A Long Journey Travelled: Bill Mann’s 1970 Dodge Charger R/T

It was early 1970 when 31-year old Mark Middelstaedt sat down with salesman Dana Straw of Tex Brotherton Dodge in Walla Walla, Washington. Mark was excited to order his very first brand-new car, a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T. Although he lived over 150 miles away in Spokane, Mark and his family made the long trip to Tex Brotherton in Walla Walla because they entrusted this family dealership. Mark knew exactly what he wanted: a Charger in FC7 Plum Crazy Purple with a white vinyl top, white interior, and a white R/T bumblebee stripe. He saw a similar one pictured in a local newspaper, and thought it was the prettiest car he had ever seen.

Mark kept his new Charger until around 1976, and during that time eloped with his wife Colleen in it. He sold it to purchase a new “family car”, a Porsche 924. The Charger then passed through a few owners all the while staying in the Spokane area, before landing in the hands of Mark Hagle, also of Spokane. Mark H., a car enthusiast and collector of sorts, kept the car for around a decade. During that time Mark H. had the Charger repainted its original Plum Crazy and had some upholstery work done. He always kept the car garaged and well cared for.

Meanwhile, fast-forward to 1989, out on the east coast. Bill Mann, a Mopar-crazed 19-year old teenager had just finished up restoring a ’68 Charger with his Dad, and was hot-rodding around town with a ’71 Road Runner clone that was seemingly always giving him fits. “I knew it was time to part with the Road Runner, and started searching for a ’68 Charger R/T. There was no internet back then, so it was printed publications or word of mouth only. One night, I stumbled upon an ad for a ’70 Charger R/T in an Auto Trader magazine brought home by my brother from a friend at school. It wasn’t a ’68, but it caught my eye to say the least. However, it was on the opposite side of the country,” says Bill.

He continues to say, “What was I to do? Simple. I dialed the phone. Mark and I spoke for a few short minutes, and then he asked how old I was. “19, sir.” Click….I called again. Mark then informed me that he wasn’t going to waste his time speaking to some 19-year old kid from the east coast. I was doomed. With my head in my hands I showed the ad to my father, who by now had come around to the Charger camp and was very much an enthusiast and intrigued as I was. With a little prodding, my father called Mark and they spoke, and by the time they hung up the phone Mark knew we were serious. Mark mailed us some more pictures of the car (again, no internet!), and we made arrangements for my Mom and I to fly out there to check out the Charger.”

“Shortly after, we flew out to Washington State to see the car. The garage door opened, and there in front of me was the most stunning Charger I had laid eyes on. Mark then pulled out a huge binder containing every sliver of paperwork since the car was new including the original window sticker, warranty papers; everything. I confirmed the engine and transmission numbers all matched, and that all of the original components are still intact and in great running order. However, there were some problems, the biggest being the poor paint & bodywork which previously looked so great in the photos. It was still too good to be true for me, so we completed the deal and flew back home with the title to make arrangements to have the Charger shipped back to New Jersey”, says Bill.

Bill’s Charger finally showed up in New Jersey one clear, late evening in March 1990; after delivery was delayed for several months due to relentless snowstorms. With the car finally home, Bill and his father wasted no time digging into all of the paperwork that came with it, and becoming acquainted with the car. What Bill ended up buying turned out to be one of the most well documented, well-optioned 1970 Charger R/Ts on the planet. The Charger came with the original window sticker, 2 well-preserved broadcast sheets (found when pulling the carpet and seats), warranty papers, braking info, original starting instruction tag, 6-way seat instruction tag, plastic column instructions sleeve that goes over the sun visor, more dealership papers, and just about every receipt and service record imaginable since the car was new.

As per the window sticker, Bill’s Charger was ordered with a 440-4bbl, 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission, 3:55 geared Sure Grip, heavy-duty axle package, console, bucket seats, AM 8-track with rear seat speaker, A/C, power disc brakes, power steering, rear defogger, Tic-Toc-Tach, 6-way seat, shoulder belts and 14” Road wheels.

According to Bill, some things on the car were a little tired, but everything was there. The engine compartment was untouched except for a few maintenance items, so Bill and his father gathered parts to clean it up and detail it. Bill says, “The purple paint had a lot of orange peel to it and was really dull, so we color sanded and buffed it which helped a lot. The interior was pulled to change out the carpet, and everything else was just cleaned really well. To give it a bit of a tougher look, the 14” Road wheels with whitewalls were swapped for a set of 15” Rallye wheels with Polyglas GT’s. Even with just a little cleanup, the car was a stunner.”

During these first few years of ownership, Bill enjoyed just showing and driving it occasionally. However, although the paint cleaned up fairly decent, the quality of the bodywork underneath was still poor and really bugged him. “I knew a car of this type deserved a quality restoration. Although I was working full time at a collision repair shop, that was not the place for an embarking restoration. A friend of a friend was enlisted who recently opened up a garage restoring Corvettes, and was hired to perform restoration duties. At the time, we had no room or means to do everything ourselves at home as we would of liked; although I did disassemble the car and stripped it to bare metal at home.”

