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Car of the Week: 1974 Dodge Charger SE

Tom Brickbauer got some sound advice from some of his car-loving friends a few years ago. Today, he’s glad he listened.
Car of the Week 2020
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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Tom Brickbauer got some sound advice from some of his car-loving friends a few years ago.

Today, he’s glad he listened.

The Kiel, Wis., resident had been leaning toward getting rid of the 1974 Dodge Charger SE he had owned since it was new. The car needed some work and was still in original condition, and Brickbauer thought it was probably time to unload it.

“I was going to get rid of it and buy a Challenger, a new one!” laughs Brickbauer. “I really liked the new Challengers, but then people said you should keep [the Charger]. ‘You’ll be sorry. It’s got all the paperwork and all the numbers matching and everything.’

“So instead of spending the money on a new Challenger, we had this car restored and we go all over with it now. We love it.”

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Their ride of choice is a triple-green SE that has served the family well over the years and remains in amazing shape given that it has only been partially restored. Brickbauer had the car stripped and painted a new coat of green, and had some rust issues fixed under the rocker panels. Beyond that, the Charger is wonderfully original.

“No, I never would have thought we’d still have it,” he says. “We had a ‘69 Dodge Charger — you know, the ‘Dukes of Hazzard — and I had that for a few years before we got married and we could afford a new car. So we traded that in and ordered this Charger. We’ve had it ever since and we drove it for about eight years as a family car. Then we said we were going to keep one of these Chargers, and so we put it away and got rid of the other one.

“We drove it to car shows and did all that, and then somebody banged into the fender and beat it up, and we couldn’t fix it because the car was all faded and if we fixed it the rest would all stand out. So we said, ‘When we restore the car we’ll fix the fender and fix everything else,’ so about four years ago we decided we were going to keep it and we took it in [to be restored].”

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The car sat mostly idle for about 15 years before Brickbauer and his wife Marilyn decided to finally pull the trigger and have it worked on. The couple had driven it occasionally and made a few appearances at car shows over the years. The fact that the car wasn’t in overly rough shape made the decision easier.

So did the fact the Brickbauers loved the looks, styling and personality of the Charger SE as much today and they did back in 1974. “We wanted the SE style with no back [quarter] window with the three louvered windows,” he says. “Then we put a special steering wheel — the tufted steering wheel I guess they call it — and we put the other rims on it. We were going to put a 340 or 360 motor in it, and the salesman talked us out of it because it was going to be a family car. He says you’ll never be able to afford the gas, so we got the smaller 318 in there. A lot of people said you should get a bigger motor in there [when you restore it], but I said it’s all original, so why would you mess up the car?

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“It served us beautifully, and the interior is original. The vinyl top is original. In the back we didn’t use any [children 's] car seats, so the seats stay good. Nowadays the car seats would ruin the seats.”

Of course, one of the most unique qualities of the car is its attention-grabbing metallic green paint, accented by a forest green vinyl top and matching green interior. Dodge called the paint “Frosty Green Metallic”, and it definitely makes the car stand out.

“We picked out the car and I let her pick out the color and she said I want something different. She gets credit for that. We love it. Everybody else does, too.”

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The Brickhbauers also added the “Easy Order Package” for $578.70, which included the Torqueflite automatic, power steering, power brakes, inside hood release, undercoating, bumper guards and a few other goodies. Other add-ons, including an AM/FM stereo, chrome styled wheels and “Brougham Package” with vinyl bucket seats, electric clock and Deluxe steering wheel, brought the total bill to $4,601.55

Generation 3: The Charger rolls on

It was a few years removed from its late-1960s heyday, but the Charger — in the fourth and final year of it’s third generation — was still a fun, stylish and popular car in 1974. The SE, with a base price of $3,742, was slotted as the most refined and expensive of the Chargers, with its fancier roof treatment and a few other tweaks setting it apart from its siblings. A total of 30,957 of the Charger SEs were built for ’74, with all carrying V-8 power.

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Sadly, the R/T, 440 Six Pack and Hemi V8s were long gone, having been discontinued after 1971, but there was still a long list of options and engine choices available for Charger buyers. The standard Charger continued as the base trim level and included all federally mandated safety and pollution equipment; 225-cid Slant Six (or 318-cid V-8) engine; cigarette lighter; dual horns; color-keyed carpeting; inside day/night mirror; roof drip rail and wheelwell moldings; and two-speed windshield wipers. The Charger Rallye option included all the standard Charger features plus front and rear sway bars; F70–14 raised white letter black sidewall tires; power bulge hood; Rallye instrument cluster; body tape stripes; hood pins and special exterior ornamentation.

The Charger SE had the Landau vinyl top with filled quarter windows and six opera windows; electric clock; concealed headlights; inside hood release; belt and rear hood moldings; front stone shield molding; Deluxe wheel covers; front bench seat with folding center armrests, Light Group; Rallye instrument cluster; and F78-14 black sidewall tires.

For buyers who wanted more oomph than the 150-horse 318 could provide, two- and four-barrel 360-cid V-8s were popular choices. They were rated at 200 and 245 hp, respectively. A 400-cid two-barrel (205 hp), 400-cid four-barrel (250 hp) and four-barrel 440 V-8 (275) hp were also available for those who wanted to thumb their nose at the gas crunch.

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The changes to the 1974 models were minor. The 340 was dropped, the interior grains and patterns changed slightly, and the rubber bumper tips were enlarged, but for the most part the ’73 and ’74 Chargers were the same cars. They carried the Torsion-Quiet Ride suspension setup introduced in 1973, and disc brakes were standard on the front. A three-speed manual transmission was also standard, but for a few more greenbacks a buyer could have a four-speed pistol-grip Hurst unit.

Seeing green, again!

The Brickbauers had their Charger living in a small restoration shop for more than two years before it finally reappeared, looking almost new again. The rust below the doors was fixed and the dented rear fender was cut out and replaced with new metal. The heads on the 318 were shaved and new gaskets were installed, but the engine didn’t receive a full overhaul. Even with 135,000-plus miles today, it still runs quiet and smooth.

“It turned out really good. We had it in a small shop and everybody said you can’t have it there. It’s not going to turn out,’” Tom said. “But we can’t complain at all. It took 2 ½ years. I kept after him and I ordered all the parts… We kept everything original, exactly like it was… We’re pretty much into all-original cars. We had a ’39 Chevy at home. It’s a two-door sedan, Master Deluxe, and it’s in this same condition.”

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“Yes, I’m very careful with it. But we drive it all the time… I can go 65, 70 down the highway no problem. It’s not too bad at all.

“We’ve just have always liked the car and we’ve had a lot of fun with it. We get a lot of compliments on it.”

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