In the summer of 1969, the Escalante family found themselves in Detroit. “It was an exciting time for my father, of course, but for the whole family. A visit to the Detroit Auto Show and seeing the Challenger…he just fell in love.” says Juan Escalante.
Shortly after that, his father went to his local Dodge dealer and ordered the car of his dreams; a Hemi Orange 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 426 Hemi 4-speed, one of only 137 equipped with the Hemi and a 4-speed transmission.
Not too long after, they moved to Venezuela and brought the Challenger with them where it stayed from 1972 to 1996. Word had spread early that a Hemi Challenger was to arrive in Venezuela and being the first of its kind in the country, it was a big deal for the local gearheads and car enthusiasts. Once the car arrived, the locals started referring to the car as “El Hemi.”
Juan says the Challenger worked perfectly for the first few years until the late ‘70s when his father started having issues with it due to the extreme difficulty in finding even the simplest parts in Venezuela. It was at that point that he decided to park the car and from there it slowly slipped into disrepair. That was until Juan and his brother Gus convinced their father to ship the car back to the U.S. to have it restored in 1996.
The Challenger’s completion in 2005 was bittersweet for the brothers though as their father unfortunately passed away mid-way through the restoration.
“We had to gather ourselves and really think about how we were going to use the car, and one of the things that my dad always stressed was that the car was used, that we would enjoy the car…that we would give rides to our kids and their friends and let them experience it and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” says Juan proudly.
Juan’s son Caylor says; “As long as there’s Escalantes, this car is going to remain in the Escalante family. I can promise you that. I know I speak for my dad that this thing is never going to be sold. This thing means way too much.”