To be honest, I went down there for a quarter panel to hang up on my garage as wall art. The Daytona stripe was still visible, so I figured what’s a 3-hour drive for some rusty sheetmetal? It turned into so much more…
But let’s start at the beginning. Some guy had posted a picture on a local website. I’ll admit I had heard stories over the years, but here was proof: a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona carcass. In a ditch. In the woods. In Newfoundland, Canada. Right here in my backyard…almost.
After chatting with Ches, the guy who posted the pic, I decided I was going after the whole hulk. I met him on a chilly, clear November morning, trailer in tow, with an ATV, some tow rope, a chainsaw and two fools along for the ride. Once we hooked it up, the tow-out began. We quickly realized one ATV was not going to be enough. Cue locals with big all-wheel-drive ATV.
Thirty minutes later we had what was left of a T5 Copper 440/TorqueFlite Daytona up in the middle of the old wooded road. The car had been left there in a makeshift junkyard with other cars during the early ’80s. When flooding became an issue for the town, the area had to be cleared. Bulldozers shoved the cars into a ravine, ravaging the sheetmetal of what were some pretty solid cars, by all accounts.
The mangled Daytona soon became a victim of scavengers, stripping its – by then – non-original 383 and automatic as well as anything else local Charger owners could unbolt. Later, the fender tags, hidden VINs and dash VIN were liberated from the hulk.
As we stood there, proud as peacocks, Ches said, “Ya know, the guy that last owned this car has the original engine block over in his backyard.” Excuse me? Off we motored, three miles down the road. He had the block alright. And it was in his backyard – actually in it, as in “under the earth.” But I could see the distributor hole peeking above the grass and that was enough for me. Digging implement in hand, I freed the block from the rocks and soil.
I had the VIN of the car as Mopar expert, Nigel Mills, knew the whereabouts of many of the original Canada-bound Daytonas. The VIN he had given me matched the partial VIN on the block, 9B414627. Jack, the block’s owner told me a local Mopar guy from my own neck of the woods had taken the tags off years earlier and sold them out of province. I figured I would give him a buzz when I got back home, just out of curiosity. The phone call brought a surprise – the gentleman still had the fender tags, partial trunk gutter VIN and a chunk of the dash with the VIN plate still riveted to it. Along with the special Daytona trunk hinges too. Not for sale though.
The only other Daytona that had come to Newfoundland was a 426 Hemi car, also an automatic. I knew who the original owner of that car was, so I thought he might know something about this particular Daytona. He did. In fact, he used to own it. He bought it new, in fact, a year before his Hemi car.
“It wasn’t fast enough. I wanted the Hemi. So I sold it. Still have the original Bill of Sale and owner’s manual around here for it somewhere. If you want that stuff, it’s not gonna be free.” I was dumbstruck. Now I had a puzzle on my hands, one I became more and more obsessed with putting together. I figured why not try and put this car back together with everything that had been taken from it. I never once thought about restoring it. That commitment was not for me. But the tags, the paperwork, the numbers-matching block – the very story of the car – could be whole once again at least.
Over the next two years I logged a lot of time on the phone with the then current caretakers of the Daytona’s tags and paper. They’d go back and forth on the value of such items and how it was too much trouble for them to pay any attention to at the moment, they were busy etc. One day I simply decided that I was going to make this happen and it was going to require face-to-face visits.
First up was the Town of Gander, a three hour drive from home, and the man who had the paperwork, Bern Quinlan. He was a bit crotchety at first, but after learning who I was and seeing me flash some serious money, he rummaged around his shop and came up with what I was looking for – precious paperwork, dog-eared and yellow with time, but all there.
He shared a story of the local RCMP pulling him over soon after he got the car into town. The cop was white as a sheet as he came up to the driver’s door. “I called dispatch and said somebody had landed a small plane on the highway – what is this thing?!” Once Bern assured him it was “just a new Dodge Charger” he let him go on his way!
I skipped out of there almost knowing that this piece could be a domino to convince the other guy with the tags and partial VIN pieces to give me a chance to acquire them. If I had the car, the engine block and the paperwork, he would be convinced to sell me his portion. Wouldn’t he?
Another personal visit, a little closer to my hometown this time, and I found the man with the tags a bit more reasonable with his asking price. Even though he is one of the most knowledgeable Mopar guys around here and knows the value of certain parts, we struck a deal. After a good hour of enjoying his recollections and stories of the Mopar scene back in the day, I headed off with my treasures in a plastic bag and my wallet quite a bit lighter.
I’d done it. Two years and a few days since I dragged that carcass up from the trees I had completed a journey I didn’t even know I was going on. Now I had a dilemma. What was I going to do with it all? I had no intentions of restoring it, but I had invested some significant funds in getting the bits together. While I devoted some time to figuring this out, I hit the Mopar sites online to share my story and the car’s history, knowing others would be as compelled by the tale of “Daytona 414627” as I was.
It was during this time that a site member reached out to me with interest in buying what I had of the Daytona. He told me it was his dream car and this might be as close as he’d ever get to one. I told him as long as he simply covered what I had into the venture it was his. We agreed on that price and in the summer of 2013, I hit the road with truck and trailer to meet the gentleman in Toledo (where I was to pick up another car) where he was heading all the way from Oregon. His name was John.
John’s plan was to head to a shop that was local to him – GraveYard Carz – and see if they really could bring this winged warrior back from the dead. I wished him luck, shook my head and hit the highway for home secure in the knowledge that, yes, somebody out there was crazier than me.