Al Caponigro says his love for Mopars started back in 1968. “I was 13 when I started driving my dad’s ’64 Plymouth Belvedere (with a 318 Poly) up and down in front of our house,” Al recalls. “Then my older brother bought his first car in 1970. It was a ’64 Plymouth Sport Fury with a 413 Wedge. After my first ride in that, listening to that big motor coming to life when he mashed the pedal to the floor was all it took.”
After his graduation year in 1973, Al bought his first Mopar, a 1967 Plymouth GTX. Shortly after, Al started working for a Chrysler/Plymouth dealer Island Auto in Scranton, PA and says all the new parts he needed for his GTX were just a short walk to the parts department away. After a few years of street and bracket racing at numerous raceways, he sold the GTX in 1980 and started a business, got married and bought a house.
Around 1990, he got the Mopar itch again and purchased another 1967 GTX, which he fully restored over the next few years. While out for a drive in 1994, Al spotted a 1970 Challenger sitting in a yard partially covered under some pine trees about a mile from his house. Having driven the road every day, he had always wondered what kind of car was sitting under the cover but could never confirm as it was always fully wrapped up.
“It was a Saturday morning and I was heading out to buy some dog food. We had a bad storm the night before and as I drove by the car, I took a look as I always did and noticed the storm had blown the car cover loose and all I could see was four tailpipes sticking out. That’s when I realized I had been driving past a 1970 Challenger R/T all these years,” shares Al.
He continued to drive by the Challenger for another few months before he finally saw the owner outside cutting his grass one day. He knew this was his chance so Al stopped and asked him about the Challenger under the cover. The owner said, “Yeah, do you want to see it?” When the owner pulled the cover off, Al almost had a heart attack when he saw the Challenger was a convertible! To make it even better, this Challenger was a real R/T with a 383 and console shift automatic.
“It had a scratch in the poor green paint job revealing the original EV2 Hemi Orange Paint. The saddle tan interior really caught my eye. There was a 440 with a Holley carb, Edelbrock intake and headers on it,” says Al. He looked over the car fully and found absolutely no rust and very few parking lot dings. The owner told him that he had lived in California for years previous and that is where he bought the car. He had bought it from a Dodge used car lot in the early 1980’s. At that point, the original 383 was gone and the 440 was in its place.
Al was told a female school teacher bought it new and somewhere along the way, the engine was changed out. After the neighbor had purchased it, he received a bunch of speeding tickets so he decided to lose the “flashy speeding ticket orange” and chose to repaint it a more subdued green. Al and the owner started talking prices and he made an offer that turned out to be about half of what the owner wanted for it. The owner said he was just going to keep it and fix it up for his son who was about 12 at the time.
They put the cover back on the Challenger and Al left. They kept in touch over the next couple of years and one day in August 1997, Al met up with him at a YMCA. The owner asked if Al still wanted it in which he quickly replied, “Hell yeah!” He told Al that his son was old enough to drive and he felt his son would kill himself in that car, so he would sell it to Al for the price he had offered. After towing it the mile to his house, Al spent the next five years restoring it.
“It took a while because I was working days and going to school at night so my time was very limited.” shared Al. Once taking it apart, Al confirmed that the Challenger was indeed super clean and original except for the engine and paint job. He also found tons of factory paint markings and documented them all. All of the body parts were original so he made sure to document all the date codes for those as well. As Al said, “I was torn on how to do the restoration, but after spending all the time and hunting down all the parts for my ’67 GTX, I decided I wanted a go fast driver.”
From there, he restored the body and interior back to factory specifications but decided to have some fun with the engine. The 440 that came in the car when he bought it was fully rebuilt and bored .30-over with 9:1 compression. He installed some goodies which include a Lunati 512-inch lift hydraulic cam, an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake paired with a Holley 750 Double Pumper carburetor, a MSD Pro Billet Distributor, MSD 6AL box and coil, Hooker headers, a Moroso 8-quart oil pan with a windage tray, and a factory Carter Hemi fuel pump. To dress up the top a bit, he installed a pair of Mopar Performance valve covers with the matching air cleaner. He beefed up the 727 automatic with a Frank Lupo Dynamic 3,000-stall torque converter. The rear end is the stock 8¾ with a 3:91 Sure Grip unit.
As previously mentioned, this Challenger has all of the original body panels as well as most of the original trim. The interior was fully redone in its original saddle tan color with brand new Legendary products. Al replaced the entire fuel system and brake system with brand new parts and mounted a set of Magnum 500 wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich Radial T/As. He says the car came with 14-inch white walls and full hubcaps but he’s always liked the Magnum 500 look, so he went with that.
Al said there were around 516 Challenger R/T convertibles with 383 automatics made in 1970. This is the only one in Ola Nillson’s registry that is EV2 Hemi Orange with a Saddle Tan interior. It is quite possible this Challenger is the only one ever made in this unique color combo! Al’s Challenger has only been entered in one large national show which was the Chryslers at Carlisle in 2002 where it won first place in 1970 Dodge E-Body Light Modified and also won the Celebrity pick from Rich McCrillis. Al and his wife, Colleen moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina in October, 2002 and he says he hasn’t really shown the car very much since. The shows he has attended though, the Challenger always wins a Best of Show and a few first place prizes.