1978 – 1985: The Days of My First Challenger

Note: This is a continuation of previous posts about experiences during my teenage years in the late 1970’s. I’ve been looking for the rare photos I had of the car but I haven’t been able to find the few I remember having. If I find them I’ll update this story’s photos (which I have with some old photos).

I recently was contacted by a few of my old high school streetmachiner friends who discovered this blog and it was a pleasant surprise to hear about some of their car experiences over the last decades. So it’s with you all of you guys in mind that I post this article, hope it helps bring back some pleasant memories.

It was a fun and fascinating time, those days searching for my first car. I had two close car buddies, Scott Douglas (The Ford Expert) and Rick Elliott (The Chevy Expert) who together through junior high school and the early days of high school, would spend more time than we should have day-dreaming about life cruising the streets, roads and highways. Rick was the first one to get his car, a 1955 Chevy Bel-Air Wagon which he wanted to restore, so it sat in his backyard for what seemed like years. Then Scott got his 1967 Mustang fastback, which he kept in his driveway as it went straight into customization mode, which over those early years became a local legend, a wimbledon white GT-350 styled ground pounder with gold stripes. Then I found my 1971 Challenger, which, by the way, was the first one that was able to be driven.

 

A summary of the High School Days with my first Challenger

 

The Family Outing

My dad and I checked out a lot of Challengers of all years, but in January of 1978, when I was 15, I finally found a Challenger with a combination I could live with that was under $2000. By this point, my mom was involved and I think she wasn’t interested in me getting a radical fire breathing monster. Funny how mom’s suddenly get involved when that critical moment materializes, as if she’s going to drive it. Buying a Challenger, my first car, becomes a bit of a family affair. We found the Blue Flash in some obscure used car lot in San Jose with about 42,000 miles, previously owned by an old lady. And as far as what you think Challengers are normally, it was a bit of an old lady’s car. It had a floor shift automatic and a 383 two barrel (which still had some awesome torque), single exhaust, no sway bars, dark metallic blue paint with a black vinyl top, power steering with a 5.2 turn box,  a salt and pepper interior with a cigarette burn hole in the back seat, air conditioning, and wire rim hubcaps with 70 series “Mohawk” Tires, and a unique trim package I’ve rarely seen since.  The price was $1700, or $1900 out the door. It ran great. At the time I had $1250, so my Dad helped me with the rest.

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Thanks to my brother Nick Yee, he uncovered this photo with highlights the original condition the 1971 was in before I started tampering with it with my teenage hands. Photo taken about 1978.

 

Some Random Reminiscing

As with many of the younger persuasion, I slowly began modifying and personalizing my Challenger. I will not go into extensive details here, but suffice it to say that as a young street machine freak, you just do as you feel and that is okay. It was all about whatever you can afford and whatever seems like a cool idea gets the nod of approval. This Challenger turned into my high school ride and also my ride into adulthood. The Challenger was a reliable partner through my high school days: having a really great time cruising with all the motorheads at school, wild burnouts in the back parking lot, road trips, and general partying. We were raising hell on the highways and byways and, fortunately, survived the experience and didn’t hurt others.

Worthy of MoPar note was the quickest car at school owned by Dale Mosher, a hemi-orange 1969 Dart with a 440 six-pack with a black vinyl top and 4.10s in the back. Truly a rad rocket.

 

The absolute best cruising night was in 1979 when a huge group of us got together to go cruising on a Saturday Night in San Mateo, California. We met in the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School and just about everyone showed up who had the car fever, including the blue Torino Wagon with the yellow dome light pulling unsuspecting motorists over (you know who you are, my friend). I could  start naming people but I’m sure I’d miss someone. If you were there, you’d remember those days before the “No Cruising” law. That strip on El Camino Real was absolutely packed.

We were living the mystique that is conjured in ones mind when you think of the “Muscle Car Era” all the while with Van Halen, AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring in the background. Actually it was the Oil Crisis Era, but we did not care. What was cool was my young nephew and niece used to cheer out, “Dukes of Hazard!” to the sounds of the big block Mopar or how some high school girls used to have their talks while sitting ON my car in the back parking lot at school, thinking it was cool place to hang out.

