Kowalski’s Influence: Brad Schroeder’s 1970 Mr. Norms Dodge Challenger T/A

For most teenagers, their first car is likely a Honda Civic or something similar. Back in the 1970’s, Vegas and six-cylinder Mustangs were common first cars. For Brad Schroeder, his first car was one of the coolest we’ve heard of. “As a teenager, I didn’t have a bias toward any one make of car. I wanted a small block for my first car, and initially the Z/28 Camaro, Boss 302 and 351 Mach 1 Mustangs appealed to me. However, that all changed one evening at age 14 when I saw a movie on TV; ‘Vanishing Point!’ Watching Kowalski beating on the Challenger R/T and shifting gears with the cool pistol grip shifter had me hooked!” recalls Brad.

Reading everything he could find about Challengers afterwards, Brad soon learned about the Challenger T/A and AAR ‘Cuda, and decided their 340 Six-Pack engines were the ultimate small block. It was then he knew what he wanted to buy for his first car. While in high school, Brad worked odd jobs such as cutting lawns and kept depositing his earnings into his bank account. In the summer of 1978, he got his license and with close to $2,500 saved, he started searching the local papers. “Most of the AARs and T/As I saw advertised were already sold. The new school year started, and my friends who I had been telling that I was going to get a cool car teased me as I hitched rides to school every day,” shares Brad.

Finally in December that year, Brad found a Challenger T/A advertised in a nearby suburb for $2,500. Lucky for him, it was still available when he called. Brad says, “My dad and I went to look at it. The front seats were ripped and there was a little rust here and there, but the engine was freshly rebuilt. We negotiated the price and the seller agreed to sell it for $2,300. I finally had my T/A! It was red with a 4-speed, Rallye dash and a 3:91 rear end. I was in love!”

Brad’s dream car soon seemed to be a bad idea though. As the weather was snowy and cold, the car got harder and harder to get started until finally it wouldn’t start at all. With the help of his father, Brad figured out the plugs were fouled and after cleaning them and getting the car started, his dad suggested it would be best to park the car in the driveway and not drive it until they could figure out why it fouled the plugs. “We proceeded to have the worst winter in Chicago’s history; something like 80-inches of snow. My car sat buried under a pile of snow until March; leaving me to again hitch rides to school,” says Brad. Once everything had finally thawed, Brad and his father got back under the hood where they soon figured out the problem. There had been no thermostat installed when the engine was rebuilt so it was never really warming up.

Resolving that issue, Brad drove the car to school daily and his part time job at a grocery store. In his senior year, his mom was buying a new car and offered to sell Brad her old Pinto cheap rather than trading it in. Remembering how bad the T/A was in snow during the few weeks he had driven it the previous winter, Brad bought the Pinto for a beater and from then on, the T/A turned into a nice weather hobby car. Soon after graduating high school, Brad decided to start restoring the T/A. One fender was replaced and the rust in the other fender and rear quarters were sandblasted and patched. He also had the front seats reupholstered and found a nice used dash pad to replace the cracked original. Once that was done, he then had the car repainted and new stripes installed. “I added a set of original rear window louvers I was able to buy and replaced the Cragar mags with 15×7 Rallye wheels. My car looked great!” says Brad.

As he got busy with college and then starting full time work after college, Brad says he spent less and less time with the car, but never completely lost interest. A couple years later, he bought a house with a two car garage so after being under a car cover in his parent’s driveway the whole time, the T/A was finally inside and out of the elements. By this point, rust had started to reappear and things like leaks and worn ball joints made it less enjoyable for Brad to drive it. “I kept telling myself one of these days I was going to do a ground up restoration on my T/A but I had no idea when I’d have the time and budget for that so in the meantime, my car mostly sat in my garage gathering dust; last licensed in 1989.”

In 1997, Brad bought a Challenger convertible to take to local car shows and cruise-ins. Initially, he had told himself he just wanted a car that was nice enough to take to shows and display, but he soon found himself getting jealous of people who were getting trophies and getting featured in magazines. Brad says, “I wished I could get those accolades too. It then occurred to me that the Challenger T/A sitting in my garage could be a show stopper too if it was restored.” Since his finances were good with his stock market investments growing, Brad started to seriously think about doing a ground up restoration of the T/A.

Around this time; he met someone at a car show selling Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge items. Brad told the vendor that when he first got his T/A, it had a Mr. Norm’s decal on the spoiler but he really didn’t think much of it. The vendor told Brad that he had all of the original Grand Spaulding sales records and if Brad’s T/A had been sold there new; he should have sales records for it. Shortly after giving him the T/A’s VIN number, he called to say he had a complete sales folder for the car, which even included a set of keys for it! Brad quickly purchased the folder and was glad to have proof the car was sold at Mr. Norm’s when it was new.

