One-of-37 Original Unrestored 1970 Hemi Challenger R/T SE’s
Story & photos by Cliff Gromer
We go back some 20 years for the beginning of this tale. Jim Bodanis a Mopar collector in Canada is looking for a Hemi E-body to add to his stable of Mopes. He learns of a ’70 Hemi Challenger from a friend of a friend. The car is located in Omaha Nebraska. Jim rings up the guy on the tele and the car and its price sounds good. So, Jim buys a plane ticket to fly down to check the car out.
Fast-forwarding a bit, Jim is able to trace the car back to the salesman who originally sold the car at Sioux City Dodge in Sioux City Iowa. He also speaks to the car’s three owners. ‘Course all this being 20 years ago, Jim is fuzzy on some details because we didn’t tell him at the time that the Challenger would be featured in the August 2018 edition of Mopar Action. We suggested hypnotic age regression to bring out the details but Jim declined. We’ve successfully used waterboarding on other owners to jog their memories, but the publisher put the kibosh on that. Could get us sued, they maintain.
What Jim remembers is this. The salesman says the Challenger R/T SE was an ordered car, but the buyer backed out. So, the car sits on the lot for a year. Hemis, at the time, were not the hot market item they would later become, and coupled with insurance hassles and the Hemi’s proclivity for stopping at gas stations the way dogs stop at fire hydrants, it’s no surprise Mo’fans wren’t beating the dealer’s door down for the ride. Wanting just to dump the car, the dealer told the salesman to cut a sweetheart deal. He couldn’t remember the exact selling price, and Jim nixed the idea of our going down there with our electro-shock gear to jog the salesman’s memory. Too nice a guy, Jim said.
The first buyer, Mr. Sweetheart, held onto the Challenger for about a year and a half. Mr. and Mrs. Sweetheart drove the car around some and finally decided it was “too much upkeep” (whatever that meant) and the expensive insurance. So, they unloaded It to owner No. 2, Mr. Hotrod.
Hotrod thought the Hemi wasn’t hot enough, so he jazzed it up a bit and he “booted it around a few times,” as Jim puts it. Until he broke a rocker. Then he parked it for 2-3 years.
Buyer No. 3, Mr. Parkem, bought the car in the late ‘70s, fixed the rocker and got the Hemi running again. Then, he just parked the car. Jim says the guy had a few Hemi cars that never went anywhere. Maybe he just liked looking at them or sneaking into the garage late at night and lightly running his fingers over their flanks. Or something.
About 20 years ago, Mr. Parkem decided to clean out his stable and off a few cars. That’s when Jim got wind of it.
So, now we’re back where we started. Jim steps off the plane, kisses the ground as he is wont to do when he arrives on a flight all in one piece, and books ground transport to Parkem’s place. Now, Jimmy is a pretty sharp dude who knows his way around a Mopar or two. We’ve even featured some of his Mopes in these pages on occasion, so you know they gotta be good.
Anyway, 20 years ago Jim wasn’t as sharp as he is now. So he had backup—none other than Mopar maven Frank Badalson. No, he didn’t sneak Frank along in his luggage to save on a plane ticket, he had Frank on the other end of his cell phone or whatever communication device that was in vogue two decades ago (telegraph?). Jim says he spent a couple of days with Frank walking him through the car. Jim calls it a Frank-footer (get it?)
Frank would say something like “open the trunk and look at the spare tire inflator bottle. Now flip it over, there should be a date on it. What is it?” Jim would reply, and Frank would say, “Yep, that’s original.” Turns out the car was very original. ‘Course Mr. Parkem is taking all of this in with a bemused expression. At the end of his inspection, Jim turns to Parkem and says they have a deal at the asking price.
Jim says, “ So the car is X price, right?”
“Whaddya mean NO?”
“ I didn’t know the car was this good. It’s now X+Y”
“I’m not so good at algebra. How much is that in dollars?”
Jim takes out his reserve suitcase full of cash and spends the next hour counting out the additional fives and ones.
Back home in Canada, Jim isn’t too happy about the way the Hemi runs. So he sends the car directly to noted restomeister, Roger Gibson. O’l Rog isn’t too crazy about the Hemi either and says it needs a rebuild. Jim goes to the bank to recharge his suitcase full of fives and ones and gives Rog the green light. What Rog finds when he probes bowels of the Hemi (no, wiseguy, he didn’t find Hemirhoids—leave the jokes to us, please) would make our editor’s hair (if he had any) stand on end. Mr. Hotrod had slapped in a halacious cam and 12:1 pistons. Not only that, the crank had a crack in it. Seems Hotrod went for a “south of the border” style (we’re not allowed to mention specific countries) balance and blueprinting job, and the Me-, er, south of the border guy was grinding on the crank. Needless to say, Ol’ Rog got that Hemi cranking like new. All the original stuff was still there—carbs, distributor, coil etc. Everything was either cleaned up or replated as needed. Hoses and wires were replaced with correctly dated repops.
Jim has rolled up about 3000 miles since he’s owned the Challenger. His wife drives it to car shows because she can’t drive a stick while Jim pilots his Mr. Norm Six-Pack Challenger with 4-speed and Dana 4.10. He recalls one time when he and the missus were coming back from a car show on an empty road. His wife pulls alongside Jim and revs the Hemi. She wants to go. Jim nails her out of the hole, but as he’s grabbing 4th she steamrolls him. Jim runs out of gear just as the Hemi is coming alive. “She walked right past me, like Vooom!” After that I said, “OK, we’re not doing that again.” Everything on a Hemi is top end. What did Bobby Isaacs say—“they idle like a coffee can full of rocks, but they turn on when the others turn off.”
Jim had no intention of selling the Challenger until he was contacted by Frank Badalson who was helping find cars for Evan Metropoulos’ “The Only Original Once” museum collection. The Mopars in the collection are limited to only unrestored original Hemicars. When Frank told Jim he had a buyer interested in his Challenger, Jim asked who it was. When Frank mentioned Metropoulos, Jim exclaimed, “Hah, a fellow Greek. I’ll call him.” Jim called Evan and explained the car, Evan said, “You’re Greek. I know it’s a good car.”
And good it is as Frank took pains to point out the details to us.
First of all, this 1970 Hemi Challenger R/T SE is rare. They only made 37 automatics and 22 sticks. It wears about 80% of its original paint along with the original factory white vinyl stripe. There’s no way to know how many of these were Plum Crazy. Frank says Chrysler’s purple paint back then didn’t last very long if you didn’t keep after the finish and keep the car covered.
This car still has its original exhaust, mufflers and resonators. It has power front discs, a 3.55 8-3/4” rear and the factory 8-track player that still works (Lawrence Welk anyone?)
Now for some SE trivia that you can use during those intimate moments:
The SE option included the smaller backlight and unique vinyl roof and molding, hard felt headliner with overhead console containing warning lights and map/reading light, special door panels with wood grain inset with “Special Edition” emblem and carpeting with reflector at the bottom, dark argent tail panel and either leather or cloth and vinyl interior. The SE was available on any Challenger from 6-cylinder to Hemi with one exception which we’ll get into in a moment. When combined with the R/T package, you got the Rally dash and the 383 4-Bbl as the base engine.
The exception was the 340. You could only get a Challenger 340. The R/T and SE options were not available with the smallblock.
Trunk mat junkies will get a fix from this original that shows Vendor No., date and Part No. Spatter marks on trunk floor are factory weather strip glue drips. Neat.
The photos illustrate the R/TSE package details and also show some of the factory assembly details on this particular 16,000 original- mile, unrestored Hemi Challenger which we know you’ll enjoy.