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This photo was taken by my Navy bud, Michael Avery. I think we were doing some backroad moto-ing in the National forest east of San Diego in 1981.

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This photo is from my Navy bud, Michael Avery, here I am probably at the Navy gas station or Navy DIY auto shop at Naval Training Center, San Diego in 1981.

 

 

A quick rundown of most of my modifications that occurred over time:

Edelbrock Torker,  a Holley 780 CFM with vacuum secondaries, topped off with a Moroso Low Profile Air Cleaner

Eagle Headers and dual exhaust with cross over and Thrush turbo mufflers, tail pipes dumping down over the rear axle

Windage Tray, B&M shift kit, Accel Supercoil, and Mopar Electronic Ignition

American Vector 15×8(?) with Goodyear Polyglas GT G-60 back and F-60’s front (torsion bars needed to raise front end to clear tires)

Addco sway bars front and rear with urethane bushings

KYB Shocks with coils overs in rear (gave me another 1/2″ clearance for my tires)

Stewart Warner under dash mounted Tach

Ducktail T/A type rear spoiler

Sanyo Bi-Amp AM-FM Cassette indash strereo Jensen co-ax rear speakers and some small tweeters in front

Dual racing mirrors from the local Scherba’s Auto Store

 

In Closing

I could recall a bunch of stuff, but I just want to pitch something out there for you guys to chew on.

Thanks for reading.

First Challenger a 1971 as in the area it was stored while I was away serving overseas in the Navy after 1983.

First Challenger a 1971 as it was in the area it was stored while I was away serving overseas in the Navy after 1983. Friends said that the Amrican Vectors looked great when I was peeling out. When I find my photos of the car when it was stock, I’ll post them. Originally the car had longitudinal side “door-ding” moulding and the biggest piece of chromed pewter wrapped around front edge of the hood and fenders to give the bumper a wrap around look.

This early 1980's photo is of Scott Douglas, the Ford Expert, part of a triad friendship along with Rick Elliot, the Chevy Expert. When I had my Mustang, Scott was always ready to help me with whatever I needed.

This early 1980’s photo  of Scott Douglas, the Ford Expert, part of a triad friendship along with Rick Elliot, the Chevy Expert in the early days at Palo Alto High School. When I had my Mustang, Scott was always ready to help me with whatever I needed.

A partial gathering of the PASM Association, the Palo Alto Street Machine Association. Photo taken by yearbook staff in1979. I was on the yearbook staff that year, so I made sure we got this photo in. Too bad one of my friends decided it was cool too draw over it with his pen. Location, the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School.

Just a partial gathering of the PASM Association, the Palo Alto Street Machine Association. Photo taken by yearbook staff (1979) . I was on the yearbook staff that year, so I made sure we got this photo in. Too bad one of my friends decided it was cool to draw over it with his pen. Location, the back parking lot of Palo Alto High School. Ready for exhibition speed at the slightest provocation.

Three of my Industrial Arts teachers at Palo Alto from 1976-1980, from left to right, Bud Jamison (Architecture), O.D. Mitchell (Auto Shop), and Bob Hoskins (Metal/Algebra/Geometry). All of my teachers were great, but Mr.Mitchell was my favorite through 4 years of Auto Shop. Photo is from my 1979, Junior year, Yearbook.

Three of my Industrial Arts teachers at Palo Alto from 1976-1980, from left to right, Bud Jamison (Architecture), O.D. Mitchell (Auto Shop), and Bob Hoskins (Metal/Algebra/Geometry).Missing is Mr. Don Jang, my drafting teacher for 3 years.  All of my teachers were great, but Mr.Mitchell was my favorite and mentor through 4 years of Auto Shop. Photo is from my 1979, Junior year, Yearbook. I was class of 1980 but 1979 ROCKS!

I didn't know the PALY yearbook staff was not print my write up I submitted with my photo. At the discretion of some high schooler in 1980, I will only be known as the guy with his Challenger

I didn’t know the PALY yearbook staff was not print my write up I submitted with my photo. At the discretion of some unknown high schooler in 1980, I will only be remembered as the kid with his Challenger

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

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I’d take that Whine anytime

Writer’s Note: This is a continuation of my flashback series about some of my teenage experiences with Challengers in the 1970’s.

