Sergei Dennenbaum may not be the best-known name in Mopar history, but his place in the lore of our hobby has been firmly cemented in place by this particular gold ‘67 GTX convertible. This B-body rag top’s claim-to-fame is multifaceted and the story’s a bit wild and wooly, to say the least, but if you’re looking for a seriously historical old Mopar that has a seriously colorful provenance, look no further than right here. We’ll begin with the man himself, Sergei, and perhaps stir up a few memories for our readers in the northeast.
Dennenbaum migrated to the United States from Russia in 1962 (which was hardly an easy task at that time) and set up shop, literally, in New York City on Hillside Drive. Sergei had always been a mechanical whiz kid, and he found himself almost immediately engrossed in Chrysler’s apprenticeship program with performance engines and was soon over at Chrysler, where he spent a year working for Chrysler doing endurance testing. All of which led Sergei to a fascination with drag racing and prompted him to build a ‘63 Plymouth Max Wedge Super Stocker known as “The Mad Russian.” And, well into the late sixties, Sergei and his “Mad Russian” Plymouth were regular sights at tracks such as Island Dragway, Atco, and Englishtown. He finally tired of the East Coast scene and moved to Oregon in 1972, where he’s been ever since. However, the machine you see here is bringing all those memories of Sergei and his East Coast antics back in full force. Now owned by Walt Koller, and recently restored by Dave Ferro, the absolute
best in Mopar Restoration, and his crew at Totally Auto in Pennsylvania, what you have here isn’t your garden-variety Hemi GTX convertible (as if there is such a thing). If you want a Mopar with a unique history, they don’t get much more unique than this.
Having a lot of insider information at Chrysler due to his position with the company, Sergei knew all about the upcoming Plymouth GTX before the general public did. So, in the middle of 1966, he went into Manhattan Chrysler/Plymouth and sat down with Chrysler “Special Representative” (perhaps a zone rep) Saul Brechner. Together, they worked out an order form for a well-optioned new Hemi-powered GTX convertible in gold metallic, with a couple of very unusual
caveats in the ordering contract. Sergei wasn’t a fan of the dual quad setup on the 426 Street Hemi and wanted a single four-barrel intake with a large Holley carb - this was duly noted on the order form. He also knew that Chrysler and Dodge were preparing to launch a new factory over-the-counter Super Stocker program for 1967 based on the Belvedere I and the base model Coronet. Today, we affectionately refer to those plain white hardtops as the RO/WO cars, in reference to their VIN numbers, but that terminology wasn’t in place toward the end of the summer in 1966. Sergei had seen the proposed fresh-air hood scoops for those cars and he wanted one for his new convertible. This was also noted by Mr. Brechner, along with the creature comforts you would expect in a topless GTX. Optional equipment included dual headrests for the bucket seats, an electric tach mounted on the console, power brakes, front and rear bumper guards, and chrome Road Wheels. Sergei also wanted a low maintenance 727 automatic with the rather basic 3.23 Sure Grip rear. All of which led to the creation of car #RS27J77115013 - and yes, that is a significant number.
The importance of the convertible’s VIN is that it identifies this car as being the first known (as of this writing) ‘67 GTX Hemi convertible built. Built at the St. Louis plant (all ‘67 GTX convertibles were built at St. Louis), this one has the lowest known serial number of any ‘67 GTX. It may well be the first ‘67 GTX built, period, but we’ll leave that open because, at this point, there’s no way to state that with authority, but it is certainly the earliest known ‘67 Hemi convertible - a true pilot car. Furthermore, when it arrived in New York, there were some very odd peculiarities about the car. The convert arrived at Manhattan Chrysler/Plymouth in the fall of 1966 wearing a plain, flat, Belvedere hood without the expected GTX hood scoops and without accent stripes of any kind. When Sergei first saw the convert, its Hemi was already wearing the very unusual aluminum single four-intake manifold and Holley carb, with the
conventional Street Hemi dual-four intake and carbs in the trunk, along with the huge Chrome Dome air cleaner. To this day, it’s unknown if the intake was installed before it left St. Louis or if the dealership installed it the moment the car rolled off the trailer; regardless, that carb and intake was on the car the same day it arrived in Manhattan brand-new.
