by Michaela Brass (“Miss Mopar”)
Carlisle’s All Chrysler Nationals serves as the rest stop on the Mopar powered road of life that I am blessed to be traveling down. It offers me four days to stop and reflect on where I have been and where I plan to be. The past four events will go down in my own personal book of records as four of the top ten experiences that I have ever had.
It is an opportunity to showcase my work as automotive enthusiast, to bond with my family, to admire other Mopars, to gain ideas or goals for my future projects, and to connect on a personal level with other enthusiasts who are traveling down a road very similar to mine.
I used to attend a car show held at a family owned Dodge dealer. Before they would award the trophies, they reminded us that “your car is your trophy, anything else is simply an award.” Though I have been blessed to place at Chrysler Nats both times I entered the show field, I always remind myself of that quote because the truth is that there is so much more to each and every Mopar than how many friends you have voting for you. For that reason, this second installment of “Miss Mopar Speaks” will feature a few of my favorite Mopars in attendance with back stories that remind us all the there is so much more to this hobby that four wheels and American-made power.
The first Miss Mopar award goes to a gentlemen named Bill and his 1969 Dodge Charger. It proudly sports the “01” and Confederate flag. I opted to pick this vehicle as one of my favorites in light of the recent controversies that we are hearing about in the media because I think it is important to note that the “General Lee” represents a far different culture than that is being associated with it by television stations and model car manufacturers.
Like I did, Bill grew up watching “The Dukes of Hazzard” and longed for a “General Lee” of his own. His dream began to take shape when he found the remnants of what was once a very sexy Dodge Charger. Working to breathe life back into a shell of a car, Bill began collecting parts that he needed, only to lose $15,000 worth of parts in a fire. He and his brother banded together, just as Bo and Luke Duke would have done, to restore the parts that were salvageable and replaced the parts that were not. Through hard work and dedication, Bill finally achieved his dream “General Lee,” complete with signatures of the cast on the dash!
I was lucky enough to get a good look at the dash signatures when Bill took me for a ride to the back entrance of the T Building, where Tom Wopat himself came out to take photos (I was conveniently dressed as Daisy Duke after competing in the look-a-like contest). As we drove through the mob of fans in the fairgrounds, it warmed my heart to see the eyes of small children light up as the car passed them, echoing the dixie horn through the valley of the show field. The eyes of the other spectators lit up with a reminiscent glow as they watched in awe as a relic from their childhood passed by. It was a magical feeling to see so many people so receptive of a vehicle that is being painted so poorly by our society. The magic is still there and after all, these Mopars are our magic carpets made of steel, so why not let the sight and sound take us back to a time when life was simple and we made our way the only way we knew how?
The second Miss Mopar award goes to a 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A owned by a gentlemen named Koby, and it comes to us all the way from Japan…sorta! Koby lost his dad as a child as a result of a car wreck. He went on to make friends with a gentleman named Tyler who was actively searching for a car his father owned and this inspired Koby to begin searching for his dad’s Plum Crazy Purple Dodge.
With a little bit of less-than-legal help from a friend who had access to the DMV and the T/A registry, they were able to get a trace on the car. Their hunt lead them to the Japanese residence of an NHRA driver and they returned, with a Challenger in tow (they did have to wait for it to arrive via ship), to the States to begin a memorial restoration unlike any other.
Not a car guy from the get-go, Koby opened up his mind and heart to learning about the history and mechanics of his dad’s very own Mopar, all in memory of him. I am a sucker for a Mopar restored in memory of a loved one, especially a parent and I was drawn to Koby’s Dodge before I even saw it. I heard all about it standing by my Charger on and could not make my way across the show field fast enough to see it.
I was pleasantly surprised to see such a tasteful and proper restoration. The white interior was pristine, the shine on the purple paint could have been used as a mirror to apply my eye makeup, and the vanity tag reading “T/A For Dad” (in less letters) gave me absolute goose bumps. His display board read “A Challenge of a Lifetime,” a simple phrase in elegant writing. It hit home to me because it often seems that a project, be it a vehicle restoration or not, that proposes a great challenge is often the most rewarding.
The third Miss Mopar award goes out to a woman named Romonda and her 1972 Dodge Challenger. Always intrigued by a female-owned story, I anxiously awaited meeting Romonda. I had the privilege of interacting with her on my Facebook page and from what I saw in the pictures, she had herself a Mopar that mixed feminine flare with pure muscle.
