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Hemi in hiding

Rare Challenger a show stopper after 35-year slumber

The 1971 Dodge Hemi Challenger “Mr. Norm’s” GSS hardtop has
a 116-inch wheelbase and tips the scale at 4,140 lbs. With white
stripes on a red finish, the car is an eye-catching Dodge. It has a
black vinyl interior and optional wood-grain steering wheel.

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Their 1971 Challenger is far from an economy car with its 426-cid/425-hp engine, four-speed transmission and Super Track Pack rear axle. The car doesn’t clunk, but it could clobber lots of its street racing rivals in the Traffic Light Grand Prix.

Dodge had scored a hit with its first pony car, the 1970 Challenger. Up until then, Chrysler’s “white hat” division had relied on special versions of the mid-size Charger and Coronet to please anyone wanting big muscle. Those who preferred pint-sized performance had some hot editions of the compact Dart to choose from. The Challenger was something else and won immediate acclaim.

With the Plymouth Barracuda due for a total restyling in 1970, Mopar management finally handed Dodge the same package. This allowed it to create a truly sporty compact car with a 2 + 2 configuration that allowed it to compete head-to-head with Pontiac’s Firebird and Mercury’s Cougar.

The Challenger succeeded so well that it outsold the Barracuda in its first year. The muscular Dodge racked up 83,000 units of production versus 55,000 for Plymouth’s “fish” car. The next season, though, sales fell off drastically and the Challenger sold just 30,000 units. That’s not the only thing that makes Mike and Ivy’s car a rarity, however. Their Challenger was purchased as a new car from Chicago’s high-performance king, Mr. Norm of Grand Spaulding Dodge. It is one of approximately 12 Hemi Challengers made with the same drive train and the desirable “shaker” hood.

With the Challenger, Dodge was clearly selling performance in a package that looked the part. It’s not surprising that 93 percent of the 1971 model run was fitted with V-8 engines, even though the “slant six” was available. Nearly 17 percent were optional engines, ranging all the way up to the 425-hp Hemi that is under the hood of the Guarises’ car.

From a historical perspective, 1971 turned out to be the last year for the 426-cid Hemi as a factory option. New emissions standard, safety rules and insurance considerations put the horsepower race under a caution flag in 1972. However, in 1971, Dodge was definitely promoting power and performance and Mr. Norm was happy to stir in some of his own ingredients.

The Street Hemi engine, a $790 option on the ’71 Challenger, had continued basically unchanged after its introduction in 1966. It had a bore and stroke of 4.25 x 3.75 inches, a 10.25:1 compression ratio, hydraulic valve lifters and dual four-barrel Carter AFB carbs mounted inline.

On the Hemi Challengers, a flat-black finished air scoop was mounted to the carbs and poked through a hole in the hood. The impressive “shaker” hood was so named because you could watch the torque twist the engine as throttle was applied. Some cars also had chrome NASCAR-style hood hold-down pins.

The original owner of the Guarises’ car elected to have Mr. Norm replace the shaker hood with a lightweight fiberglass hood. The legendary tweaker was then asked to bolt on a set of headers and add his Stage III “Dynotuned” engine upgrades.

As indicated by the R/T initials at the tail ends of the white body stripes, the car has Dodge’s “Road & Track” high-performance goodies. The R/T package for the ’71 Challenger included Rallye suspension, an instrument cluster with an 8,000-rpm tachometer and 150-mph speedometer, plus heavy-duty drum brakes, chrome exhaust tips and distinctive graphic stripes.

Other extras included twin outside rearview mirrors and an AM/FM/cassette stereo with rear speakers and a microphone.

After a summer of terrorizing the streets of Madison, Wis., in 1971, this car was sold to a friend of the original owner. The new owner had realized that it was a rare piece and decided to preserve it. The car was coated in WD-40 and put into storage, and it remained in hibernation for the next 35 years.

In 2006, the car was taken out of storage and Mopar historian Galen Govier was contacted to inspect the vehicle and document its history. The Challenger was covered with dust, but turned out to be a remarkably well-preserved car.

Now, it is thought to be one of the most-original, most-documented, lowest-mileage Hemi Challengers in existence.


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