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The Car that started Totally Auto

Printed with permission from Mopar Collectors Guide
Written by, Randy Holden

Dave and Diane Ferro of Feasterville, Pennsylvania have become known over the course of the last two decades as the owners/operators of arguably the Nation's premier Mopar restoration facility - Totally Auto Inc. Through the years, we've been privileged to watch their business grow, their facilities expand, and their family grow as well. We've featured a number of cars restored by Totally Auto and several owned by Dave himself. An admitted E-body fanatic, Dave's owned no-less than sixty-six E-bodies since the early 1980s (we're not talking parts cars, we're talking drivers), but our feature this month deals with a somewhat historic Go-Mango Challenger that belongs to Dave's better half, Diane.

Diane is a wonderful and longsuffering woman. She's been with to Dave for a touch over twenty-six years now, so that should tell you something in itself. She's been referred to in times past in other magazines as an ideal AMopar wife and was even featured in Moperformance as one of their "hot ladies of Mopar". There's a lot more to this lady than simply placing tags on her as Mrs. Mopar or something corny like that. She's been one of the key ingredients in the success of Totally Auto and had done an exceptional job of keeping Dave on an even keel and in being an ideal mom to their two children, CaraMia and Juliet. We set up all this long overdue flattery to place the Challenger you're looking at in the proper context. If you're a longtime Mopar enthusiast, you'll recognize this one from features done long ago by some of our compatriots. High Performance Mopar featured Diane's Challenger in their September 1992 issue, and Moperformance had it in one of their issues back in 1985. They covered some of the basics with their features, but the importance of this car combined with what can only be described as a remarkable set of circumstances warrant that more attention be paid to it. What neither of the older features on Diane's Challenger failed to mention is the simple fact that had it not been for this car, there would be no Totally Auto.


We roll the clock back to 1985. Dave and Diane were still newlyweds at that time and she was coming to terms with his addiction to old Mopars. For the better part of the time she'd known Dave, he had been building street rods in his garage for local customers. Dave himself though, in addition to building street rods, was fascinated with Mopar muscle cars and this enthusiasm also infected Diane. As fate would have it, within eyesight of the Ferro's driveway, a neighbor's brother started parking this orange Challenger at his brother's house. The car had been involved in a minor mishap on the nose but looked to be an overall very clean original car. There was some friction in the family, however. The two brothers didn't get along all that well and the one who owned the house became ticked off that the Challenger was consistently parked on the street behind his driveway. Apparently he had some issue with that, as just about every time he backed out of the driveway, he would literally make a point of backing into the driver's fender of the Challenger! Day after day, Dave and Diane watched the fender go from bad to worse as it was hit repeatedly. Mercifully, he confined his aggression to that one fender.

Dave couldn't stand seeing the clean Challenger treated this way so he approached the owner with an offer and negotiations ensued. The car had originally been a 383 automatic, but it had a punched up 440 under the hood, the original leather interior was showing some wear, and there was the aforementioned body damage, but overall, there was no rust whatsoever and the Challenger was clean. Honestly, things being what they were in 1985, Dave wasn't overly familiar with the SE package and was taken with the car because of its small rear glass and overhead console, which were items he'd not encountered in any of his previous Challengers. The deal was finalized on August 27, 1985; which happened to be Diane's birthday.

The Challenger joined the Ferro's small fleet and he immediately set to work fixing the low mileage car's cosmetic woes (only 18,000 original miles at that time). He was fortunate enough to find a NOS R/T hood, a grille, and a front bumper at a local dealership which he bought for $350. No joke, all that stuff for $350 - he still has the receipt! The Go-Mango orange paint was resprayed in his garage, the 440 tuned and cleaned up, and the Challenger was used sparingly as a cruiser. In February 1987, Dave needed some extra cash to buy a Challenger convertible project car. Not wanting to "borrow", he sold the R/T SE hardtop to Diane for $300 to keep it in the family. Needless to say, Diane was more than happy to plunk down three hundred bucks to make this one officially her car.


Over the course of that winter the Challenger was treated to a more legitimate restoration, which brought the car up to snuff by all the standards in place in the early days of the muscle car boom. This was long before paint splotches and grease pencil marks, so the belted tires and 68 Charger Magnum 500-style chrome wheels were perfectly acceptable then. It was after this make over that the orange Challenger placed Dave and Diane Ferro on the track to opening up their now famed business. The happy couple drove the Challenger down to the Mopars at Englishtown show, and there they met a fella named Bill Stech. Bill was next to them with his Challenger, so they spent the weekend talking cars. The more Bill looked at Diane's R/T, the more he realized Dave had some serious talent that wasn't being used to its proper extent. By the end of the weekend, Bill had handed over $5,000 to put Dave Ferro in the restoration business. With that much needed capital and Bill's prompting, the Ferros opened the doors of Totally Auto, Inc., and the rest, as they say, is history. Had it not been for this orange R/T SE Challenger, the chance meeting which led to the creation of Totally Auto likely would've never occurred and it's entirely likely that Dave Ferro would be just another guy in eastern Pennsylvania who collects old Mopars. We think you'll agree, the world's a better place for all of us because of this car.

During the late 1980s, Diane's R/T SE became somewhat of a calling card for the fledgling business. The Dodge was frequently seen at Mopar events and its condition caused an increasingly heavy workload for Dave. The business grew, they moved to a larger facility, and Totally Auto began to develop restoration products for hobbyists in addition to performing their now famous, over the top restorations. Interestingly, ever since that first meeting with Bill Spech, Totally Auto's restored at least one car every year since for him! While all this was going on, Dave received a phone call from a nearby friend asking him the VIN of the familiar orange Challenger. Why? Because he'd discovered a 383 which supposedly came out of an orange Challenger. Sure enough, the numbers matched, so after having been separated for over a decade, the car's original 383 and TorqueFlite were soon sitting on a stand next to the Challenger in Dave's garage. Since the 440 ran strong and had knocked down a 13.33 quarter mile on the brick-hard belted tires, Dave and Diane saw no reason to mess with changing out the engine, but they were understandably happy to have the original motor alongside the car.


