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The last LeBaron at St Louis

Happy Birthday to the Dodge Charger

by Richard Kavanagh

The Chrysler Employee Motorsport Association (CEMA) held their 17th annual car show at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum on June 10, 2006, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Dodge Charger.

charger parade

To kick off the birthday party, many of us with first generation Chargers assembled in a Tech Centre parking lot, since these cars would be featured.

rick kavanagh and his dodge charger

At 8:15 am, over 80 well-preserved first generation Chargers from all over North America paraded around the Chrysler Tech Centre grounds en route to the Museum, led by a new 2006 Dodge Charger “Dodge City” Hemi Police Car. As we paraded two by two, 40 cars long, it was a rush to know that CEMA thought enough of the first generation Chargers to create this unique homecoming.

For many of us long time MOPAR enthusiasts, being at the Walter P. Chrysler museum is like visiting the holy grail of our automotive world.

dodge challenger

With over 450 cars assembled on the museum grounds there was a huge variety of cars, mostly Mopars, joining the first generation Chargers — including the original Charger show-car roadster. First, second, and third-and-now-current generation SRT8 Chargers were on display. The new 2008 Dodge Challenger was two cars awway from my own 1966 Charger; it is rumoured that this beautiful reincarnation of the original coupe, 6.1 liter Hemi powered, will be built.

Dodge SRT had a bevy of hot cars along the museum wall: the new Viper Race Car, the 2006 Viper Coupe, the Magnum SRT8, the Crossfire SRT 6, Chrysler 300 SRT8, Charger SRT8, Neon SRT4 and last the Ram SRT10 pick up - “Performance is Alive at Dodge.”

dodge vipers and SRT cars

The Walter P. Chrysler Museum opened its doors for free; their theme was “Hot Rods and Cool Mods,” with some of the most historic and significant Mopars of all time. The High and Mighty II project (the reincarnation of the original Ramchargers’ Hemi powered Business Coupe from the 1950s), a 1968 Dodge Dart Hemi powered factory race car, and Al Eckstrand’s factory 1966 Hemi Charger (”Lawman”) were on display. The most significant race car, in my opinion, was the 1970 Barracuda hemi powered ProStock campaigned by Plymouth factory racers.

Sox & Martin Plymouth Barracuda Hemi

The hot rod section featured a customized Chrysler Town and Country, a ghost flamed 1936 Plymouth Sedan, as well as a resto-modded Dodge Challenger, the AMX 400 concept car.

ghost flamed plymouth

On the rotary centre pillar, the one-off Plymouth Howler concept pick up, a take-off of the original Plymouth Prowler, greeted museum visitors.

plymotuh howler

Back on the first floor of the museum, significant cars of the Dodge Brothers and Walter P. Chrysler told a hands on history of the formation of the Chrysler legacy. The day just seemed to fly by, with special vehicles displayed in and around the Museum.

1964 dodge charger

At 11:00 a.m., the winner’s trophy of the 1951 “Motor City 250” NASCAR race held on August 12, 1951 at the Michigan State Fair Grounds was dedicated, in festivities with the daughter of race winner Tommy Thompson and a replica of a 1951 Chrysler Saratoga race car. The 1951 win was significant because:

1. It commemorated the 250th anniversary of the founding of Detroit.
2. Tommy Thompson, the winner, drove a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker sedan.
3. This was the first race won by a Hemi powered car.

Being involved on Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee, celebrating our 55th season, it was significant that this piece of racing history be preserved and those individuals, whether American or Canadian, be recognized for their racing accomplishments.

trophy

At 3:00 p.m. the show awards were presented. While there were many beautiful cars to be recognized, the overall best of show was awarded to a beautiful 1966 Dodge Charger known as the Bloomington Ghost. Many of us in the hobby, especially enthusiasts of 1966 Chargers, know this all original, non-restored mauve Charger with 8,900 original miles, certified as the best 1966 Dodge Charger by Galen Govier, the Mopar guru. “Yep, it’s got a HEMI!”

mauve charger

My sincere appreciation for organizing one of the best car show-birthday parties ever has to go to Roe Green and Marc Rozman of CEMA, as well as the executive of 66-67 Charger.com, for their hospitality.

The Dodge Charger is 40 years young and alive and well within the Chrysler Tech Centre in beautiful Auburn Hills Michigan. For one moment in time, on June 10, 2006, the original Dodge Charger joined with the new Charger SRT8 in celebrating 40 years of muscle car heritage. I invite you all to make a visit to the Walter P. Chrysler Museum and take in the heritage of Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Desoto, Nash, Hudson and AMC under one roof.

Happy birthday, Charger, and many more to come!

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