Like Koby, I had the pleasure of meeting Romonda before I got to see her Challenger. She was decked out in pink Mopar gear (I could tell we were going to hit it off) and we settled into a conversation that would take place between lifelong friends. She told me how she served in the Army for eight years, alongside her husband. It was the perfect segway into the story of her restoration, which was also done alongside her husband. It was an aspiring story as I hope to share that experience with the man I marry someday.
When I finally made my way to Romonda’s Challenger, the detailing on the car took my breath away. Flawlessly done pink paint was accented in black and everything down to the tire valve caps were dressed in pink detailing. Romonda and I chatted as I flipped through photos of the restoration process; I was elated to see pictures of her, in coveralls, getting her hands dirty in every aspect of the restoration process. Other photos caught her working beside her husband and son…moments captured in time that warmed my heart!
I felt lucky to be able to swap stories with Romonda for our lives are parallel in many ways. We are both women working hard (and succeeding) in a very male dominated world of automotive restorations. She is also beginning a restoration on her husband’s newly purchased 1968 SuperBee as I begin restoring my 1971 Plymouth RoadRunner. I look forward to connecting with her as the year progresses and getting together at next year’s Chrysler Nats to swap more stories! She will always act as a reminder that some of the greatest friends are made while chit-chatting over our mutual love for Mopar!
Speaking of my 1971 Plymouth RoadRunner restoration, the next Miss Mopar award is a bit selfish, but for good reason. If I were to title this award, I would call it “Best of the Swap Meet.” You always hear who won “Best of Show,” and though one man’s junk is often another man’s treasure, you’d be surprised at the stories you hear when you stop to chat with someone about what they are selling. In the case of my family, we did not just stop Ken and his 1971 Plymouth Satellite shell that he had for sale — we charged after him, in the wake of a hurricane like storm, to bombard him with questions before he could get out of his old Dodge van and stretch his legs after his thirteen hour drive from Michigan.
I have always had a sixth sense for early seventies B-bodies and this was no different. Dressed in primer, the shell was the remnants of Ken’s dream car. As I envisioned my dream car, Ken recounted his…a copper metallic RoadRunner built with the intent to replicate one that he had as a teenager. I visited Ken and his crew a few times over the weekend, and on Sunday we finally made a deal to take home the shell. I share this story not only to encourage you to follow along as I begin on a restoration that has been better than a decade in the making, but because you see so many people with Mopars sitting in the brush, being overcome by trees and weeds…and they just sit there. Maybe they sit there because the owners spouse passed away and loved that car, or maybe they sit there because the owner had planned on a restoration but then fell ill or could no longer afford it, or maybe it sits there because the owner has no idea how happy it would make one person if they granted them the gift of allowing them to purchase it and fix it up.
This “barn find” Plymouth Superbird was the first ever built in Petty Blue. it had 3,648 miles when found and came with the factory 440 and three two-barrel carburetors hooked up to a four-speed manaul transmission. It is fully numbers matching including the original tires and window sticker. It had been sitting in a barn since 1971.
I am by no means doubting or belittling the choices of those who opt to let their old cars weather away with them, however, Ken’s Satellite could have sat in his yard and rotted away over time, but it won’t because I am going to give it love like it has never seen before. At my fingertips, this shell is going to be transformed into my dream come true and I think it is important to remind everyone that there is never going to be another muscle car era. Once the great cars of the 60s and 70s are gone, they are gone.
I am forever grateful to Ken (and the gentlemen that sold me Charger five years ago) for allowing me to take what was once their dream and turn it into mine. Sometimes that rusted up old Mopar you have sitting in the yard is the key to making sure that the generations that come after us can share in the pleasure of peering over the hood, their feet barely touching the pedals, and they conjure up a dream in their mind of having their own Mopar someday. The stories that Ken shared with me will live on as I restore it because I believe that there is no better way to honor the experience I had while making it my own.
As I conclude and reflect upon Chrysler Nationals, I am confident is saying that my interactions with the four aforementioned individuals as well as the thousands of other enthusiasts I encountered have helped me to evolve as an appreciator of all Chrysler products. I am sure there are touching stories that I am yet to hear and I encourage you to share them with me. I hope you can finish reading this piece and reflect, for just a moment, on why your Mopar is so important to you and those who have had the pleasure of listening to your story. We all have a different one and that is what continues to make the Mopar community to special to me.
See Michaela’s first column: Mopar Therapy
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