guess is this car will never be turned into a trailer queen. It would be cost-prohibitive to do so.
If it was mechanically sorted as well as it was cosmetically, I bet it is a blast to drive, and you sure couldn’t take a junkyard refugee 1968 Charger and build it to this level for the amount paid here. Let’s also keep in mind that in this world of six-figure “resto-mods,” “tribute cars,” and all-out impostors, our subject car started life as a real 4-speed Hemi car in great colors. There is something to be said for having a real Hemi serial number on your Hemi car, after all.
For a paperwork-and-numbers guy who wants to impress his buddies with having date-coded air in his N.O.S tires, this car is absolute blasphemy. But for the Mopar guy who appreciates the Day Two look, it would be pretty hard to beat. I’ll chalk this one up as a really cool car that was very well bought. I hope it is somewhere far away from a concours field, banging gears right now.
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)