As a long-time member of the Canadian Forces over the last 25 years, Robin McQueen of Fredericton, New Brunswick, had the pleasure of living all across the country. Beginning in 1984, he lived in Manitoba for a total of nine years. As a new military photographer, he was posted to CFB Shilo, just a few miles down the road from Brandon, Manitoba. “Initially, I had a lot of reservations about being posted so far away from my family and friends being as I was from New Brunswick, but after being in Shilo for only two weeks, I found the first redeeming feature of my new posting: plenty of old cars, the likes of which hadn’t been seen on the East Coast for decades previously” recalls Robin.
He continues, “As I’m a die-hard Mopar guy, I was astonished to find a numbers matching 1970 Challenger R/T for sale just outside the main gates of the Base. The asking price was only $1,000. I counter-offered with $800, and bought it. The car had definitely seen better days, but it was well worth the money. I wasted no time obtaining a loan, and started my first restoration effort.”
Above: The car had its original 383 and four speed transmission. Unfortunately, it had been driven very hard throughout its 14 years of existence. Robin saw the potential though!
Above: Robin kept the wheels off of his old 1970 ‘Cuda he had prior and finally had something to put them on.
The Challenger needed some love though as over its 14 years of life at that point, it had been driven hard and put away wet. Equipped new with a 383 Magnum engine and a 4-speed pistol grip, options (or lack thereof) on the Challenger included manual steering, radio delete, power front disc brakes, bucket seats and a console. The car was originally F8 Green, with a tan interior. Since the Challenger was dented, rusted and badly needing a repaint due to massive clear coat peel, he wasted no time getting to work patching the rusty portions and pulling the dents. The hood was the worst.
When Robin got the car, it had a fiberglass hood scoop riveted on top of the factory R/T hood with a hole cut under it. He took the hood to a body shop, and they cut out the entire center raised portion. A very large piece of metal was welded in; resulting in a hood that looked original on the outside, but the surgery was evident underneath. Once it was ready for paint, he realized he was unsure of what color to paint it but made up his mind quickly when he saw a Plum Crazy ’70 R/T in a 1985 issue of Collectible Autos Magazine.
Above left: Robin would slip home at lunch during work days and put a half hour into bodywork on a regular basis! Above center: He tore out the aftermarket shifter and found a used pistol grip shifter…for $25! Try to do that now! Above right: Since the original air cleaner was gone, he found a cool replacement for $100. It wasn’t correct for the car, but looked like a Six Pack which was alright with him!
Above left: Robin was quick to get the body work done. Above right: Fresh paint! FC7 Plum Crazy Purple.
Above: Not long after paint, before reassembly was finished.
Using a gallon of Dupont Centari acrylic enamel (which cost $110 at the time), Robin painted his Challenger FC7 Plum Crazy Purple in his own garage. He laughs when he recalls putting the car back together with what used parts he had including the backup light which was missing the E in “Dodge” and the pop open fuel cap with the missing trim ring. To finish up the outside, he took the wing off his 1971 Charger R/T he had at the time and bolted it onto the Challenger’s trunk lid using a bunch of spare brackets and nuts he had laying around.
The interior stayed tan, but the front seats needed some attention. “I bought a roll of tan-colored vinyl at a fabric store that closely matched the stock pattern and then I paid a materials technician on the Base to re-stitch the seats. It only cost me only $60!” recalls Robin. He never got around to installing carpet. Under the hood, the 383 had a 650 Holley double pumper on top of an Edelbrock Torker intake, 8mm yellow plug wires, Rhoads lifters and a set of headers completed the mix. Robin says the Challenger had no mufflers; just pipes running to the factory resonators and exhaust tips. Being as the original air cleaner was gone when he got the car, he installed an air cleaner off an Air Grabber set-up that he purchased for $100. He just thought it looked cool. He had a custom decal made based off a “440 Six Pack” original style decal that said “383 Magnum.”
Above: Finally complete. The wheel well chrome was scrounged off a couple of wrecked Challengers for $5.
Above left: A happy Robin pretends to adjust something under the hood for the camera. Above right: The completed engine compartment. To avoid extra heat in the interior, he looped the heater hose, bypassing the heater core.
Above: Robin pointing at his new 2FAS4U custom plate. Note the missing “E” on the backlight light.