Shortly after, Bill had left his full time job as a painter at the body shop to return to college and work part time. Any free spare time he had would be spent at the restoration shop working on the Charger to help speed things along. It was early 1992 when the restoration started. The car was stripped bare and placed on a rotisserie. The poor quality of the bodywork was really evident at this point. The tops of both front fenders were warped badly from brazing in metal rust repair patches, and the bottoms of both quarters were full of filler from the most horrendous patch job Bill had ever seen. However, Bill says the floors, frame rails, and everything else were really solid. The body was sandblasted and the bolt-on sheet metal parts were sent out to be dipped.

Through lots of parts hunting, a pair of NOS quarters were located and another pair of good used fenders were found. The trunk floor extensions, lower rear valance and lower end caps also required replacement due to pinholes and poor previous bodywork. “The restoration turned out to be a really slow process over a 5 year span as the shop owner had taken in too much work and wasn’t able to manage his business properly. He completed a lot of the heavy work on the body, whereas I restored all of the other stuff. I researched everything: date codes, paint splotches, bolt head markings, you name it. At the time over-restoration was the norm, so things were done in a way to look factory however over-restored for longevity,” says Bill.

He continues to say, “All of the original date-coded components were still intact, so they were restored and detailed. Other parts were replaced with either NOS or the most correct appearing reproductions available at the time. Every part was rebuilt, detailed, refurbished, re-plated and repainted. Every nut, bolt and screw was re-plated or replaced with ones with correct markings. We painted the Charger using PPG base/clear and since this was a non-undercoated car from the factory; we opted to have the underside of the car done in full body color, typical of a restoration during this time period. A new vinyl top from Legendary was installed along with a headliner made from NOS fabric, since it took four tries to get the right one.”

The restoration was finally finished in the spring of 1997 and the Charger scored Best of Show at the Mopar Atlantic Nats of that year. It was registered to compete in the SME (Standard of Mopar Excellence) competition at Chryslers at Carlisle that year also but unfortunately, the Charger would never make it.

Tragedy strikes on the way to Carlisle.

“The guy who ran the restoration shop offered to trailer the Charger to Carlisle that summer of 1997, the year it was completed. It was a beautiful July morning and we were about ¾ of the way there while I was behind the truck and trailer with my Dad following in another car. Our trip to Carlisle came to an abrupt halt, as I watched the truck and trailer carrying my Charger slam into the back of an 18-wheeler semi. It was an enormous crash. I could see by the front wall of his trailer that my Charger inside hadn’t survived too well. The Charger suffered a destroyed front bumper, grille, both fenders were damaged, and the car shifted to the right damaging the right quarter panel. All of the straps broke loose in the trailer also causing further damage to the undercarriage of the Charger. Furious was not accurate enough to describe how I felt,” recalls Bill.

“The Charger was towed back to his shop, where he vowed to make things right. 9 months later, hardly any work had been performed with the Charger collecting dust. At that point, I had enough. Cutting ties, I pulled the Charger out of the shop, and a very good friend allowed me to keep it in his large garage and work there to fix it myself. Once again, I found myself working in my friend’s garage during any free time I had, along with the help of close friends for the next better part of a year. This “Restoration #2”, entailed an NOS front bumper, NOS grille, a pair of NOS fenders, and an NOS right rear wheel opening molding. The remaining damage to the car including to the undercarriage were also repaired, and required refinishing the entire car again. Finally after another year, the Charger was completed for a second time, and looked as beautiful as it did before”, continues Bill.

Bill tells us that over the years, he managed to locate the original owner Mark who still lived in Spokane. “On a long shot, I called him and after a short introduction he absolutely remembered the car and was thrilled to hear of its existence and the fact it was living a restored and pampered life. We shared stories and to hear his stories was priceless. We had quite a few similarities. For both of us, this was the most stunning Charger we had seen. He and his wife Colleen eloped in it, and my wife Laurie and I used it in our wedding as I mentioned. He sent me photos of the day he took delivery of it, and I sent him a copy of the window sticker for him to forever remember the first brand new car he bought.”

In closing, Bill says, “I’ll tell you, I’ll never restore a car to an OE level again. NOS and date-coded stuff is so hard to find these days, and everything is so frigging expensive. If I couldn’t do stuff myself there is no way I could afford the car hobby. I’ve owned this Charger going on almost 30 years, and every year brings a new adventure. Finding real deal, numbers matching cars is hard to do, especially with a colorful history as this car has. To me, that is priceless.”

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The original Tex Brotherton Dodge in Walla Walla, Washington.

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Cody Krueger

Car Feature Editor – cody.krueger@shawgroupmedia.com Since the age of 4, Cody has been obsessed with everything Mopar. On Christmas of 1998, Cody's parents gave him a rusty '69 Charger shell that his father saved from a field. Cody's garage still features that '69 Charger as well as the additions of a '71 Charger R/T, '71 Super Bee, '73 Duster, '08 Challenger SRT8 and a '13 Ram 3500. Cody can truly and proudly say that he is a true Mopar nut in love with all types of Mopars!

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