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Car of the Week: 1969 Dodge Charger R/T

Louis Barrie's dream car didn't arrive as he had dreamt – the body was off the car, in a state of partial restoration, while most of the rest of the car was in boxes. But it was a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T, and Barrie had wanted one for as long as he could remember.
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By Brian Earnest

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Most old car buffs have dreams of their “someday” cars. As in, “someday, somehow, I want to own one of those.” It might be a Duesenberg, a split-window Corvette, a 1960s VW Super Beetle, or a Model T Ford. Quite often, they are out of our reach, but it sure doesn’t hurt to dream.

Louis Barrie came across his personal “someday” machine back in 2006. It might not have arrived as he had dreamt – the body had been stripped and was in a state of partial restoration, while most of the rest of the car was in boxes. But it was a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T, and Barrie had wanted one for as long as he could remember.

When opportunity knocks, sometimes you jump now and ask questions later. So Barrie, a resident of West Hills, Calif., decided someday had come. “I grew up in a MoPar family and 1969 was the year I got my driver’s license,” he said. We were big Dodge people and we had a ’66 Charger and this would have been the car I would have wanted, either this or ’70. So this car was very near and dear to my heart.”

“It was in pieces … but I’m one of those guys that prefers perfection, and typically if I bought someone else’s [finished car] it would not have been what I wanted anyway. I had some experience because I had just gone through it with my [1960 Chrysler 300F], so I had no real reservations. I thought this one would be easier than the Chrysler because I knew all the parts were available.”

Barrie knew for certain that he was inheriting a car with a lot of potential. The body was off the car, but it was straight, rust-free and didn’t need much more than some sanding and a good paint job. Some of the important restoration work had already been done, and within six months Barrie had the beautiful Dodge back on the road.

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“The restorer who had done the work on my Chrysler let me know about the car. It was in his shop and he wanted to get it out of there … He had the engine and had all the parts there. The body shop was sitting over at the body shop. The engine had been done and transmission all done and lot of the chrome had been sent out and basically just in boxes. I had it all put back together in very meticulous OEM style.

“I found out later the car had never been in an accident. It probably should have been a survivor car and been left alone. It was just a case of somebody getting all excited and starting a restoration and then running out of money. The car had about 110,000 on odometer. It was just a beautiful car. All the lines matched up just like it came out of the factory. I detailed the suspension and put everything on new that could be new. The vinyl top had been pulled off the car and all the holes had been sealed up, but when we decoded the car we found it had the vinyl top. It was an R/T and it was an SE.”

Dodge’s beautiful B-Body muscle cruiser got a major restyling in 1968, and the company didn’t mess much with a good thing for the 1969 model year. As Motor Trend put it, “That brute Charger styling, that symbol of masculine virility, was still intact.”

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The fastback styling gave the Chargers a long, lean, “don’t mess with me” appearance. The grille was divided into two sections and the taillights were tweaked slightly. Inside, the dash instruments were given white lettering on a black background, but not much else differed from 1968.

The R/T (Road/Track) was the juiced-up member of the Charger lineup. It came only as a two-door hardtop coupe with a base price of $3,592 and a factory shipping weight of 3,636 lbs. That included the 440-cid Magnum V-8, with a four-barrel carburetor and a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The R/T package also included low-restriction dual exhausts with chrome tips, heavy-duty manually adjusted drum brakes, F70-14 Red Line tires, the R/T heavy-duty handling package and bumblebee stripes.

With a 3.55:1 rear axle, the standard-equipped 440-powered model (which came with a column-mounted gear shift lever no less) was found capable of running down the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds at 101.4 mph. The R/T was the only Charger available with the Hemi V-8 engine again this year. The 426-cid/425-hp powerhouse had a $648 price tag in 1969.

Charger R/T production went from the 1969 total of 17,582 units up to 20,057 units. A new option package for Chargers that was also available on the R/T models was the SE (or Special Edition) interior with leather bucket seats, lots of extra lights and wood-grained trim pieces. Sinking in popularity to 400 production units was the Hemi Charger R/T. Around 192 of the Hemi-powered cars had four-speed manual transmissions in 1969.

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“Mine’s got the leather package, woodgrained instrument panel … air conditioning, 440 Magnum, power brakes and windows, Magnum wheels and Red Stripe tires, AM radio, Tic-Toc tach. It was a nicely equipped car,” Barrie said. “To have power windows and air is really nice. The car was ordered new the way I would have ordered it in 1969, which was also very attractive to me. “

Barrie actually had his Charger painted twice. The first paint job wasn’t a very good one, he said, and then “right at the end, the restorer basically moved out of the state and I had to have somebody else [Restorations by Julius] finish off the car.” The new interior came from Legendary. Barrie was eventually able to track down some of the parts that needed replacing or were missing, including a steering wheel and center console. He left the drum brakes on all four corners intact. Ditto with the 3:55 Positraction rear end.

Barrie admits there is a fine line between being “a perfectionist” who wants the car to be authentic and look new, and crossing over into the lunatic fringe, where no matter how much time, effort and money you sink into a project, there is always something more you could do. “Well, I really didn’t want to over-restore the car,” he said. “I wanted to make the car a good show car, and with that in mind I wanted to do everything as original as possible — at least that could be seen. Putting chalk marks in the trunk and under the suspension — I do stuff like that! But I wanted the car to look right. I didn’t want that ‘2-foot-deep, shiny paint, clear coat’ paint job. That just doesn’t look like the car was when it was new.

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“And I also want to drive it, too. I don’t believe in trailer queens.”

Barrie says he gets the R/T regular exercise these days and has no worries about adding a few more miles to the odometer. The biggest challenge, he says, is finding the right gas. “I wouldn’t hesitate to take the car anywhere, as long as I can get gasoline,” he said. “The biggest detriment to a road trip is having to run on the racing gas. Basically, we just have lousy gasoline and it’s hard to get it running well on that 91 octane garbage. Really, it needs to run on the racing gas, and around here that’s about 7 bucks a gallon.”

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The car gets 12-15 mph running the racing gas, “but I don’t really watch it that close, because otherwise you get depressed,” Barrie joked. “I’m not using the car every day, so that justifies using the racing gas.”

Challenges keeping the tank filled certainly haven’t dimmed Barrie’s enthusiasm for his Charger. He says it is exactly the car he envisioned when he bought the bare body shell and all those boxes of parts.

“It was exactly as I remembered,” he said. “My brother had a 69 Coronet R/T and I remember that car so well. There are certain things you don’t forget. This felt the same way. Everything was familiar, from the whine of the transmission, to the sound of the exhaust. Everything was as it should have been.”

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