 

If only I had the chance again…

 

Scanning the local papers for ads became my new religion.

I was getting pretty good at understanding all the cryptic abbreviations, like people trying to fit all the critical data into something smaller than a Twitter post. Little codes like: “stick” “PS” “PB” “dual” “383-2” “440-4″ ‘RT” “dana” “Rally” ” “AC” “disk” “console” “AT” “hemi” ‘6pk” “F60” “SE” “blk int” “needs paint” “needs body” “runs” “6cyl” “conv” “needs mech” “FAST” “dana60” “rblt eng.” “red” “green” “purple” “orange” “blue” “race” “lo mi” “4 sp” “side pipes” “headers” “Holley” “4 bbl” and so on – all these gave you some idea what was out there.

I’d see an ad for a Challenger and then dream about it every day until my dad and I could go check it out.

One time, there was a 1970 R/T with a 340, Plum Crazy purple with a black interior and white vinyl top, and a FOUR SPEED (again!). We went to check her out at a used car lot in Sunnyvale which was about 20 minutes away.

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A photo I found on Google and added special effects. It kind of resembles the first Challenger I ever rode in. My dad drove it on a test drive from a used car lot.

 

I remember this day like it was almost yesterday. The sun was shining, as the awesome purple colored R/T sat menacingly along the sidewalk on the lot of Hacienda Motors, facing El Camino Real like it wanted to tear the road apart.

I was still under-aged and gun shy of powerful 4 speeds, so I let my dad test drive. I thought that was really cool watching dad drive the car. He wasn’t a muscle car nut by my standards, but he enjoyed driving and always seemed to take my interest in Challengers seriously. To a kid growing up, that was a great affirmation that I wasn’t completely insane.

My dad didn’t spend much time with me playing catch or playing games or a lot of things that most people might expect but he did try to meet me where I was with Challengers and that says a lot to me as I look back.

This was the first time I ever rode in a Challenger as my dad had to fiddle with the reverse-lockout pistol grip  four speed shifter. It seemed like this could be a really decent car. Just the “340 Four Barrel” emblem on the scooped hood seemed to make this bad-boy scream ‘I am one ass-kicking muscle car’.

They wanted $2150.

I remember how it started and how great it was to hear the R/T pipes rumble, the symphony of mechanical parts permeating the air. This was no plain car, no way.

As dad got the R/T out onto the local side street, he applied the gas and started shifting gears, revving the engine, and glancing at the tach on the rally dash Everything seemed fine, except for this awful grinding sound that sprang up when we picked up some speed that crescendoed into some coarse mechanical whining that was about as loud as the exhaust.

My heart broke.

We chose not to get the car.

Looking back, the problem may have been a differential simple swap, but we figured we could find something better for the price – something that didn’t have any major problems.

It would sure be nice to have that one. A sweet car with a whine that nowadays couldn’t have been any sweeter.

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

Copyright © 2014 ChallenYee.com. TheDodgeKid.com  All Rights Reserved.

Challenger near the haunted house

Back in the 1970’s where the current Google headquarters is in Mountain View, California, was all farm land. There were many flower nurseries, ranches and dairy farms. My father rented part of a quanset hut for storage of his electric cars and roofing materials from a dairy farmer named Mr. Holthouse. We used to make frequent trips from home in Palo Alto to the Holthouse farm which was only about 10-15 minutes away, taking those memorable drives down the old farmland roads.

One of those roads to the farm was Stierlin Road (which is now Shoreline) and the west side of the road was lined with farm properties and on the east side a largely desolate, unkept, open farm land with an old Victorian house sitting in the middle of nowhere (an area close to the  now SGI site). The old white 3 story house we all thought was haunted and it looked menacing as it appeared in a dilapidated state sitting out there all alone along with a few trees.*

It was on that road that my father first let me drive his Datsun mini pickup.  This was a couple years before I got my license, I think when I was only 14. My dad used to let me shift all the time from the passenger side, but this was the first time I ever drove a full sized car. I drove it down that old country road perfectly, shifting gears and then pulling off to let my dad take over. I impressed my dad with how well I drove a stick shift for the first time – I attribute that to countless rehearsals in my mind in anticipation for that moment.

