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Rebirth Of A Muscle Car: Dodge takes the challenge

Old 10-13-2006, 11:24 AM
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Default Rebirth Of A Muscle Car: Dodge takes the challenge

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Rebirth Of A Muscle Car: Dodge takes the challenge

Designers aim to seize glory of classic, which fetches 6 figures

Friday, October 13, 2006

By JERRY GARRETT
THE NEW YORK TIMES

Nearly 20 years ago, Barry Washington stumbled across an unusual used car, a 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A. He didn't know much about it, other than that it had cool racing stripes, wild orange paint and an engine born for racing.

He bought the car, though he recalls thinking that the price, $6,500, seemed far too high. So began a new life for the driver and the car, whose value today is comfortably in six figures.

Not only was the Challenger T/A a rare model, it was especially an anomaly where Washington found it, near his home in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Ketchikan is on Revillagigedo Island, reachable only by boat or plane. The town doesn't even have a Dodge dealer; the previous owner had brought the car in by ship.

"I drove it around here every day for about 3 1/2 years," Washington said in an interview. "I did a lot of street racing with it. No one ever caught me."

Fortunately for his driver's license, that included the local police.

During that time, Washington put 23,000 miles on the car -- an amazing feat given that the island has only a few dozen miles of paved roads. The Challenger spent about 15 years outdoors in a town that, on average, has 200 rainy days a year.

About five years ago, Washington found a way to garage his car -- not long after he found out how valuable it had become.

Prices for Challenger T/As, along with a whole generation of Challengers and Plymouth Barracudas, have risen exponentially in recent years, particularly since DaimlerChrysler announced in July that it would bring back the Challenger in 2008.

Washington's research revealed that the 1970 Challenger T/A was a racing version of Dodge's belated entry into the muscle-car wars. Only 2,518 are known to have been built; Washington knows that because he has become perhaps the top authority on the cars. He now heads the Challenger T/A Registry (challengertaregistry.com) and is the spiritual leader of a group of owners and aficionados seeking to locate T/As or document what happened to all of them. "We're about halfway there," he said, having cataloged about 1,200 so far.

As much as the T/A (and the very similar 1970 AAR Plymouth 'Cuda) are worth, they are far from the most valuable of the Chrysler Corp.'s original muscle cars.

"The holy grail of the muscle-car world is the '71 Hemi 'Cuda convertible -- just because so few of them were made," said Steve Davis, vice president of the Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. "That's King Kong. After that, it would be maybe the '70 Hemi 'Cuda convertible, then the hardtop versions of those cars, the 440 'Six Pack' models (with three two-barrel carburetors) and then maybe some of the subsets, like the AAR 'Cudas or Challenger T/As."

What does Davis mean by holy grail? The current auction record for a '71 Hemi 'Cuda convertible (one of fewer than a dozen made) is "well north of $2 million," he said. He predicts this record will be easily and repeatedly broken in January when a bumper crop of Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars go on the block at Barrett-Jackson's big auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Galen Govier of Eau Claire, Wis., who operates a service that verifies serial numbers, points out that a pristine 1971 Hemi 'Cuda convertible has skyrocketed in value from a range of $15,000 to $25,000 in 1985 to about $3 million this year. Not bad for cars that cost about $5,000 new and were not huge sales successes.

Chrysler enthusiasts like to point out that the company was the first with a pony car -- its Plymouth Barracuda was introduced on April Fools' Day 1964, and was in dealerships a few weeks before the Ford Mustang. But Ford fans scoff, asking how there could have been a pony c
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