Car of the Week: 1966 Dodge Hemi Charger

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By Brian Earnest

The license plates on Cameron Moore’s 1966 Dodge Hemi Charger read “Mr. Hemi.” It might be more fitting if they said “Mr. Happy.”

There is simply nobody more enamored with ’66 Chargers, and rare Hemi Chargers in particular, than Moore, a resident of Auburn, Ind. You’d think living in the land of Classics — Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg — that Moore would be devotee of prewar luxury masterpieces. Instead, he is a champion, car owner and head cheerleader for the 426-infused first-year Chargers.

He’s had other Chargers. In fact, the first car he ever owned as a teenager was brand new 1966 Charger. But nothing gets Moore’s blood pumping like the roar of Dodge’s famed Street Hemi.

“The 383 car [Charger I owned] was a very strong-running car, but the Hemi car, the moment you start it and put foot your foot on the clutch and your hand on the wheel, your heart starts to race. It’s a beast!” Moore says with a laugh. “It makes you feel good to drive it … It’s a great feeling.”

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Moore’s love affair with the Charger began when the model first arrived for the 1966 model year — a few months before Moore was even old enough to drive. He was only 15, but the young horsepower-loving Moore had his eyes fixed firmly on his future as he was hoarding the dollars he made delivering newspapers, picking blueberries and doing other odd jobs. Before long, he had enough cash to purchase a new 383-powered Charger while he was still a sophomore in high school. “I had to wait for a month before I was old enough to drive it!” he recalls. “I couldn’t afford the $800 extra for the Hemi, and now I’m glad I couldn’t. I probably would have wrecked it.”

Moore had his first Charger for many years, but he always harbored dreams of procuring one of the 468 1966 Chargers that left the factory with a Street Hemi. In 1998, his big chance finally came when his son Chris found a promising lead north of the border.

“A ship builder owned it in Clark’s Harbor, Nova Scotia,” Moore says. “He got it from the friend of the original owner, who was a rocket scientist in Livermore, Calif. He had owned it originally and had it for a long time, and when he died the car went to Toronto, and then to Nova Scotia.

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“When we ran the history on the car, it was fantastic. The guy who had it originally worked on rockets, and he drove a 426 Hemi to work! The guy apparently was into propulsion!”

Moore had told his son his dream car had to be a ’66 Charger, had to be a Hemi, and he wanted it silver, because that was the color of his first car. The car in Nova Scotia fit all those criteria, and it was a four-speed car to boot. “At that point I really didn’t know much about the car, I just new I had to have it,” Moore chuckles. “We made a deal and we drove to Portland, Maine, to meet the “Scotia Prince,” and that’s where they off-loaded it. It’s been all good ever since!”

According to Moore, the second owner in Toronto had re-done the Charger’s engine and body, so much of restoration work needed on the ’66 was already complete. Moore and his son finished it off by gutting the interior. “The interior needed to be re-done and we re-did everything completely — carpeting, new instruments, we rechromed the dash… My son and I did it all. The engine and exterior were in perfect shape. Having that much done already was a bonus.”

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Dodge’s fabulous ‘fastback’

Fastback styling was back in vogue in the mid-1960s and the Dodge Charger was a participant in the “Dodge Rebellion,” an advertising and promotional campaign that pushed high-performance motoring. The Charger was really based on the Coronet platform and had essentially the same lower body styling, but with a more streamlined look and rich interior appointments and trimmings. With its low and wide roof line, the Charger showcased a drastic interpretation of fastback styling. Its “electric razor” grille was also quite distinctive looking.

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Soon after the Charger arrived on the scene, almost every car enthusiast magazine rushed to take a test drive and publish the results. Most magazines tested Chargers with the 383-cid V-8, a big-block engine that cranked out 325 hp at 4800 rpm. This combination was actually quite fast, with Car and Driver registering a 7.8-second 0-to-60 time and doing the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds at 88 mph. With the same engine and tranny, Motor Trend reported an 8.9-second 0-to-60 time and 16.3 seconds for the quarter-mile at 85 mph. The huffing-and-puffing Hemi could shave 2 seconds or more off those acceleration times.

Though the car itself was large, refined and heavy, the availability of the optional 426-cid Hemi V-8 engine made the Charger a genuine contender for the hottest niche in the muscle car market. The 425-hp big-block V-8 featured a pair of four-barrel carburetors, extra-wide dual exhausts and all sorts of heavy-duty performance hardware. The Hemi package also included engine call-out badges, a heavy-duty suspension, larger brakes and 7.75 x 14 Blue Streak racing tires. The use of either a four-speed manual gear box or a TorqueFlite automatic transmission was mandatory. Dodge specified that the Hemi’s short 12-month or 12,000 miles warranty would be invalidated by “extreme operation” or driveline modifications.

Total production of 1966 Chargers hit 37,300 cars. Of the 468 that had Hemis, only 218 featured TorqueFlite. NASCAR drivers thought the fastback roof would enhance the Charger’s aerodynamics in Grand National stock car racing. However, they actually tended to lift at the rear, a problem that the race car builders solved by adding a small rear deck lid spoiler. After that, the Chargers won 18 races.

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Cameron & Cameron

An unexpected bonus of 1966 Charger ownership for Cameron turned out to be his friendship with late Ford and Chrysler Corp. designer Carl Cameron, who helped create the Charger design during his 30-plus years penning cars for Chrysler. The two “Cams” not only shared a name, but a passion for the Charger. “We became friends and we had him over for dinner … To hear him tell all the stories about the design process, it was just great,” Moore recalls. “It was just so amazing to meet the man who designed my car and get to be friends with him. That was really a thrill.”

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Moore’s ’66 is completely documented and is considered one of the finest ’66 Hemi Chargers in the land. It has been a show winner, concours participant and recently spent a stint on display in front of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. It isn’t a trailer dweller, however. Moore puts regular miles on the Silver Charger and prefers to attend shows and events that he can drive to. He’s even had the Charger on the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, turning some hot laps.

“My No. 1 goal when I got it is that I just wanted to have it!” Cameron laughs. “My No. 2 goal was to leave it completely stock, and No. 3 was to get it as nice as possible, and getting it as nice as I can has rewarded me immensely. You know how it is. In the car hobby, it starts out being all about the car … but then turns into the people you meet and all the experiences you have. That’s the icing on the cake.

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“I’ve never taken it to MoPar Nationals or to Carlisle, and I’d like to do that,” he says. “Even though it’s a very nice, very expensive car, I still prefer to drive it instead of trailering it. The fun for me is in driving it.

“The car has been so dependable, it’s not funny. And when I’m driving, I never turn the radio on because my entertainment is listening to the car.”

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