If there’s ever a contest for the ultimate ‘70 Hemi R/T Challenger hardtop, this Totally Auto creation is certainly going to be in the running for that title.
For those of our readers with long memories, you might recall seeing the triple black Challenger featured this month in MCG before. That’s because we highlighted it a little back in our September 2004 issue in the Under Construction section. At that time, the R/T Challenger was still in a number of pieces and in the middle of an exhaustive ground-up restoration at Totally Auto, up in Feasterville, Pennsylvania for owner Gary Blancke. As you can see, the dark Dodge has come a long way since then, and our story on this remarkable car is perhaps a bit overdue, but hey, better late than never, eh?
To rehash a bit of this unique ‘70 Challenger’s history, allow us to rewind a bit. It goes without saying that any factory triple black ‘70 Challenger R/T would be an extremely hot commodity on today’s market, but throw into that the fact that this particular example happens to a Hemi four-speed Challenger R/T, and that desirability factor ramps up quite a bit. As if that weren’t enough (they always say that on television commercials), this car was originally sold new at Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge in Chicago. Mr. Norm himself remembers the car well, and furthermore, states it was the only black Hemi Challenger he recalls ever selling! All those factors added together make this perhaps the most extreme ‘70 Challenger hardtop existence, bar none. Why would Mr. Norm’s only sell one black ‘70 Hemi Challenger R/T? Because the factory was pushing the bright new high impact colors and they wanted the utmost in visibility for the new Challengers. Thus, as seen in our December 2007 issue, Mr. Norm’s reportedly only sold one black ‘70 Challenger T/A and one black ‘70 Challenger R/T - the rest of the famous dealer’s E-body beasts wore brighter robes.
A Challenger this well optioned was an expensive hot rod back in 1970, but it’s not that bit of trivia which caused Norm Krause himself to remember this car. When contacted about the Challenger, to everyone’s surprise, Norm responded that he remembered the car well. Why? Because this car was something of a holy quest for the dealership. Reportedly, a fellow walked into Grand Spaulding Dodge towards the end of 1969 and laid out his order for a loaded down triple black ‘70 R/T Challenger. Then, he volunteered the information that time was something of a factor because he was terminally ill and wouldn’t have much time to enjoy the new car! We’ve gotta’ think, at that point, even a car salesman doesn’t try to play pricing games.
The order was placed, Dodge moved with typical sluggishness in building the car, and everybody sweated out the Challenger’s arrival in Chicago. As the days passed, the man’s health steadily declined. When the black R/T finally arrived, it went straight into the service bay for a serious dyno tuning. Everybody from the mechanics to the new car detail guys worked overtime to get the Challenger out the door that same day - it was literally a “drop everything” thrash job. The original owner took possession, enjoyed slamming the Pistol Grip through the gears for only a few months, and then he did indeed pass away. The experience left an impression on Mr. Norm and most of the crew at the dealership, and it made this particular car a real standout among the countless performance cars they peddled. All that aside, there is some debate about the fate of the original owner.
Gary first ran across the historic Challenger R/T back in 1996, when an old car broker had the Dodge listed for sale. The car had been treated to a decent looking“Chevy shop” restoration apparently in the late 1980s. Whomever did the initial restoration obviously didn’t know much about how E-bodies were constructed when new. The confusion about the original owner is encountered in the story the seller of the Challenger gave Gary. According to the owner in 1996, the original owner in Chicago had kept the Challenger as a daily driver until 1975, rolling up just over 64,000 miles in the process. Did the original owner meet an untimely demise or did he live longer than was previously thought? Maybe both? Maybe the guy was ill and he simply got better, or the diagnoses had been a bit on the dark side to begin with? If anybody knows for sure, drop us a line, because we’d like to clear up the Challenger’s early years. According to the seller, the car had been parked in 1975 and it remained idle until March of 1980, when it was sold to its second owner. Again, we’re not certain if the original owner still had the car at that time or if it was sold by a member of his family.
