The second generation Chargers were defined by their Coke-bottle shape. But the Coke Car actually sounds as realistic as it looks.
By Cliff Gromer Photos by Cliff Gromer and Todd Dziadosz
The ’69 Charger in Steve’s Stanley’s garage had been there since 1982, when he found it for sale by the side of the road. Steve had taken a detour on Old Route 66 between Leesburg and Ocala, FL, because his wife had threatened to kill him if he did not stop at a place to eat. The Charger had caught his eye as he drove by an old Gulf station that had been converted into a vintage car lot. Now his wife wanted it out. She was tired of scraping the morning ice off her windshield, while the Dodge languished inside its protected chamber
Steve didn’t have an answer about what to do with his car, so he took a break from his work as a freelance commercial artist (he had a home studio), lay down on his bed and gazed at the ceiling. And he called on someone who did have all the answers—God.
Steve recalled his first ride in a Charger when he was a kid. It was on a back road in East Knoxville, Tennessee, and he remembered looking at the speedometer and seeing the needle bouncing between 140 and 150 miles per hour. He remembered a triple red Charger SE that was for sale when he was in high school. He didn’t have enough in the bank to by it, and his desperate pleas to his parents for the extra cash fell on deaf ears.
Still daydreaming, Steve heard the words “Coke bottle car.” It was a phrase used a long time back by one of his friends who was working on his own Charger. The guy showed him the bottle line contours of the Dodge. And then, Steve had a vision. The ceiling fan, all of a sudden, didn’t have five white blades, but five Coke bottles arranged like a wheel. It was his answer. The Coke Car!
The ideas poured out of his head, and Steve could hardly sketch fast enough to keep up with them. An hour later, he had the Coke Car on paper. What now? Obviously, try and pitch the concept to the Coke company. Easier said than done. Living in Georgia, the home state of Coca-Cola, Steve had freelanced for Coke, and had made some contacts. But his marketing contact turned out to be the person in charge of the caramel color for Coke. Dead end, and another request for divine intervention.
Steve was a member of a small (3 men) bible study group at his local church. The study leader asked the group to bring in a new member. But that seemed kind of hard to do these days. One day, however, a new guy did show up—Keith Wilmot, who had just moved down to GA from NJ. Steve got to talking with him, and asked what kind of work he did. “I’m the senior global director for ideation (ideas and imagination) and marketing.” That’s cool, Steve replied, who do you work for? “Coca-Cola.”
As it turned out, Steve picked up some freelance work from Keith, but didn’t mention the Coke Car. He decided to go ahead and build it on his own, along with a financial partner, Dave Levy, and they would try to sell the finished project. The restoration was handled by Trey Bogan and his brother Shannon (BoganRestoration.com), and Vic Calvert. Auto Metal Direct liked the concept, and supplied sheetmetal, glass, and bumpers.
After Trey smoothed the body seamlessly, he laid down the base colors of pale green and vintage Coke red. Steve would pick a color and Trey would formulate the various green tones for Steve to airbrush. This took hours, because Steve was insistent on matching the colors of his artwork. Steve had spent hours researching Coke glass and photographing Coke bottles in natural light, at differing times of the day. He wanted to find the most convincing shades of green. Coke green enamels can lean to the turquoise side, which is evident on some of the old Coke signage. They went with Sikkens paint.
The team debuted the completed car to Keith Wilmot, inside an old warehouse. Steve made a 20-minute presentation, which included previous Coke-themed vehicles, to show that consciously, or subconsciously, Coke always wanted to take one of their bottles, lay it on its side, add wheels and take it for a ride. He also demonstrated the Charger-bottle connection. Keith was speechless and was totally blown away by a rather unique feature of the car. It’s sound effects.
Releasing the hood generates a Pfffsst! sound, like you’re popping a top. Lift the hood, and there is a fizzy pouring sound. Close the hood, and you’re treated to a Glug! Glurg! drinking sound, a satisfying Ahhhh! and a real healthy Uhhrrrp! burp. All sounds were obtained from the Coke Museum, digitally downloaded into a sound machine, and played through a speaker located under the hood near the headlights. Even so, Keith was not the right guy to hand over a Coke company check for the car. Seems Steve still has to up the ladder, or in this case, the elevator, to the 14th floor in the Coke corporate offices. ‘Course, the higher you go the more difficult it becomes to get an audience. Steve’s next stop is a guy named Ben Riley, who’s in charge of the NASCAR-Coke connection—an obvious tie-in, considering the Charger’s NASCAR heritage. It’s sure a better shot than someone who’s in charge of Coke’s caramel color.
Steve Stanley and Dave Levy’s ’69 Charger recreates as accurately as possible, vintage elements of Coke memorabilia. But it misses the mark in one area: the stuff in the bottles iced inside the trunk cooler. “Secret formula” notwithstanding, Mo’fans old enough to remember, know the watered down “Classic”of today is a far cry from the Coca-Cola they enjoyed as a kid. That Coke came in small bottles and burned all the way down. Maybe the execs on the 14th floor have their own stash.