Long Lost Love in the Shape of a Dodge Challenger
An Emotional Rollercoaster Revolving Around a 1970 Dodge Challenger
Here at Gearheads, we’re suckers for a good lost and found story, and this one about a man and his love for a long-lost Dodge Challenger really pulled on our heartstrings today.
John Howard first met the love of his life, a 1970 Dodge Challenger, back in 1976 when he was hanging out at his friend’s shop. A man rolled in with a beautiful Challenger that he was looking to sell, so John took it for a lively test drive before striking a deal of $1,200 upon his return. Unfortunately, since ATMs didn’t exist yet, John only had $50 in his pocket at the time. Even more unfortunately, the owner had gone behind his back and sold the muscle car to someone else overnight, leaving John robbed of his Mopar mistress.
Making matters even worse, the car had been completely disassembled roughly a month after the sale by its new owner. John was frustrated after being robbed of his opportunity to revel in that Hemi magic. The Challenger sat for 30 years in sad, undriven pieces, after its purchase by a Mopar collector. John made multiple offers on the car but each one was unsuccessful. He does admit, though, that if he had gotten the car during this time then he would have turned it into a racecar, meaning it’d be nowhere near as nice as it is today.
Finally, to John’s delight, the owner’s wife gave him an ultimatum:
It’s me or the car.
Ever the intelligent man, the Mopar collector swiftly sold his collection to some John actually happened to know. While this friend of his was ready to pitch the sale, John already knew what he was there for, and he wasn’t leaving without it.
After documenting all the parts that came with the car, the well-preserved body was further stripped before being sent off to the body shop to be painted. The first body shop the Dodge went to thought they had it easy and were under the impression they were working with a body that was held together pretty well. So, with some rust patched up and a fresh lick of paint, the car was quickly returned to John’s custody.
Per every enthusiast’s worst nightmare, rust began to break through the gleaming new paint after just a couple of months back at John’s garage. The first shop trusted the body more than they should have and didn’t prep it to the extent that was necessary. John, being a perfectionist and wanting the best for the Dodge Challenger, sent it off to another shop for a more thorough prep and repaint – This time, the Dodge was to be done-up in Top Banana yellow.
As soon as the car landed back at John’s place, he attacked the reassembly, immediately fitting the suspension, transmission, engine and rear axle. He installed the dash and steering column next. All of John’s hard work was about to pay off, with only one question left in his mind:
Would the car start?
It was at this time, however, that a life changing event fell upon John. He was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Battling on with this struggle and with chemotherapy, John was determined to finish what he started with the Challenger build. Understandably, fatigue and stress took its toll, and what was once a treatable form of cancer had unfortunately turned into a more severe case; Large B-Cell Lymphoma; a type of cancer which is more difficult to treat and spreads more quickly.
But John, being the trooper that he is, powered on with his determination stronger than ever. He had a milestone to reach; John wanted to display the car for all to see at the Mopar Nationals. He dreamt of the day that he could drive the car onto the fabled festival’s grounds in Columbus, Ohio.
John’s condition worsened to the point that he could no longer work on the car. Heartbroken and eager to help, three of John’s friends understood his despair and stepped in to take over. Terry Moyer, Mike Salter and Matt Roops worked at all hours of the night to try and get the car ready for the show; an endeavor in which they were indeed successful. John’s original plan was to ride with Terry to the show, but due to doctor’s appointments, John had to fly down last minute, fearing that he might miss his big moment to drive the car onto the grounds.
After such a long string of bad luck with the Challenger, we’re pretty sure the Mopar Angels were with John that day because he did indeed manage to get to the Mopar Nationals. More importantly, he got to drive his pride and joy into the stadium as onlookers watched in awe. The best part of all, however, is that John was asked by Mopar to display his hard work on their stand, and we certainly can’t think of a more humbling badge of honor than that.
While the pristine Challenger is far from stock, it certainly looks the part. The 440ci block was replaced by a 500ci one after the original blew up back in the 70’s. The 17-inch Year One rallye-inspired rims don’t look far-off from those equipped in the factory and are quite complementary to the striking Top Banana paint job.
While the bright yellow might be too much for some people to handle, we find that its combination with the black hood and low-profile scoop provides a fresh and lively look to what was once just a box of bits sitting in a garage for a few decades.
The story behind this Challenger is certainly an emotional rollercoaster, but the part that really got us the most was John’s friends and their dedication; no matter what, they were there for him at any cost. They came together to get John his dream car when he was incapable of doing so himself, and while the Challenger certainly is beautiful, nothing on earth compares to that level of love and friendship.
Here’s to you, boys. You took a hot mess of parts and turned them into an absolute queen. Long may she reign.