Since this was a new animal, and Sergei was enjoyinga good relationship with Chrysler at that time, he agreed to allow the dealership to keep his new convert on their showroom floor for a couple of weeks. After all, the weather was bad and he was busy, so where was the harm in that? Apparently, during that time, the GTX hood scoops arrived and the dealership bolted them onto the flat hood, along with a pair of “426 Hemi” emblems that Sergei wasn’t too crazy about. Not long after getting the GTX home, he replaced those emblems with ones that read “383.” Why let everybody know what’s under the hood, eh? And, right-off-the-bat, Sergei did some modifications to the convert that would transform it into the car he needed. He installed vacuum and oil pressure gauges, a reverb radio, added larger tires, and most notably, he added a trailer hitch out back, - for the coming summer the GTX would act as the tow car for his
‘63 “Mad Russian” Pro Stocker! Since he was driving it regularly, he also
installed a factory rear window defogger to help keep the plastic rear window less hazy during the winter.
Sometime in early 1967, possibly January, the dealership called up and informed him his fresh air hood had arrived (presumably shipped from the Lynch Road plant where the RO/WO cars would be built in early February). To his surprise, the hood and the large scoop were already painted gold to match his car and the thing was in three pieces; the hood (with a large hole cut in the middle), the scoop, and a large aluminum ring/plate that attached underneath and was meant to force-feed air into the carb. Sergei brought it all home, put the hood together, and within a couple of months of being new, the GTX was running around New York wearing this aggressive hood and sucking chilled air. But, as a drag racer, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the GTX’s big Hemi alone. Before long, the factory valve covers were gone in favor of some aluminum racing covers with tall dual breathers, the stock ignition system was scrapped for a hotter distributor, dual coils, and an aftermarket fuel cool can to aide with vapor lock problems. In this guise, the gold GTX became more of a hot rod than a tow car. Oddly enough, he began to let his mother drive this overly powerful topless Plymouth!
Somewhere around 1968, Mom was driving the GTX when the throttle stuck wide open on Hudson River Drive! The convert took a hit in the nose that day, but the accident wasn’t too serious and it was soon repainted and back in action. “Action” for the GTX quickly heated up, as Sergei concentrated on his Max Wedge ride and turned the keys of the golden car over to his mom. Mom, however, didn’t use the convert as a grocery getter; she used it as a serious drag car as well! Most weekends during the summer of 1968 and 1969, “The Mad Russian” could be found at Island Dragway or at Atco Dragway in New Jersey, and right alongside was his mother with the GTX. Reportedly, the big Plymouth was running just over the thirteen-second mark, topping 100 mph in the process. Then, late in the 1969 season, they returned to the convert in the pits at Atco and somebody had stolen the GTX’s Holley carb and aftermarket air cleaner while it was just sitting there! Disgusted, Sergei retired the convert from racing, placed the
factory dual-four intake and Chrome Dome on the Hemi, then he sold the car to a New York City policeman named Bob Turner in 1970 for the lofty sum of $1,800. The car was tired, the transmission was about dead, and his fascination with this gold B-body had run its course.
Regrettably, the policeman who owned the GTX most of its life passed away years ago, so exactly what the car did throughout the next several decades is a little on the fuzzy side of history. Some things are obvious just based on observations about the car itself. It wasn’t driven a whole lot because you’re still looking at the factory original 1966-installed interior. It wasn’t used in winter because you’re still looking at practically all of the original sheet metal. It also wasn’t raced or abused, because everything that Sergei turned over to Bob Turner is still with the car to this day; including all the original paperwork, invoices, the IBM punch card, and even the cool little warranty Certi-Card. Apparently, Bob appreciated what he had and used it sparingly and increasingly less as time went on. When we spoke with Dave Ferro about the convert, he told us a lot of people in the area knew about the fabled convertible’s existence; it was always kind of a unicorn - everybody had heard about it, but few had actually seen it. Throughout the eighties and nineties, rumors circulated locally about a policeman who had a Hemi GTX convertible, and once-in-a-while, somebody reported knowing where it was, but the car and its owner remained somewhat aloof. Then, Bob passed away and his widow, not wishing to see the convertible waste away, sold it to collector Walt Koller back in EARLY 1990.