“I raced the Challenger at Gimli Motorsports Park and ran a 14.48 at 99 mph, cracking my windshield in the process,” says Robin. After this though, the story takes a sad twist. One fateful day in 1986, Robin decided to trade the Challenger to a friend named Dennis Romanuik for a 1969 Road Runner he had. “The Road Runner was a decent car, a former drag car with what appeared to be a solid body. Plus it had a factory N96 cold-air hood. Just the kind of nonsense I craved. I kept the Magnum wheels off the Challenger, so the last time I saw it was on jack stands in front of Dennis’ garage with no wheels on it. It was a stupid mistake, that Road Runner was a pile,” remembers Robin. He’s been kicking himself since.
Around 2002, he started really wondering where his old Challenger ended up so he decided to start making some phone calls in the hopes of finding it. When he talked to Dennis, he didn’t get much information. “Dennis recalled selling it to a young guy in Winnipeg, who supposedly painted it red. He couldn’t remember his name.” says Robin. The only hot clue he really had was that it was last seen in Lockport, Manitoba back in 1986. Not knowing the Challenger’s VIN number, he knew it would be tough as all of Manitoba’s Public Insurance records from that era were long gone. He made some posts on the Manitoba Mopar’s website but no results came from it.
Above left: Robin added the wing and replaced the Rallyes with some Magnum 500s. He kept losing Rallye center caps! He had the engine out briefly here to deal with some issues. Above center: At Gimli Motorsports Park. He ran 14.48 @99.26, with a dog-leg set of 3.23 gears. He broke the windshield shifting into second gear! Above right: Robin with the Challenger in 1985 in full uniform.
Above: The fateful day he decided to trade his Challenger for the Road Runner. The car was up on jack stands as he took the wheels off for the Road Runner.
Above: Front page of the automotive section of the Winnipeg Free Press! The current owner Wally held the article next to the Challenger’s backup light…still missing the “E!”
In 2008, he decided to submit a letter to the “Winnipeg Free Press Autos” section with the hopes they’d run a story on it. Sure enough, writer Paul Williamson took the story on and published it. The very day it was published, Robin received an email that said “Your search is over.” He instantly recognized the area code as being Manitoba. A fellow named Wally answered the phone and after some introductions, he told Robin about a very particular 1970 Challenger R/T he had sitting in his garage. It turns out he had purchased the car in 1998 from a young man who had bought it from a guy named Dennis. He said it was originally F8 Green but when he bought it, it had been painted red. Bingo! It looked like Robin’s search was finally over.
Wally said when he bought it, it had been off of the road since 1991 but he did drive the car for a while, adding it to his small collection of muscle cars. Over time, he decided to start the restoration process so the Challenger was stripped down and the body work began. He had collected a whole bunch of parts for it over the years as well. He sent some pictures to Robin of the car in its current state of disassembly. In one of the pictures, Wally held the newspaper article next to the backup light on the Challenger, showing the still missing letter E!
Above: When Robin first saw the car again in 2009 undergoing restoration.
Above: Robin with the Challenger and then with Wally for a shot.
In the summer of 2009, Robin headed out to Alberta for work and to pick up his 1968 Charger R/T project that he had in long term storage in Cold Lake. On his way home across the country, he decided to stop at Wally’s house in Manitoba and finally see his old Challenger. “When I stepped into the garage and saw the car, the hairs stood up on my arms,” says Robin. Of course, Robin decided to see if he could buy the car back. Unfortunately, Wally didn’t really want to sell it.
“He kindly informed me that while he understood my need to have my old car back, he needed to think about things. He did suggest that if I got him some fresh east coast lobster that it may help him along faster in his decision,” Robin laughs. He continues, “He said he had a few people on the list who wanted it first. Then he saw my 1968 Charger R/T on my trailer.
I was trailering it back from Alberta at the time, and had just pulled it out of the container I had it stored in. It was totally in pieces and stripped to bare metal. He offered a swap, the Challenger for the Charger. It was the toughest decision I’ve ever made! I really wanted the Challenger back, I’d been dreaming about it nonstop. I still do. However, I’d made a commitment to that darned Charger! I had to say ‘no’ as I knew like the Challenger, I’d kick myself for getting rid of the Charger down the road.”
Robin says he hasn’t spoken to Wally recently but he’s been told that he still has the Challenger and it’s still under construction. The exact status of the restoration though he is unsure of. He says while he doesn’t think Wally will end up selling it, he remains optimistic as he’d love to have his old Challenger back in his garage one day. In the meantime, as Robin owns Automolove.ca