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1964 Dodge Charger

Changes Made to the Dodge Charger

The seating was decidedly unlike any production Dodge offering of the era, utilizing a special bucket design that was both luxurious and sporting. Custom "Superform" padding was covered by pleated charcoal leather with modest side bolstering. The occupants were safely restrained with Deist competition belts. Black pile carpeting covered the floorboards, and the foot pedals were finished in bright metal.

The sporty styling exercise was also supposed to be a showcase for Chrysler Corporation's latest developments in high-performance engine design. With the horsepower race going full tilt and the competition beginning to catch up, Chrysler engineers had gone back to their drawing boards and created a new-generation hemispherical-head V-8 for its racing activities.

This imposing 426-cid mill -- now formally known as the "Hemi" -- was based on the then-current RB engine-family architecture, but was so heavily revised that it had to be considered a separate engine. It was also a completely different design from the corporation's Fifties-vintage hemi-head family, though it carried its predecessor's winning reputation.

Casting-core problems had delayed the initial run of Hemi engines, and when they did start arriving, they were in very high demand from race teams. Dodge management had every intention of putting one of the first 15 of the mighty engines in the Charger, but availability was quickly becoming a problem.

As far as the Hemi was concerned, priority one for Chrysler was getting it ready for its anticipated debut at the Daytona 500 stock car race in February 1964. It seemed that every time one of the hand-built engines was earmarked for the Charger, a racer blew one up and needed a replacement. The engine sent out invariably ended up being one intended for the show car.

So off the Charger went to the show circuit for the '64 season with the 305-bhp, two-barrel-carb, 383-cid engine from its Polara donor car under the hood. The hood remained closed, but by all accounts, it didn't seem to diminish the interest of showgoers. The Charger never failed to attract crowds and impress performance enthusiasts.

After its tour of duty, the Charger was sold to Paul Stern, a prominent and influential Chrysler dealer from Hershey, Pennsylvania. Even though it was normal practice to crush one-off machines like this to satisfy corporate lawyers concerned with liability issues, Stern had enough pull with the corporation to snag the car, keeping it safe from the dreaded crusher.

It was eventually inherited by his son, who "customized" it before subsequently selling it to another dealer. From there, it was purchased by Chicago restaurateur Joe Bortz, whose name is now nearly synonymous with prototype and one-off "dream car" collecting.

Bortz has amassed a very enviable collection of these unique nonproduction machines, the Charger being yet another sparkling bauble in his treasure chest of one-of-a-kinds. In 1999, after 12 years of work, Joe was able to convince the owner to sell it to him. He is nothing if not persistent.

Before it could return to the pampered state of a factory show car, the Charger was in need of restoration. It benefited from many years of indoor storage and had not been ravaged by rust, but the car still was in need of help.

It had been none too attractively altered from its original configuration by one of the previous owners, and some pieces were missing. The car had been repainted white with red stripes, and the new colors had not fared well over the years.

Additionally, the interior now resembled something from a Sixties-era fiberglass ski boat. The classy charcoal leather was replaced with a white square-pleated design with red piping. In place of the black carpeting was bright-red deep-pile material that, to all the world, looked like something that had been stolen from a brothel.

As if that wasn't tacky enough, there was even red carpeting around the gauges on the instrument panel. The "new" look may have been appealing during some era, but certainly not anytime lately.

Undaunted, Bortz sent the car to Chicago-area restoration expert Fran Roxas, who has gained prominence in the classic-car world with his masterful restorations of Duesenbergs and other high-end machines. He has even recreated vintage coachwork with exacting precision, so he was aptly qualified to handle the job.

That, of course, is not to say that there weren't challenges to be overcome. Even with his vast experience, the job, which was completed last year, took more than four years.

"The Charger was in good shape, except for where they customized it," Roxas explained in a telephone interview. "Several pieces were missing, including the grille and bumper guards, as well as the front and rear valances, and the tail panel, all of which had to be recreated. We were able to build them by referring to original photography."

The Charger's headlamp area had also been "frenched" and rectangular headlamps installed. This needed to be returned to its original shape, as did the tail panel, which in no way resembled what was originally there. Roxas was also called upon to replicate several interior trim pieces, which were carefully researched using original photos and built with a lot of machine work.

Indeed, the from-scratch copying of these missing parts was the most difficult aspect of this particular restoration. The bodywork, paint, and usual mechanical refurbishing were actually fairly straightforward, with little in the way of the normal surprises one encounters when restoring a 40-year-old automobile.

The Charger was completely disassembled down to its unit-body shell. Work could then begin to massage the sheetmetal back into its original shape, revitalize suspension components, and restore original finishes to the bright-metal trim pieces.

Time had taken its toll on some parts. The fuel tank had to be replaced and the existing interior needed to be removed and replaced with new leather, which was cut and stitched to be faithful to the original design.

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