From its first magazine feature in 1989 to its cover shot on HPM in 1992 and a beautiful centerfold shot with Miss Mopar Performance in that same issue (whatever happened to having a Miss Mopar Performance by the way?), the Challenger lived a pampered existence because the Ferros were too busy running Totally Auto. It was used for cruising once-in-a-while and attended a lot of shows, but for the most part, it was just sitting in the garage. Shortly after its big spread in High Performance Mopar, Dianne decided the kitchen in their recently purchased home needed a major reconstruction. Overloaded with cars and readjusting priorities based on family life, they came to realize that they needed the kitchen more than they needed some of the cars. Diane sold the orange Challenger in 1993 to finance the kitchen remodeling, but for whatever reason, the buyer never picked up the original 383, so it remained in Totally Auto's wherehouse. The car that had caused the creation of Totally Auto drove away, and much to their surprise, it literally disappeared. Since they attend every major Mopar event in the country, they expected to see the Challenger from time to time, but years passed and it never turned up anywhere.

At this point, we should point out another of Dave Ferro's passions; motorcycles. On average, Dave builds one motorcycle a year just to entertain himself and to serve as a stress reliever. Back in 1992, he bought a new Harley Fat Boy, then promptly customized it into a somewhat macabre "Crypt Keeper" looking bike. This rolling death look won lots of awards but after a decade, got old, so year before last he decided to give the Harley a complete make over. Looking at the giant poster of the orange Challenger hanging on his garage wall, he, Diane and friend Charlie decided to build the bike to look like something Harley would've offered as a tribute to Mopar muscle cars. The color scheme and attitude of the bike would be copied from the looks of their old Challenger. Dave did some incredible fabrication work, widening the frame, putting on larger tanks, converting the bike to chain drive instead of a belt, he had custom decor parts CNC machined to reflect a Mopar tone, installed custom chromed billet wheels, then painted everything in a hue similar to Go-Mango with ghosted little metallic pentastars all over the place (SEE PHOTOS BELOW). The 1340 Magnum logo on the air cleaner pays homage to our familiar Mopar pie plates found on so many of our favorite cars. Even if you're not overwhelmed by bikes, this one will get your attention thanks to its precision build and all the small details. Now for the Twilight Zone part of our story.

Through the magic of Photoshop, Dave made some new Totally Auto t-shirts which had the long-gone Challenger sitting alongside the newly built Harley. The shirts proved wildly popular and were frequently seen at major Mopar shows last summer. All this brings us up to the 2004 All Chrysler Nationals at Carlisle. Amongst the tens of thousands of people and thousands of cars, there was Dave Ferro wearing one of the shirts telling a passer by about how he'd made the shirts even though he hadn't seen the car in over a decade and wondered what had ever become of it. No joke, the guy pointed behind Dave and said, "you mean that one?" Dave wheeled around to see Diane's old Challenger, the very car he was just talking about, rumbling along behind him! What are the odds of having your long lost car literally drive up five feet behind you right when you're describing it to someone else? This ended the conversation and Dave was promptly at the driver's side window introducing himself and asking if the car was for sale.

As fate would have it, the owner had brought the Challenger to Carlisle to unload it, but the price was definitely on the upper end of the market. Still, Dave wasn't about to admit defeat. The car hadn't changed a bit since he'd last seen it in 1993 and was even still wearing the same tires, so there was no question it had to go home with him. Without Diane catching wind of what was going on (she was chained to the booth working anyway), Dave worked out a partial swap deal for the Challenger and had his friend Mark Blanche get the R/T out of there before Diane might happen to run across it. This was the ultimate case of "I found it at Carlisle" coming to pass! Mark towed it back to Totally Auto and no one said anything about the discovery to Diane.

Throughout late July and early August, Dave and the boys did some detailing on the Challenger as it was starting to show its age. The mileage is still low (25,000 miles as of this writing), there's still no rust, but the paint and interior needed help, again. They freshened the R/T from nose to tail, doing their best to make it look better than it had when it left home in 1993. Then, proving what a thoughtful guy Dave is, on August 27, he presented Diane with the Challenger for her birthday! How cool is that? The car that had been bought on her birthday back in 1985 was relocated, restored, and given to her again on her birthday last year. Diane was a happy gal and Dave won major brownie points which we're certain he'll cash in at a later date.

The well optioned comfy driver, R/T SE Challenger is now officially part of the Ferro family and occupies a place of honor in the garage next to the Harley it inspired. E-bodies have come and gone through the years, but this one's home to stay this time. Dave and Diane have a lot of personal history with this one and realize it was the car that set them on their course in life. You just can't put a price on stuff like that. This Go-Mango beastie is worth a whole lot more than the sum of its parts to them, so watch for this one to do some remarkable things in the coming years. This particular Challenger has a history as colorful as its blinding hue, but if you think it's going to stop making news, you've got another thing coming.

Watch for the newly rejuvenated Challenger on the Mopar show circuit and POWER TOUR in 2014, running a new 600+ horsepower Indy Wedge (WITH A/C lol), and please...cut them some slack; WHAT YOU'LL BE SEEING (paint-wise) IS ALL CIRCA 1985, yea-man, like 30-year-old, still-gleaming paint. Gotta' love it!!






Challenger motor

Harley Challenger

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