This worked out great for my dad, not long after this, he used to let me drive all over the place for work, before I had my license (don’t tell anyone, okay?).

It was along that old Stierlin Road, just about across the road from the old haunted house, that I noticed a “tree find.”

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There was a sublime 1970 Challenger, with a tow hitch, which was neglected under a tree in front of a farmer’s yard. I saw that car every time taking Stierlin to and from our shop.  I thought for sure this neglected car might be something I could afford without help. I mean, who would leave his Challenger, for what seemed like forever, rotting under a tree? Maybe the guy would ask for $500 or something.

One day my dad and I drove our little four speed mini-pickup over there to pay the unknown owner a visit. Upon closer inspection, the car was an R/T, with a 383 Magnum and a four-speed. My heart started thumping again with the prospects of getting this one for cheap. We knocked on the door and the owner, a young man, maybe in his mid twenties, came out and explained that he was interested in selling the car. To get my adrenaline flowing, he started talking about how fast the car was and how “it just wants to go faster all the time.” (it didn’t make any sense but I was willing to believe anything and it sounded good). I still had a paranoia about powerful four speeds, but I figured it would be something I could get over for the right price.

The guy tried to start the 383, but the battery was dead. Without a thought, my dad asked me to move our truck closer so they could hook up jumper cables, which I did without question. But then the most unexpected thing happened as I tried to nudge the truck closer to the Challenger’s battery… I pressed the clutch in and suddenly panic overcame me. The truck started rolling on its own!

My foot neglected the brake pedal. (Oh *%$#!) To this day, I remember the owner’s expression, a look of complete unadulterated shock as he sat at the Challenger’s driver’s seat watching helplessly as I glided the truck right smack into his fender!

Thankfully, I don’t remember my dad yelling or getting really insane (being a paratrooper in the War, it seemed like things had to get a lot worse before he blew his top).

The guy still asked if we wanted to buy his R/T, for $1850. But it was too much. Maybe, I was just too embarrassed to deal. My Dad helped pay 150 dollars for him to get his dent repaired. The guy said he was going to get the car painted anyways, which he did, painting it black before selling the R/T for about $2400.

Too good to be true. Maybe it was the haunted house.

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* The old “haunted house” became a historical site and has since been relocated and renovated. It stands at Shoreline Park, Mountain View, about a mile away from its original location.

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

Copyright © 2014 ChallenYee.com. TheDodgeKid.com  All Rights Reserved.

A Close Call with Luck

Challen’s Challenger Story – continued: A Close Call with Luck

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A purple Challenger T/A – Added effects to image, original sourced from http://www.kimballstock.com

 

In 1977, when I was in 9th grade, my older brothers’ friend told me about some guy who was selling a purple 1970 Challenger T/A for $2400. He said it had a 340 6-pak and a four speed. This was a very exciting proposition, but I was unsure for two reasons: one, I didn’t have half that much money and, two, I didn’t know how to drive a four speed… Wait that’s not completely true. I may have known how to drive a four speed (practicing on my Dad’ Japanese mini-pickup), but being the young kid venturing into manly things, I had no concept of how to handle real POWER.

The imminent possibilities of getting a Challenger, especially something like the T/A, was an absolutely fantastic and unreal concept, a real teenage kid’s wild dream. Being the young teenage kid, I thought that maybe a T/A was just too awesome and would somehow be a complete outrage in the hands of an inexperienced kid who hadn’t even earned his driver’s license yet. Well, after a few days, talking with my brothers and my Dad, my fear changed to consideration. With my dad’s help, my consideration evolved into realization that just maybe this was going to be THE Challenger. My hands began to sweat…

I could just about feel my anxious fingers folding around that pistol grip Hurst shifter, the throaty rumble of the exhaust, the engine sucking in low flying birds through the hood scoop, and the complete satisfaction that results from having earth pounding horsepower plaster my back against a bucket seat. A machine like a T/A seemed to have some unearthly power to launch my life into manhood like almost nothing else could! With the green light sparkling, we called to follow up on the sale. But, wouldn’t you know it, the seller decided not to sell! (#%&*, I always get slightly annoyed when I remember that experience).

