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Miss Mopar Speaks on “Mopar Therapy:” Restoration, Family, and Heritage

I have always felt as though life is seen with greater perspective when you’re looking through the windshield and over the hood of a Mopar muscle car.

I was hardly two weeks old the first time I rode shotgun in “The Big C,” my dad’s 1962 Chrysler 300. My car seat was chained in (seatbelts were an option when my Poppop purchased the car new off of the showroom floor at the dealership where he met my grandmother) and my mom excitedly snapped photos from the back seat as my dad took me on my first Chrysler cruise.

baby in 1962 Chrysler

Fast forward about four years and I would anxiously await those warm summer nights when my dad would take me into town in his 1970 Dodge Challenger Convertible. The memories remain as vivid as the glossy red paint and as strong as the carbureted exhaust fumes. He would cruise me down to the ice cream shop, order me an orange sherbet in cone with rainbow jimmies. I would eat it as fast as I could as I simply could not wait to get back into the Challenger and cruise around town.

I was only four years old, yet something about the sight, smell, and feel of riding shotgun in that Dodge just electrified me inside. It was thrilling for me to watch my dad shift gears and to feel my hair whip into my face. We would ride around for what felt like hours, though it was likely only fifteen minutes or so, and when he picked me out of my car seat and stood me on the ground, I would stare in wonder at that magic carpet forged in American steel.

At four years old, you tend not to know much malice, sadness, or cruelness. I didn’t have anything to fear and nothing to make me sad. Yet, those Saturday night cruises for ice cream rid me, if only temporarily, of any negative emotions I had. It was my therapy and I did not even know if at the time.

challenger girl

As I grew, I found myself immersed in any form of Mopar I could find — I gravitated towards the automotive aspect of every school subject. On weekends, I was excited to work in the garage with my dad or accompany him to car shows. In the likely occurrence that my Dad or Poppop shared a story about The Big C or their jobs at a Chrysler dealer, I was all ears as any other conversation faded to a dull hum. I was mesmerized by the world of Mopar, and I knew that one day, I would feel all those magical feelings behind the wheel of my own Dodge.

My dream came to life in October of 2010 when I purchased a 1972 Dodge Charger- a barn find with trees growing out of the manifold, two cat skeletons under the seats, and a twenty-one year old full tank of gasoline. I had my work cut out for me and I could not have been more eager to get a little grease under my french-manicured nails. As my dad and I began the restoration process, images of my future children eating ice cream cones in the front seat as we drove off into the summer skyline flashed in my head. With every bolt I tightened, I felt a step closer to achieving everything I had ever wanted.

1972 dodge charger restoration

I will never forget the night my dad and I finished the engine rebuild. It was late and my mom had called us in for dinner. I was so thrilled to watch that Dodge move under its own power for the first time since 1989. What was even more magical is that my dad and I rebuilt the engine together; this was something that I could never put a price on. As we ate, my dad shared stories of when he restored the Chrysler 300. It was a magical evening, one that I would never trade.

The next morning was a normal morning, other than the fact that I could hardly wait to get home and drive my Charger. At 10:11 am, I got a phone call informing me that my mom had died of a brain aneurysm. My world stopped and my Charger faded into a distant thought, becoming a topic of conversation only when we reminisced upon how my Momma Ro, who knew nothing about cars, came out of the house with a bucket of water and a magic eraser, eager to help me wash it on the day I brought it home. I can still recall the look of her face —it was a bit skeptic and a bit grossed out, but excited with maternal support to finally see my dream begin to take shape.

She spent her very short time here on earth making sure that my dreams came true. and it began to feel as though I was letting her down every time I looked at my Charger sitting there. Just about six weeks after her untimely passing, the family got together on a cold and dreary day, circled around my Charger, and waited for me to take my maiden run. I was shivering as I held that key in my left hand and my mom’s prayer card in my right. I tacked it on the dashboard and as the engine cranked, the sun peaked though the clouds and I smiled for the first time in a long time as that engine roared to life. It was enchanting. I could feel my mom’s presence as I drove down the driveway in my very own Mopar muscle car.

miss mopar

I had intended my Dodge Charger to be a cruiser — not worthy of any trophies, but cool enough to enter in local shows. As time went on and I dealt with my grief, I found that there was no place that made me happier than being in the garage, working on that Dodge. I began to envision my dream Mopar — triple black with red accents, dual exhaust, and that kind of rumble that you feel in your heart when you rev it up. Along with my dad, I dedicated countless hours to turning that barn find into a showpiece that would go on to be known as The Little Black Dress.

As I neared the final stages of the restoration, I was asked to participate in the Female Owners Display at Carlisle’s All Chrysler Nationals 2013. To this day, I consider that the happiest weekend of my life. Had my mother been alive, I think that I would have experienced pure perfection.

300 and charger

Just like people, Mopars make their way into your life just when you need them. Some stay forever, and some stay for just a short time. As I finished restoring my Charger, I was eager to start a new project. As other auto enthusiasts can understand, I needed some time to let my funds replenish themselves. In July 2013, almost as if it was sent from a particular angel, a gentleman with a 1974 Jeep CJ5 Renegade contacted me and asked if I would be interested in restoring it for him. It became a special project as it healed me in many ways.

renegade restoration

As I progressed through the restoration, it reminded me of working on the Charger and all of those times that my mom would call into the garage and ask what I wanted for lunch. When we rebuilt the engine, it reminded me of that happiness I felt starting up the Charger and how something as simple as a restoration acted as the world’s greatest form of grief therapy for me. To be able to complete another restoration and relive all of those salutary emotions was a wonderful experience for me.

with jeep renegade

Mopars have served as many things for me —  they’ve been a unbreakable father-daughter link, a form of divine intervention, a social media outlet (visit, and a career ( I am currently the fourth generation of my family to work for Chrysler). But, most importantly, they have been a therapeutic means to help me survive the hard times, celebrate the good times, and to urge me to keep on dreaming those gasoline powered dreams that I had when I was just a little girl.

People of Allpar

I hope to someday complete the restoration of my 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. I am actively restoring a 1986 Dodge Ram D150 100 Custom and a 1966 Dodge Power Wagon Panel Truck, which are Mopar siblings to the 1974 CJ5.

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