Where It All Began: Bill Mann’s 1968 Dodge Charger

To say Bill Mann of New Jersey is a Charger fan would be a total understatement. In fact, Charger crazy wouldn’t even cover it! With three second generation Chargers in his garage (a 1968, 1969 and 1970), it’s safe to say Bill lives and breathes everything Charger. We’ve known Bill for a number of years and have been itching to share his Chargers with our readers. Over the next little bit, we will be showcasing all three of his Chargers, starting with his 1968; the one that started it all.

“I was 16 when I got that car. I’d been a ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ fan since I was 9 years old. One day I asked my dad, ‘What is that orange car?’ he replied, ‘I think it’s a Dodge, son…’ I knew right then at that age that my first car was going to be a Dodge Charger. When the time came, I looked at many cars with my parents but even at that time they were very hard to find around by me in New Jersey. So much so, that I started branching out to Challengers and ‘Cudas and other various Mopars. During one of our visits to look at a ’70 Challenger, the owner stated it had over 500 horsepower. My dad looked at me and said, ‘Where the hell are you going with this car?’ and that was the end of that,” says Bill.

He continues to say, “After many months of looking, I came home from school one day to find a surprise note on the table from my mom saying she had put a deposit on a ’68 Charger for me. I couldn’t believe it! That night, our family made the 45 minute trip to where the car was. Even from our car, upon seeing it for the first time, my father said, “What in the name of hell did you buy?” The Charger was still owned by the original owner. It was a family car, primarily used by the mother and then passed along to her son who used it all throughout school and college.

According to Bill, the mother couldn’t have been a very good driver as both sides of the car had signs of bad repair collision work and the rust was rearing its ugly head again. The pot metal trim was all pitted as typical for New Jersey; however, other than that, it was complete, unmolested and all original. The original 318 and automatic transmission were in place along with the original spare and everything worked. It even drove nice too!

Bill’s family drove it home that night and Bill finally had his very first car: a ’68 Charger; something that he had dreamed of since he was 9-years-old. Bill’s new Charger was pretty basic with a 318, automatic on the column with a buddy seat, power steering, the heavy duty suspension package, and the light package. That’s it. Everything else was plain Jane. It came in about fifty shades of green, including the FF-1 Light Green Poly paint, with a dark green top and two-tone green interior. To make it even uglier, it had 14” wheel covers and body side moldings.

“To a 16-year-old, this was about the ugliest Charger I’d laid eyes on; but it was mine. Now that I had my dream car, what to do with it? Well, I knew right when my dad and I laid eyes on it that it wasn’t going to stay the way it was. The first thing we did was clean it up and make sure it was mechanically sound. The exhaust had seen better days so we had a muffler shop custom bend up a set of dual exhaust. Then we devised a game plan on how we were going to fix it up. In other words, restore it. This was the mid-1980’s and nobody was doing rotisserie restorations. Internet forums, online swap meets, groups, etc were all unheard of. Even reproduction parts were almost non-existent back then. The real only parts sources we had were either used parts, or N.O.S. magazine ads, Hemmings Motor News, and hunting at the local swap meets was about the extent of it,” says Bill.

“We knew right away the color had to go. I always liked red and initially wanted some kind of red brandy wine color with a color change for the interior from green to black. We started hunting and gathering parts. Finding clean parts in New Jersey was tough, so we looked in Hemmings at ads from the West Coast. Since all of the pot metal trim was shot, clean used ones were found that were suitable for re-chroming. Being complete newbies to Mopar muscle cars (my dad was really a classic Chrysler and Ford guy), everything was a daunting task and a big trial and error learning experience to say the least,” continues Bill.

In fact, perhaps the biggest task for the father and son was finding a body shop to tackle the bodywork. At the time, Bill says they didn’t have the means, knowledge, or even space to do it themselves. All of the Charger’s exterior side panels were pretty much loaded with filler and flaking off the rusted lower quarters. Restoration shops were unheard of, and nearly all of the collision shops around wanted no part in it. Finally after some searching, they found a local shop willing to do it. Through Hemmings, one used quarter was sourced from California and another from Texas. A used fender was also located. The shop said they could fix everything else.