Brad learned the T/A had arrived at Mr. Norms in May 1970 but wasn’t purchased until February 1971 and the original owner traded an orange 1970 Challenger 340 in on it. Included in the folder was also an advanced dealer shipping invoice that showed how the car had been originally optioned. While Brad had the original fender tag, the two broadcast sheets he found in the car were not for his; instead they were for a purple T/A about twenty VIN numbers after. With this paperwork, Brad also found out that his car wasn’t optioned with Rallye wheels like he had thought; instead coming with the standard 15×7 steel wheels and dog dish caps. He then purchased a set of original 15×7 steel wheels for the car. “I was a little disappointed at first, as I liked the Rallye wheels but over time, the steel wheels grew on me,” shares Brad.

Getting the original sales paperwork got him excited about restoring the car and a restoration shop in western Michigan was highly recommended. After meeting with the owner and getting an idea about costs, Brad reviewed his finances and decided he could afford it. He put a deposit down to get on the shop’s waiting list and started searching for original parts in the meantime to achieve his goal of an OE restoration. While waiting, Brad started to disassemble the T/A and soon had parts stored all over his house and garage. In the fall of 1999, the partially stripped T/A finally went to the shop in Michigan. What was originally supposed to take a year quickly turned into a gong show. Things got delayed with the project very shortly after arriving at the shop. The shop consisted of two people; the owner and one employee. Shortly after they got the car, the employee left. The owner said he was going to continue on by himself but not long after that, he got laid up medically after donating a kidney to his dad. By this time, the stock market had sunk with the so called “tech wreck” so Brad was glad for a delay in expected restoration bills. Be careful what you wish for though!

Weeks turned into years and little progress was being made on the car. “I was getting frustrated with the shop but by then, the company I worked for as an engineer was starting to struggle and between that and my bruised stock market portfolio, I felt that although I probably needed to move the car to another shop if I ever wanted it done, I was in no position to make that commitment,” recalls Brad. Eventually he was laid off but quickly found a better paying job. Feeling more confident about his career, Brad paid a visit to the shop and the owner promised to get back into gear with the car. In fact he did, and over the following months he did an extensive amount of metal work. The rear quarter panels were replaced, along with a trunk floor Brad got from Arizona. The tail light panel was replaced and the rusty A-pillars, cowl and inner fenders were patched. Finally, the car was ready to go to the media blaster.

Brad paid the media blasters ahead of time and soon started to wonder after several months went by without any updates. “A local Mopar gearhead who was friends with the restoration shop owner was doing some side work for my project such as restoring the K-frame and the suspension components. One day he mentioned stopping by the shop so I asked how my car looked as by this point, it was supposed to be blasted and painted in etch primer. He said it wasn’t there. I was furious and called the shop owner, who said he thought the media blaster was waiting to get paid by me. After I told him I had paid up front, he promised to get to the bottom of it. Soon my car was back in his shop but the fact he had let my car sit at another shop for months without staying on top of the situation was a big red flag to me,” says Brad.

Around this time, Brad took his convertible to a Mr. Norms Mopar show and quickly noticed a red Challenger T/A he had never seen before. Brad checked it out and noticed a Mr. Norms sales folder displayed with the car showing it had a VIN two numbers past his. Later, he contacted Barry Washington at the Challenger T/A registry and was told that his T/A was the first of a group of four identical, consecutive VIN T/A’s sold at Mr. Norms. Once the T/A got back to the shop from the blasters, the “no updates” trend continued. Dealing with the car took a backseat to career issues again as Brad had gotten laid off from his new job; ending up out of work for eight months before finding another. At that point, he was again feeling insecure about his career.

In late 2008 with the economy tanking, he once again lost his job and ended up jobless for almost a year and a half. The original time frame for his T/A at the shop was now approaching the ten year anniversary but he wasn’t in the position to do anything about it. After finding new jobs and getting laid off twice more after that, Brad was approaching age 50. “Some people I knew had passed away recently, making me realize that you never know how long you have. I thought about my T/A, and how I really needed to do something whether I could afford it or not and despite my job security becoming an ongoing concern.”

