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THE CLASSICS 1974 Dodge Charger equipped with big V-8

November 24, 2018

After high-school graduation, Paul Van Doren drove a 1974 Dodge Charger he purchased from his neighbor with a 400-cubic-inch V-8 engine from Virginia to Arizona and, years later while driving his Dodge back east, a truck struck his vehicle. “He nailed me in the door,” Van Doren said.

His 3,625-pound Charger lay in the ditch bent and broken beyond repair, but its solid construction had saved his owner. Van Doren limped away from the wreckage with bruises and cracked ribs. “I was heartbroken,” he said.

Van Doren salvaged all the parts he could and began searching for an identical replacement. Eventually he found a top-of-the-line 1974 Dodge Charger SE Brougham equipped with the biggest 440-cubic-inch, 275-horsepower V-8 engine available. Although it had 98,000 miles on the odometer, it was the best Dodge that he found, so he bought it. The farther the new Dodge owner drove on his trip home, the rougher it ran. By the time he reached home, the transmission was cooked and the engine had a burnt valve.

Van Doren, now working as a mechanic at a dealership, had no problem pulling out the engine and rebuilding it, as well as the automatic transmission. He swapped many salvaged parts from his first Dodge Charger.

After rebuilding the big V-8, it still ran hot. No matter what he tried in an effort to alleviate the ailment, it didn’t work. Checking with some old-time mechanics, he discovered the problem. He had rebuilt the engine according to specifications that came with parts from the factory. Through experience, the older mechanics knew to allow greater clearances than specified. Van Doren pulled the engine, adjusted his earlier work, and the overheating problem now is history.

Finally, after years of collecting parts for his Dodge, Van Doren started to tear down the car for what turned out to be an 18-month restoration. The car was stripped and received a new coat of silver, as well as black pinstriping. All the brightwork has been replated, restored, or replaced. The all-black interior is in remarkably good original condition. The black vinyl front seats were reupholstered with look-alike black leather.

“I looked for a year for the right taillight,” Van Doren said. Each taillight appears to be 11 separate vertical rectangular lights; the three inboard ones are backup lights. The lights are above the enormous protruding rubber bumper guards, which in turn are above the slotted exhaust tips.

Crowning the Charger is a patterned black vinyl top. It curves down over the six opera windows, three on each side; Van Doren explains the three opera windows are really one piece of glass. Beneath the expansive engine hood lies the piece de resistance — the now thoroughly massaged 440 V-8 topped by a Carter Thermoquad four-barrel carburetor. It breathes through a dual-snorkel air cleaner.

The usual 5 quarts of oil keep the engine lubricated and 16.5 quarts of coolant control the temperature.

The lengthy car rides on a 115-inch wheelbase. Only style and design dictate the need to be so long. Between the grille and radiator are 18 inches filled with nothing. However, the lines of the Charger wouldn’t be so graceful if the car were 18 inches shorter.

At 80, 90, or 100 mph the car handles “real nice,” Van Doren said. Off-the-line performance is equally good due to the Positraction rear end.

Van Doren said it came from the factory with power steering, power brakes, a deluxe radio, and cruise control. The cost of all the options was tacked onto the $3,742 base price.

“It’s unique,” Van Doren said as he goes for a cruise on the white-letter Goodyear Eagle ST tires. And the answer to the unasked question is: “No, the Charger is not for sale. Now or ever.”

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