Bill tells us, “We took the car apart at home, so we could work on all of the parts while the shop had the rest of the car to do the bodywork. Work at the shop quickly started, while we admired some other classic cars they were working on at the time: a 1955 Ford T-Bird and a 1958 Corvette. After weeks of work, with the metal and bodywork finally completed on the Charger, they closed up shop one evening in preparation for priming it the very next morning. That night, the 1958 Corvette caught fire. With the shop engulfed in flames, the firemen came just in time and were able to put everything out. While the Charger survived the fire, unfortunately, the next day it was completely covered in surface rust from end to end from all the water. Other than that, the dash was damaged by soot. The T-Bird had a toasted front end and the Corvette was completely totaled.”

After the fire damage was all sorted out, all of the bodywork had to be redone on the Charger. Eventually it was painted, a new black top was installed, and the Mann’s brought it home for final assembly and detailing. “Regarding the color, the shop made some spray-out panels of some wine red colors for me to choose from, but all of them looked terrible. In the end, we ended up choosing an original 1968 Dodge color; PP-1 Scorch Red. The end result was perfect,” says Bill. The green vinyl interior was all dyed black, a reproduction black carpet set was installed and the little 318 engine was spruced up with some dress-up goodies and detailed nicely. The freshly re-chromed trim and bumpers were installed along with the restored grille, a N.O.S flip top gas cap and all of the stainless trim that was buffed by Bill’s dad (a metal worker by trade). A pair of fat Pro-Trac 50 series tires were installed out back with some Cragar SST chrome mags; the iconic ‘80’s look.

Sixteen-year-old Bill finally had his dream Charger finished; now what? He explains, “Upon completing the Charger, it turned out to be a double-edged sword. We had built a Charger exactly what I dreamed of, but the car was just simply too nice for me to drive to school and what not. It was bringing home 1st place trophies wherever we showed it. So, I hunted for a beater, which turned out to be a 1971 Satellite that was done up as a Road Runner clone and powered by a 440, which I kept for a while. However, that’s yet another story for another day.”

Bill and his dad enjoyed the Charger for many years; improving or doing things over as the years passed. The interior always had a slight smoke odor due to the fire, so eventually the headliner was replaced along with all of the interior insulation. The dyed seats turned out to be sticky during the summer, so the upholstery was replaced with new ones from Legendary in black with silver pleated inserts. The original Cragar SST wheels were swapped for a set of 14” Magnum 500s and Redline tires, which eventually gave way to a set of Centerline Convo Pro IIs with 295/50/15s out back with BFG Radial T/As.

The front suspension was pulled, rebuilt and detailed. After many years, Bill grew somewhat bored with the little 318 so that was swapped for a nicely modified 440 and a 727 transmission. The 440 currently has Edelbrock heads, an Edelbrock 800cfm carburetor and CH4B intake, a Mopar Performance “Purple Shaft” 284/484 cam, and MSD ignition. When the 440 went in, the engine compartment was resprayed again with a fresh coat of PP-1 Scorch Red. Stock, ceramic coated HP exhaust manifolds bolt up to a TTI 2-1/2” exhaust with a H-pipe, Flowmaster mufflers and Magnaflow resonators out back with chrome exhaust tips. To finish the look, a bumblebee stripe was installed out back. Bill tells us that everything was done in a way to resemble the stock look to the casual observer.

Bill’s Charger also has a Steer-n-Gear Stage 2 power steering box. The original 2:73 gears in the 8.75 were swapped for a set of Sure Grip 3:55 gears and Mopar Performance leaf springs were installed. With a lot more power under the hood, the original front manual drum brakes were upgraded to manual discs from Master Power. The Centerline wheels were swapped out again, now for a set of 15” Magnum 500s and Redline radial tires from Diamondback.

Bill finishes by saying, “It’s hard to believe I’ve owned this car for 31 years now. It is a huge part of my life, a family member that I can only hope my sons will enjoy as much as I did as they get older. Early on, the car was featured in MoPerformance Magazine and when the Chrysler’s at Carlisle show in Pennsylvania featured their 1968 dealer display, it was shown front and center in the dealer showroom window that year. I’m always asked what my future plan for the car is. Well, back when my father and I restored the car in the ‘80s, we always talked about installing air conditioning. Finally, 31 years later I’m keeping that promise. The air conditioning conversion is underway right now. Eventually, I’m sure the body and paint will need to be redone again as its starting to show some age, which will open up yet a whole new chapter. For now, just getting behind the wheel with my family for a ride is as thrilling as the night my Dad and I first brought it home in 1986.”

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The Charger wearing Centerlines at the Wildwood, NJ boardwalk car show. Out of 1000’s of cars it got a Top 25 pick that year.

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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, '08 Challenger SRT8 and a '12 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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