Brad started talking to a Mopar restoration shop in Illinois and after going over estimates of hours involved to take over and finish the project, he decided to go ahead and move the car there in spring of 2012. Brad says, “I had feared the shop in Michigan would be difficult to deal with taking the car back, but I think he was both happy to get the car out of his shop, as it was obvious he had lost enthusiasm for it but felt guilty about leaving me hanging so long. He had the car ready to go and all parts neatly organized in boxes when we arrived, so loading up was easy. We got everything packed and the car headed back to Illinois for the first time in over twelve years.”

Sadly, Brad’s dad passed away shortly after the car was moved to the new shop and was never able to see the car finished. His trail of bad luck with shops didn’t end here either. “My experience with the shop in Illinois turned out to be a challenge too. From the first bill, it became apparent my estimates of cost were going to come up short. The hourly rate I was charged was higher than I had been led to believe and as the months went by, my restoration fund bank account quickly dwindled. I worried that I would run out of money before the car even got painted,” recalls Brad. “My father was active in several hobbies and had accumulated several valuable collections over his life. My mom surprised me and my sister at the end of the year with gift checks funded with some of the proceeds she had got from selling off my dad’s things. I deposited my check into my restoration account and that bailed me out somewhat. Although my dad never got to see the car completed, I am sure he would be quite pleased knowing that some money from his estate went towards getting it done,” he continues.

Over time, the new shop seemed to treat Brad and the car as a burden. Shortly after his T/A arrived, they got a Hemi wing car project and later; a car for a well-known collection so it seemed apparent they were more excited about those projects than Brad’s. However, they finally completed the body work and painted it. It was shiny red again for the first time in a long time! From there, they had a new vinyl top and headliner installed and then re-installed the rebuilt original drivetrain. By the time they installed the glass, Brad was pretty well tapped out financially after getting around $70,000 in bills from the shop; over 50% more than estimated. He picked the car up and took it home where he planned to do the rest of the reassembly himself.

Bad luck hit once again. When unloading the car, the winch lost tension and the car started to roll down the ramp. As they pushed on the rear of the car to keep it from gaining momentum, Brad noticed the front was trying to swing over as it rolled backwards. He cringed as he saw the driver’s fender contact a cable for the trailer ramp. The cable had scraped some of the brand new paint on the front of the fender. Brad was pretty heartbroken and wondered if the paint could be repaired or if he would lose the NOS tape stripe that the shop had charged over $1,000 to install. Fortunately, a local body and paint guru named Dave Bosak came to the rescue and after putting many hours into carefully patching the paint; was able to save the stripe. While he did lose the decal on that fender; a friend had an NOS one to replace it.

After that setback, Brad slowly starting working on reassembling the car with the goal of debuting it at the 2016 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals that takes place in November. By that summer, he made a fair amount of progress on the interior along with some under hood details. Due to hot and humid conditions, progress was slow during the summer months but he was able to install the front and rear brakes. By now it was September and with only two months before the show, pressure was starting to build! With the help of his local Challenger owner friends, Glen Hane and “Mopar Mitch” Lelito, progress started moving quickly along.

The weekend before the show, Brad backed the car out of the garage and drove it around the block for the first time in over sixteen years. In the following days, he wrapped up a few more small details before loading it up and taking it to the show. Mission accomplished with literally no time to spare! The weekend didn’t completely go off without another strike of bad luck though. At some point on the Friday at the show, a scrape appeared on the driver’s door stripe. Brad says he has no idea how it happened as it wasn’t there when the car left his garage that morning. A friend had a NOS door stripe from 1979 that he donated to the cause, so come spring, hopefully the thirty year old stripe will still be good and he will be able to fix that setback!

With that, Brad says he wants to drive the car once the weather gets nicer to get it dialed in and show it nationally. Hopefully the bad luck he’s experienced with it will take a turn for the better. He does say he lays awake some nights unable to sleep from the PTSD he got from his restoration experience! Brad says in closing, “I became a lifelong Challenger fan after seeing ‘Vanishing Point’. In the flashbacks throughout that movie, we see Kowalski having many instances of bad luck and setbacks in his endeavors. I had a lot of bad luck and setbacks in my restoration that are a bit of a parallel of sorts to the movie that had such a big influence on my life and car hobby. Of course, now that the car is done, I will make sure to keep it as far away as possible from any bulldozers. With my luck, I don’t want to even think about what might happen with my car and a bulldozer!”

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Cody Krueger

Cody Krueger

Car Feature Editor – cody.cole@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 '70 Coronet, '71 Charger R/T, '71 Road Runner, '04 SRT-4, '06 Grand Cherokee SRT8, '08 Challenger SRT8 and a '17 Ram 1500 Rebel. Cody can truly and proudly say him and his wife are true Mopar nuts in love with all types of Mopars!

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