The second owner kept the Challenger off the road as well, and as muscle car prices rose in the ‘80s, the car’s condition came into question. We’re not certain what the Challenger looked like by the mid-1980's, but judging from what we know of its most recent restoration, it’s doubtful it should’ve ever been touched to begin with. In the eighties, we saw a number of Mopars that were in great original condition get restored simply because too many people had a “it’s gotta’ be sparkling and perfect” attitude. From what we know, this R/T may have been we would be consider a survivor by today’s standards and received a restoration because it was showing its age just a touch. Since it had always been garaged and there’s no sign of rust anywhere, we can surmise the starting point for the first restoration was very nice.
Reportedly, the first restoration took most of seven years to accomplish, and it was deemed a state-of-the-art ground up resto by the standards of the day. As we said earlier, however, whomever did the work didn’t know much about Challengers - countless details were incorrect, and a lot of parts had been phosphate coated (like on GM cars) such as fender bolts, the hood hinges, and numerous other odds and ends. Yes, it looked nice and clean, but unfortunately, that’s not how Dodge put these cars together. Interestingly, the black vinyl top was also removed and the roof painted black during the restoration! Who would do something like that today?
In March 1995, the third owner purchased the decent looking black Challenger, using it for a few area car shows, but otherwise continuing to keep it garaged and tucked away from public view. For whatever reason, the car was soon for sale again and in December of 1996 Gary Blancke purchased the unique sinister looking E-body. A serious collector of muscle Mopars, Gary knew the Challenger was a once-in-a-lifetime car, but since he had some other cars being restored and the black Dodge wasn’t so bad looking, it sat around his place in Maryland waiting its turn for a trip to the nations premiere Mopar Restoration Shop, Totally Auto. (TotallyAutoInc.com)
Initially, the plan for the Challenger was simply to freshen it up a bit and correct most of the Chevy shop restoration techniques it had been treated to. Once Dave Ferro and the guys at Totally Auto started looking the car over, they realized that simply touching things up here and there was only going to make the situation worse. Decent looking but not great, the problem was that if they fixed up one area of the R/T, the rest of it was going to look really bad. And being the kinda’ guys who don’t like to halfway do something, they didn’t want to mess up something with this much personality and importance. After a pow wow with Gary about the situation, the fluff-n-buff make over was changed into a ground-up total restoration. How many times have we heard that story before?
Working on several of Gary’s cars at the same time, the Challenger was a bit of a back burner project. Dave tells us the car still retains all its original sheet metal and was remarkably rust free. Aside from some minor dings and parking lot wounds, the body was fantastic. In 2005, the reborn Challenger made its debut at major shows across the northeast, including Carlisle, where it was displayed at Totally Auto’s exhibit. Since then, it’s spent most of its time occupying a space of honor in Gary’s garage.
The significance of this one cannot be ignored, and one look at the spec sheet prepared by Galen Govier speaks volumes. It is a factory triple black ‘70 Hemi four-speed Challenger R/T that came with the Super Track Pack 4.10 Dana rear. It is a verified Mr. Norm’s car. The other options are F60-15 Polyglas tires and 15" Rallyes, Rimblow steering wheel, power disc brakes, power steering, console, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, tinted windows, dual chrome mirrors, hood pins, wheel lip moldings, rear bumper guards, AM/8-Track stereo, rear seat speaker, and it’s a factory R/T stripe delete car. This is the kinda’ machine that keeps E-body fanatics awake at night! To say it would be hard to improve on a Mopar muscle car is usually something we don’t say, but in the case of Gary’s Challenger, where you’ve got an incredible history, an incredible color combo and option list, and a car that’s been pampered all its life and never abused, we can genuinely say it would be hard to improve on this. If there’s ever a contest for the ultimate ‘70 Hemi R/T Challenger hardtop, Gary’s car is certainly going to be in the running for that title. MCG