 

Next: What’s Lime Green and sits under a tree looking like it left to rot in the weeds? It’s not an apple.

 

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

 

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Challen’s Challenger Story – The Beginning

Writer’s Note: I found this manuscript I wrote in 2004 after I began to show my restored Challenger T/A. The story was intended to be a feature article in Mopar Muscle Magazine that never happened. I submitted it and I managed to get a photo with a Mopar Muscle written caption under Reader Rides.

So I’m going to reproduce the whole thing, written mostly as it was in 2004, including a brief reference to Vanishing Point somewhere. I’ll break it in several parts just for you  internet Mopar guys and gals to nibble on (while you’re waiting for me to change my thermostat on my white car). 

 

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From the Dodge Ad for the 1970 Hemi Challenger: “This Pony has Horses.” Image source: google

 

CHALLEN’S CHALLENGER STORY

by Challen Yee

 

THE BEGINNING 

Back in 1975, when I was a young kid growing up Palo Alto, near San Francisco, I had dreams of having my own muscle car. My older brothers, who were too old for me to hang out with, would come home and feed me fascinating stories of their exploits which often had to do with their muscle cars or their friends’ cars, where they went or what they did – to me it all seemed larger than life.

When I became of age, around 12 or 13, my friends at Jordan Junior High School were motorheads and we all chose an American muscle car as our favorite. We had no idea these allegiances would last a lifetime. Which car would I choose?

Through my parent’s creativity, they chose to name me, their third son, “Challen.” They said that without the “GE”, I’d have to generate my own power. This stroke of fate is what led me to investigate the Dodge Challenger as my muscle car of choice.

One of the first Challenger ads I remember seeing was the one with the red 1970 Challenger R/T. The ad read: “This Pony has Horses.” Across the page was this sinisterly scooped, shaker-hooded machine that started my young imagination rolling. Underneath read some specifications that seemed to reverberate with massive earth-quaking power. Magical words like “Hemi” and “R/T” would forever be etched in my mind. My lifetime relationship with the great MoPar classic had begun.

One local story I’ll always remember about  E-body street machines was about a guy in Palo Alto. His name was Curt (or Kirk) Martin – it was reported that with his plum crazy (violet) 1970 440 `Cuda, he could light up his rear tires on the highway at 60 miles per hour. I never met Curt, but I’ll always associate his name with his powerful 440 `Cuda.

Challengers turned out to be an awesome choice. It seemed like it was a rare selection for a favorite car amongst the kids I grew up with, which suited me fine, because the Challenger was going to be my ticket to a unique ride.

 

A Young Imagination

In anticipation of buying my own car, I was working my tail off working for my dad’s roofing contracting company over the summers in hopes that someday I could find and afford the ‘perfect’ Challenger. I could draw, write stories about, speak tirelessly of, and imagine wildly about Challengers all day if everybody let me.

Today, kids are reading Harry Potter books; back then I was cranking out cruising stories, glorifying muscle cars and street machines and the cool “dudes” and “chicks” that drove them. One short story I wrote was about buying a used Hemi Challenger in 1984 for $500 (of course this is Orwellian fiction), and another would make a great script for a zany remake of a Cannonball Movie, called “The Great Desert Car Rally”… 186 hand-written pages, starring a tricked out Challenger with a turbo-charged 340 and an enormous cast of cars and characters. There’s more, like the unfinished 500 page hand-written novel (main car: Challenger) with even more cars and characters… but back to reality.

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Next Part: What happened when someone offered to sell his purple T/A for $2400.

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The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976. I think I wore this hat everyday through my Freshman year in high school. Photo by Nick Yee

The Dodge Kid in his youth about 1976.

 

Copyright © 2014 ChallenYee.com. TheDodgeKid.com  All Rights Reserved.