Building the SCHWAB Challenger
Like the company that gave it life, the Dodge Challenger has had a checkered history. The first generation, built from 1970 to 1974 is now regarded as an appreciating classic. The mid-term 1978 to ’83 Mitsubishi Galant Lambda for want of a Dodge badge is possibly best forgotten. However, the new generation introduced in 2008 lives up to Dodge’s original.
For many of us the Challenger that most quickly comes to mind is the Alpine White 1970 R/T 440 Magnum that appeared in the 1971 movie Vanishing Point starring Barry Newman. Newman played Vietnam Vet turned car delivery jockey Kowalski who is tasked with delivering the car from Denver, Colorado, to San Francisco in 15 hours. For the next 98 minutes, Kowalski is pursued and persecuted along the 1,250-mile route until he can’t stand in anymore and nose-dives the Challenger into a police roadblock comprising a pair of bulldozers.
The ending is a Thelma and Louise moment that leaves the average viewer contemplating life but leaves car people wondering what happened to the car. In fact, there were four, possibly five cars loaned to the production company by Chrysler. All were badly damaged during filming and all were apparently crushed at the end of production. If you’re into ‘Americana’ and car chase movies in particular, Vanishing Point directed by Richard C. Sarafian is worth the time.
Chrysler were apparently not happy about Kowalski’s use of bennies to keep awake and one has to say Vanishing Point didn’t do them much good as sales tanked from a high of 76,935 in 1970, the year it intro’d, to a mere 26,299 in 1971. It was worse in 1972 at 22,919, up a tad to 27,930 for 1973 and a scant 11,354 for 1974. It didn’t help that new safety regulations and the Oil Crises of 1973 were forcing muscle cars off the road. Nevertheless, the movie did as much for the Challenger as Bullitt did for the Mustang and it remains one of the quintessential, genuine muscle cars.
No wonder then that banking group Charles Schwab would pick a ’73 Challenger to give away as a prize at the recent Charles Schwab Challenge at the PGA Tour stop at Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas. There’s a rationale for the prize: “Charles Schwab has been ‘challenging the status quo’ in its industry since 1973. The Colonial has ‘challenged’ some of the world’s best golfers for 73 years. Hence, the event selecting a 1973 Dodge Challenger to reward its winner.” This is the first of a four-year sponsorship of the event at Colonial for Charles Schwab. Hopefully, that means more giveaway cars of this caliber.
To build the car, Schwab turned to industry veterans Steve Strope of Pure Vision Design and Mick Jenkins of Mick's Paint. Strope found the car in excellent condition in New York before it was taken to his shop in Simi Valley, California, where the car was stripped down to bare metal and fitted with a new Mopar 6.4L SRT-8 392 crate Hemi producing 485 hp. In back of the engine is a Chrysler A-727 TorqueFlite automatic trans with Gear Vendors overdrive. Out back is an 8-3/4-inch Chrysler rear end with 3.55 gears.
[the Challenger] was stripped down to bare metal and fitted with a Mopar 6.4L SRT-8 392 crate Hemi producing 485 hp.
To make this Challenger stand out from the crowd a new 73 Magum 440 hood with twin scoops and the letters SCHWAB replacing DODGE was fitted while Kelly Cox hand-formed that beautiful polished aluminum side trim that accentuates the Aston Martin-style vents let into the front fenders. The other subtle changes include the use of early 1970-’71 bumper brackets, ’71 Challenger TA spoilers front and rear and the replacement of the stock rectangular side markers with small round units from the ’68 Dodge Charger.
Meanwhile, underneath, AlterKtion suspension components from ReillyMotorsports.com replaced the stock factory torsion bars with a coil-over system and the stock steering with rack-and-pinion. The brakes are 14-inch Baer 6s with nickel-plated 6-piston calipers while the rims are B-Forged items from BilletSpecialties.com: 18 x 8s in front and 19 x 10s in back.
After all the engineering was complete, the car was shipped out to Mick’s Paint in Pomona, California, where Mick’s team worked around the clock to meet the deadline. Once the car had been painted in Aston Martin Glacier Blue it went on to GabesCustom.com, where the diamond-stitched white leather upholstery was jazzed up with the exact same plaid used in the signature tartan Colonial jackets. The interior includes climate control by VintageAir.com, instruments from DakotaDigital.com and a sound system from Kicker.com.
From there it was back to Mick’s for final fit and finish before it was back to Pure Vision for final assembly. All in a total time of six months. According to Strope, “Mick’s Paint makes us look good and I’m over the moon in appreciation of his team getting it done on time.”
The car was won by professional golfer Kevin Na who immediately turned and flipped the keys to his caddy and long time friend Kenny Harms saying, “I don’t know how my caddie convinced me to give him the car, but he’s a good salesman I guess. But I'm more than happy to give it to him. He deserves it.” Kenny had been eyeing the car all weekend and the pair had a pact that if Na won Kenny got the car. Na took the remaining $1.314 million.
It remains to be seen whether a custom Challenger with the name SCHWAB instead of the name DODGE can retain its value but you can’t deny the car’s excellence. Whatever the outcome, the Dodge Challenger remains one of the high points of the muscle car era whether it’s restored, rodded or raced.