Every once in a while the Gods of Engineering, Design, and Soul manage to stop hurling lightning bolts at each other and merge their magical dynamism into a Car Culture Immortal. In 1968, that kind of fusion could be found on the showroom floor of any Dodge dealer.
Detroit had been bolting together big cars with stupid power since the early sixties. Chrysler had actually triggered the Detroit power wars with their original Hemis of the 50’s, and followed up their challenge with the 413 Max Wedge at the start of the 60’s. By the middle of that transitional decade, smaller Pony cars were hugely popular, with Mustangs and Camaros selling in large numbers. It took Dodge to drop the last word in full-sized muscle car fury with their restyled B-Body Charger. It was a huge hit from the day they rumbled into the showrooms. And the RT Charger- that’s ROLLING THUNDER in Mopar parlance- was the one to get. Heavy weight, 440 power, skinny tires and barely adequate brakes made for big fun out on the boulevard. The 426 Hemi was an option and a bad attitude was mandatory.
The design philosophy was to put out the kind of ground-quaking, rock and roll power that would shake monkeys out of trees and look thought-out and stylish while doing it. Unlike anything put out by Detroit in recent decades, it’s one of those cars that looks even better now than when it was released. Chrysler bean counters figured they’d sell about 20,000 of them, underestimating the astonishing appeal that the new coke-bottle shaped car would generate. By the time the production line made way for the 69’s, Dodge had sold a whopping 96,000 of the new cars. The muscle car era lasted another three or four years before being strangled by the double buzzkill of high gas prices and new emission standards. And all the way to the end, the ’68 Charger stood alone as The Baddest of the Bad.
Today, driving one of these overpowered and underbraked road monsters is a lot like dating that crazy ex-girlfriend that you still think about, that one who was so wild, but impossible to live with. Except it’s better because it’s a car, and when things get too crazy, you either push harder on the pedal or park it in the garage and walk away. You don’t have to baby it; the car won’t respect you if you do. Just like in ’68, it’ll take everything you can throw at it and then pound back out all you can take. It’s one of those rare examples of design that demands attention in everyone who sees it. Everyone with any interest in motor culture has wanted one at some point in their evolving journey. The design was and is ascendant.
This car stood out at a Long Beach car show that was jammed with row after row of hot rod badassery and period correct customs. It was the only 60’s Muscle Car in the bunch and just like when it was new; it was the only car that mattered. It’s a true metallic green RT car with the proper numbers-matching 440, bumblebee stripe, heavy-duty suspension and bigger, cop-sized brakes. Restored over a six-year stretch, Darren Ellis experienced his life coming around full circle.
“When I was sixteen, I bought a ’68 with a 383. It was a solid, 60,000-mile car, a nice car. I found it in the Recycler for a thousand bucks. The thing is, the only example I had on how to drive a Charger was TheDukes Of Hazard. That was a big show on TV and that was the first time I found out about the Charger. I thought you were supposed to jump it and do brodies in fields and just beat on it and that’s what I proceeded to do.”
He thinks for a minute about his wild teenage joyrides.
“And I’ve regretted it ever since."
Luckily for Darren, regret is for Camry drivers and history has a way of repeating itself. Buying this green monster seven years ago gave him a chance to balance some cosmic Mopar mojo, and would prove to pay off in unexpected ways.
“It turned out to be a bonding experience with my father that I never expected. He’s always been into restoring cars, but we’d never done a big project like this together. We divided up tasks and educated ourselves. These Mopars are harder to get right than Fords or Chevy’s, but we took our time and carefully planned out every move.”
After six years of progressive work, the result of the father/son collaboration speaks for itself with every turn of the key. The stance of the car is perfect, sitting 60’s NASCAR low with just an inch or so of street hero lift in the rear. The stock dish wheels have been widened to lay down more rubber and because those skinny stock tires never looked mean enough.
“You know, you’re out on the road surrounded by disposable cars. This one is heavy, it feels solid and the wheel feels so right in your hands. I like to look at my friends when we’re driving, you can see how thrilled they are, like they are having a real experience. Honestly, every ride is a kick-ass time.”
As we talk, every pedestrian who passes the big green Dodge has to stop and take a good look. They talk to each other and grin, then go on their way, silently thinking about how unworthy their own econobox commuters really are.
“It gets in your blood. It’s like a curse. You think, why am I buying a car that I’ll have to constantly work on? Then you put your foot in it and you’ve got 500lbs of torque at 2900 RPM.”
He shakes his head at the thought of it.
“It’s a Hootenanny every time.”
Special thanks to Don the Beachcomber for their help and courtesy during the photo shoot.