With a lot of other projects in the works, the Plymouth convertible was parked in Walt’s garage in New Jersey for years as he gathered information and parts for an eventual restoration. Overall, the car was in decent shape, but the engine was far too radical to be driven on the street, the paint was tired, and the transmission was slipping badly, yet again. Amazingly, all the car’s original parts and aftermarket speed parts remained with it. Walt got the GTX’s original RO/WO-style hood, the original (and highly unusual) single-four aluminum intake CASTING NUMBER 2468043 64 B 426 SINGLE FOUR "NASCAR"
WHICH WAS AVAILABLE FOR ABOUT 6-MONTHS (NASCAR OUTLAWED HEMI) OVER THE COUNTER OR DEALER INSTALLED, BY 66 THIS PART MAY HAVE BEEN FOUND AS NASCAR "LIGHTENED UP", and all the little speed parts Sergei had installed back in 1967. In 2003, he had Galen Govier do an inspection of the GTX, and that’s when the suspicions were confirmed, that it was the oldest known Hemi GTX convertible, and was likely the first one built. With that in mind, Walt was faced with a restoration dilemma; to restore it back stone stock because it was the first example built, or restore it back to how it looked in 1967 when “The Mad Russian” was making it semi-famous all over New York and New Jersey? That was a decision not easily reached.
Fast-forwarding to 2009, the GTX was moved to Totally Auto in Feasterville, Pennsylvania, where it continued to sit while Walt and Ferro formulated a game plan. Initially, Ferro thought the Plymouth only needed a freshening up, but that plan was soon scrapped in favor of a full-on complete rotisserie restoration, which finally began in 2010. The original Hemi was saved and built back to correct late 1966 specs, a period correct TorqueFlite was located, and typically doing what they do, Dave Ferro and his boys spent months transforming an average-looking old Plymouth into something that sparkles like a freshly polished diamond - top-to-bottom, inside and out. A unique challenge with this
resto, however, was taking great pains to save the original interior. It took a lot of cleaning and conditioning, but the seats and door panels look almost as nice today as they did back in 1966. Walt had Ferro remove all the aftermarket and added equipment, like the rear window defogger, the extra gauges, and all the performance goodies. Everything is still with the car, and Ferro even restored the scooped hood and put a correct vintage Holley four-barrel back on the single-four intake, which was on-and-off the car’s Hemi throughout the whole
restoration. While Ferro was pulling for a resto that would put the convert back in its 1967 tow car and race appearance, Walt decided the general public wouldn’t understand and opted for the stone stock route.
A WEEK before the 2011 Muscle Cars at the Playboy Mansion show, the GTX was finished and headed west to make its long overdue debut to the muscle car world. And interestingly, after working so hard to save the interior, that first show it was covered with Playboy bunnies and other ladies standing on the seats posing for photos and generally piling into the convertible left and right! Dave Ferro was in a cold sweat all night, but we’re pleased to say no harm was done and Walt certainly seems to have enjoyed himself with his new toy. From there, the GTX was carted up and hauled directly to the prestigious MCACN show in Chicago where it greeted show goers in “Mopar Alley.” In its first “real” show, the convert won a “Gold” certification, scoring 994 out of a possible 1,000 points! And honest, in jest one of the judges actually noted on the form, “Boobie prints on the glass!” Obviously, he knew where the car had just come from! Since then, Walt’s enjoyed driving the convertible around New Jersey, and just before this article was written, a deal was worked out for the historic GTX to go to Tim Wellborn’s muscle car museum in Alabama, where it can be seen by thousands all year long. There are also plans to have the convert out to the major Mopar events this summer, along with several big dog concours d’elegance shows; so, after so many years of sitting idle, this Plymouth is touring the country hot-and-heavy!
Our congrats to Walt and Dave Ferro, (TOTALLY AUTO) for breathing life anew into this golden oldie, and thanks to Sergei for unintentionally creating a one-of-a-kind machine that will forever be embedded in Mopar B-body history. MCG