A golden anniversary isn’t something to be taken lightly. The 50-year mark is really a cause for celebration, and this year, the party belongs to the 1966 Dodge Charger.
The early 1960s saw a marketing shift toward more mid-priced and sporty cars such as the Ford Mustang and Plymouth Barracuda.
Over at the Dodge division, talk was of producing a new Dodge aimed at the youth market segment, similar to the Barracuda.
For Burt Bouwkamp, chief engineer for Dodge, the last thing he wanted was a Barracuda clone that would actually compete with it for sales.
Turning the project over to designer Carl “Cam” Cameron, he tooled up a show car for the 1965 show-car circuit.
The racy Charger II, based on the Coronet model, had hidden headlamps, modified rear quarter panels with full wheel openings, larger triangular “C”-pillars, a large, flat rear window and a six-bulb rear taillight that spanned the full width of the rear of the car.
Billed exclusively as a concept and idea car, it was shown as something that may go into production if there was enough market interest in the design.
Viewers may not have known, but the design, name and marketing for the car had already been approved, and it would debut in Dodge showrooms in 1966.
Available only as a two-door fastback coupe, the Charger came standard with four bucket seats, full-length centre console and fold-down seats in the rear, offering a small cavern for luggage or storage. Along with the new body style, new name and optional equipment, there was a definite slant on performance, with five engine options, including the 425-horsepower, 426-cubic-inch Hemi V-8.
For Don Elias of Altona, he became a travellin’ man in 1966. After proposing to his future wife, Elfie, he landed a job as a sales rep and began covering a Manitoba and Saskatchewan sales route.
“The job paid mileage at nine cents a mile and a car allowance of $65 a month,” says Elias. “I had a VW Karmann Ghia, and with gas at 38 cents a gallon, I thought I could easily make a fortune as the Ghia did about 40 miles to the gallon.” After his first trip, Elias found the suit and tie he wore, along with the sweltering rural Saskatchewan heat, had him on the verge of heat exhaustion in the cramped VW.
“With the commission package and mileage rate, I could afford just about anything,” says Elias, so I went car shopping.”
Having had a hopped-up old ’57 Plymouth in high school, Elias thought he might check out one of the new Mopar muscle cars.
First stop was Hamm’s Garage, the local Chrysler dealer in Morden. Sitting in the showroom was a Red Maple Metallic ’66 Dodge Charger, equipped with the 383-cubic-inch V-8, 727 Torque Flite three-speed automatic transmission and a 3.23:1 ratio Sure-Grip rear axle, it was ready to roll.
The dealership had the Charger in stock since March and really wanted to move it — so after agreeing on price and trading in the Ghia, Elias had his new wheels.
“I travelled with the car for two years and loved every minute of it, and being gone a lot of the time, my second home was my car,” says Elias.
Fast-forward two years to 1968, and reality set in as Elias now had a house, daughter and wife Elfie working only part time, so it was time to get a more economical car. With the Charger as trade and $750 cash, he managed to get a new ’68 Dodge Polara with a 318 V-8, a move that nearly doubled his gas mileage.
Some 38 years later, Elias was speaking with his brother-in-law Larry Kohut about cars and what he planned to do in his retirement and he mentioned the Charger. Kohut remarked, “You mean the one that Joey Dreger from Morris bought from Penner Dodge in Steinbach after you traded it in?” Some sleuthing produced Dreger’s phone number and in short order, Elias found himself in a quonset in Kleefeld — looking at his old Charger. The engine and transmission were missing, and there was some missing trim and a bit of corrosion, but the floor was rust-free.
Needless to say he bought it.
The car was taken to Marcel Brunet of MB Restorations of Morris for the body restoration. For paint, Elias entrusted Abe Peters and his staff at the Bug Shop with the final prep and application of the Dupont Chromatic Metallic Maple Red paint and three coats of clear. Bumpers were replated by North Star Fairmont Plating and the House of Silver polished all of the stainless-steel moldings.
A 383 V-8 and TorqueFlite transmission from a 1966 Chrysler were purchased and the engine rebuilt by Millar Engines in Winkler. Bored .0030” and fitted with a mild performance camshaft and Edelbrock Performer four-barrel carburetor, it’s a very close match to the original engine. Bert’s Automatic in St. Jean rebuilt the transmission while Ramcharger’s Auto in St. Malo rebuilt the Sure-Grip rear axle and fabricated the custom dual exhaust system. Front disc brakes were sourced from a ’71 Charger and converted with a new master brake cylinder from Air Brake Systems in Winnipeg. Fountain Tire did the front-end alignment, and Coker Tire delivered a matched set of redline tires mounted on Magnum 500 wheels.
Inside, the Charger was treated to a complete new interior and carpets supplied by NOS Reproductions and installed by Riverside Upholstery in Morris. Other restoration parts and trim were sourced by Year One, and the seatbelts and retractors were restored by Snake Oyl. Other factory options include tinted windshield, pushbutton AM radio, remote driver’s side mirror and newly added air conditioning.
Completed in 2006, the 900-hour restoration has provided many cruising opportunities and car-show appearances for Don and wife Elfie. Another plus is the car will be with them for their golden wedding anniversary celebration this coming September.
If you’d like to catch a peek of the Elias’s Charger and many more, check out the Mopar And Friends Canada Day Show July 1 at Kildonan Park’s Rainbow Stage parking lot. Registration is open from 10 a.m. to noon, and the show runs from noon to 4 p.m. It is open to all makes and models. Dash plaques will be available to the first 150 cars, with prize draws for participants. Net proceeds from the event will go to the Movement Centre of Manitoba.