Back in March, 1996 Don Hare of Pasadena, Texas, read a for sale ad in the Houston Chronicle for a '71 Challenger R/T. It was being sold by Landmark Chevy in Houston; a dealership well known for dealing a few specialty cars along with new Chevys. The ad read something to the effect of, "1971 Challenger R/T, loaded, candy apple red with AM/FM stereo". Don, a Mopar fanatic from way back and owner of a Superbird project, was soon on the spot to investigate. Things were not quite as advertised.
The car was not "candy apple redĒ, it was Tor-red, and it didn't have an AM/FM stereo - in fact it was a radio delete car! Most astonishing was that it had only 13,000 miles showing and appeared to be an outstanding unrestored survivor! The machine had some very odd equipment, but after looking over, under, and all throughout the Challenger, Don knew he had to have it. A deal was struck and he set about gathering up his money.
Two days later the dealership called and informed Don the deal was off. Understandably miffed at not being given a reason, he was promised he would be the first person contacted when the car was again available for sale. In June, the call came. Thus time he managed to buy the ultra-clean Challenger and became the proud owner of what turned out to be a very mysterious car.
What Don has is perhaps one of the best traveled E-bodies in the world. While the 13,000 miles on the odometer is very likely true, this buggy has actually traveled considerably farther than that! One of the things that tipped Don off rather quickly that his Challenger was something out-of-the-ordinary were the headlights. The inboard headlights are weird foreign made halogen jobs unlike anything else in the known universe.
Other oddities soon presented themselves. Most notably, the stainless rocker molding. That's not standard Challenger fare, and appears to be the same moldings used on some late 1960s Darts. It looked factory installed, which puzzled Don. Then, on the broadcast sheet, he finds an obscure notation declaring the car as being an "export model". An export model? This merited examination.
A very time consuming paper chase led from one dead end to another. This Challenger's background is as mysterious as a Sherlock Holmes novel! The story begins with the car being built in December, 1970, at the Hamtramck plant in Michigan. It's a 383, automatic car, with power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, a black vinyl top, and a white interior.
A radio and stripe delete car, it has power windows! None of that is exceptionally odd by itself, but itís definitely not typical. from 1970 to 1986, the Challengerís whereabouts is still unknown. Where the car was shipped to or who it was delivered to remains a mystery. The first reference to the Challenger places the car r places the car in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1986! How does an R/T Challenger end up in the largest city of South Africa? Who knows?
Regardless, the car was shipped from an unknown port in South Africa in 1986 to a new owner who lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. The car was transported on a ship called "Mercury", and arrived back in the United States through Los Angeles. It was then shipped to Scottsdale and registered. At that time, the paperwork stated the car's mileage at just over 8,000 miles!
Trading hands again in Arizona two years later, the registration showed 8,800 miles. Then, once more, the Challenger vanished. It didn't surface again until 1995 in Rhode Island! It was owned by a patient in a V.A. hospital who sold it to his doctor. It was the doctor who traded the Challenger to Landmark Chevy for a Tahoe 4x4 pickup!
As it turns out, the reason the dealership backed out of the initial deal was because they didn't have a clear title. Go figure! With as much traveling as this thing's done, it's a wonder the paperwork ever got straightened out!
Literally, presuming this car departed the United States via the St. Lawrence Seaway and went across the Atlantic to South Africa, then back across the Pacific to the U.S. through Los Angeles, it has literally been around the world! And after all that, the odometer shows only 13,000 actual miles!
Proof of the ultra low mileage is borne out by the car's condition. Thatís original paint, the interior and top are original, and aside from minor points and detailing, the engine bay is vintage 1971. Those are original hoses, belts, and clamps. Obviously, the battety's been changed and the tires were replaced not too long ago. Don put on new shocks all around and had to replace one of the original mufflers. The original thinline whitewall Goodyear Polyglas spare tire still resides in the trunk.
Today, there's 13,700 miles on the clock, and Don drives the bizarre Challenger just enough to keep the systems working. With as much traveling as this one's done, he doesn't want to be the first to prang it driving around Houston! It's certain to be a regular at area car shows for years to come.
Don continues to research the very unusual history on this one. Perhaps one day all the holes in its past will be filled and things will make more sense. If any of you Mopar fanatics out there know something of its history, there's a guy in Texas that would really like to talk to you! You can contact Don at 713-477-4724 in the evenings. Let's go gang! Somebody out there knows this car, let's solve another Mopar mystery! OP
May 25, 1997