A Beginner’s Guide to Building Your Own Hemi Charger

Remember the “That Thing Got a Hemi” television commercial of more than 20 years ago? It did a lot to make enthusiasts fall in love with the ’68-’70 Chargers. I photographed the ’68 Charger that appeared in the commercial in 2006, perched on a trailer behind a Ram truck, just as it appeared in the commercial. Paul Stenquist

Stellantis’ introduction of a new Dodge Charger has some lovers of Mopar muscle frowning. Most car folk like the sleek new Charger shape shown by the international automotive conglomerate, and most agree that the technology beneath that shape is impressive, but many are mourning the loss of an engine that reigned as king of brute power for 70 years, the Hemi. The storied engine saw three generations over a period of more than 70 years—each version providing the kind of high-torque performance that shreds tires and sets hearts racing—and is no longer an option that Dodge buyers can check off. What, some may ask, is a Charger without a Hemi?

While it will soon be impossible to purchase a brand-new Hemi-powered Dodge Charger, you can still build your own. If you act quickly, you can still buy a 2023 four-door Charger with the Generation III Hemi that was introduced in 2003, but that’s not the car that comes to mind when I think of a Hemi Charger. Maybe it’s just me—I’m older than dirt and my automotive fantasies are rooted largely in the past—but when I hear the phrase “Hemi Charger,” the picture in my mind is a ’68–70 version with two doors, that distinctive coke bottle shape, and a gorgeous swept-back roof line. In brief, the car that looks like it’s approaching 200 mph when it’s standing still.

1968 Dodge Charger custom side profile
The ’68 Charger that appeared in the Dodge “That Thing Got a Hemi” commercial belonged to Steve Lippman of Michigan. The numbers-matching car was originally silver, but when Steve restored it, he told the painter to put red in the gun. If he hadn’t made that call, the car wouldn’t have been a Hollywood star; back in the day, Dodge used only red cars in television commercials.Paul Stenquist

While it is no longer cheap to buy a used Hemi Charger of ’68–70 vintage—Hagerty values an Excellent condition 1970 Charger R/T with a Hemi at $194,000—Mopar enthusiasts who are willing to think outside the box of originality have multiple alternatives, ranging from cutting edge and expensive to garage-bound and more cost-effective. The most pricey is purchasing a carbon-bodied 1970 Charger built for you on a Roadster Shop chassis and a Dodge unibody. Or you can eschew the woven panels and buy just the rolling chassis, but you’ll still be deep into six figures. Those on a budget have options, too: For around 60 big ones, if you do most of the work yourself, you can build a nice, high-powered clone of a classic Hemi Charger. Naturally, the more work you outsource, the more that bill will rise. Of course, yours will be a clone rather than the genuine item, but you won’t have to fret as much when driving it to a car show, and you get to let your creativity run wild.

A complete step-by-step guide to designing and building a vintage Hemi Charger would require book-length treatment. In this article, I’ll try to point you in the right direction: I’ll explain what I’ve learned in researching this topic and give you the names of some aftermarket companies that can provide the hardware you’ll need. Many of those companies will also provide a lot of help as you work your way toward the project’s completion. Some have even published instructions on how to use their products in building the car. 

The Carbon-Fiber Super Chargers

Finale Speed carbon fiber 1970 Dodge Charger side profile
The Finale Speed carbon-fiber 1970 Dodge Charger is built on a Roadster Shop perimeter frame. Under that carbon fiber is a Dodge unibody, but the perimeter frame provides the rigidity.Finale Speed

Let’s start with the most expensive option. Direct Connection, the parts supplier for Dodge automobiles, offers a 1970 Charger “rolling chassis” with a carbon-fiber body produced by Finale Speed, an Oklahoma-based maker of high-end automotive restoration parts. What you get is the unpainted carbon fiber body, a perimeter chassis, front and rear suspension, a race-car-worthy rear axle, a carbon-fiber floor, and high-tech disc brakes. No interior upholstery or engine is included. The perimeter frame, which Finale Speed sources from Roadster Shop, can be fitted with engine mounts for either the classic Generation II engine or the late-model Gen III. Just the rolling chassis will set you back $199,000. A complete car, fully outfitted and ready to cruise, starts at $449,000. 

A Starting Point

That rolling chassis would be a nice foundation for a classic Charger build, and those of you with really fat wallets might want to open them up, but for most of us, such a proposition is far too expensive. If you find yourself in that majority, you can buy just a perimeter frame complete with suspension and rear axle and start your build from there. Roadster Shop sells a perimeter frame, as do other suppliers, including Schwartz Performance. There are some advantages to starting with a perimeter frame, but by the time you’ve fully outfitted that frame with running gear, you’ll have spent almost half your budget, and you will still need a lot of pieces, including the ’68–70 Charger unibody and all the body panels.

frame chassis for the Finale Speed carbon fiber Super Charger
The same perimeter frame chassis beneath the Finale Speed carbon-fiber Super Charger above is available on its own. Pictured here with optional equipment, the standard chassis includes C7 Corvette spindle and hub assemblies, Fox Coilovers, a front sway bar, engine mounts for various motors, a Strange Engineering Ford 9-inch rear axle housing with S/S 31 spline axles, and parallel four-bar rear suspension. The base price is $19,945.The Roadster Shop

To shed light on the process, I called Rick Ehrenberg, former Tech Editor of the now defunct Mopar Action magazine and a supplier of Mopar parts, information, and restoration service. Over the years, I’ve come to depend on Ehrenberg as an extremely knowledgeable Mopar expert. 

“Is a perimeter frame a good place to start if you want to build a ’68–70 Hemi Charger on a modest budget?” I asked. 

“You’re going to spend a lot going the perimeter frame route,” Ehrenberg said, “and the finished product might not be as good a performance car as you can cobble together if you start with the original Chrysler-built unibody and build it right.”

Ehrenberg explained that the Hemi-powered Chargers of ’68–70 were built on reinforced versions of the standard unibody. The point where the rear leaf-spring hangers were attached was bolstered and a torque box was welded over that. Up front, the area where the front suspension subframe meets the unibody was similarly reinforced, and the area of the floor where the pinion snubber hits the floor was bolstered. 

Those old B-body Chrysler products had torsion-bar front suspension rather than the coil springs that the aftermarket companies install on their Charger clones, and the Hemi cars were fitted with bigger diameter torsion bars and stouter leaf springs in the rear. The cars were somewhat noisy because the torsion bars were anchored right under the front seats and some vibration was transmitted, but the stock Hemi Charger suspension system provided darn good chassis control, and, according to Ehrenberg, a Charger with a correctly bolstered unibody, upgraded suspension and a Dana 60 or Ford 9-inch rear axle can handle massive horsepower. Good guidance for those of us on tighter budgets, then.

Body Beautiful

Whatever route you take to recreating your Charger dreams—short of coming up with that $199K for the rolling chassis—you have to find a vintage unibody. A complete 1970 Charger in fair condition and powered by the 230-horsepower 318 cubic-inch V-8 is valued at $21,900 in the Hagerty Price Guide. That’s a bit pricey, and if you start with a complete car, in addition to upgrading the unibody structure, you are going to have to replace almost all of the running gear and suspension. Finding that car might prove very difficult as well, since many have been turned into Hemi Charger clones.

Alternatively, you can start with less than a full car. I’ve seen bare bones ’68–70 cars, less fenders and doors, in fair condition for $3000 and less. However, door skins and fenders for these cars can cost a fair amount themselves, so if you can find a car with no running gear but with a body that is fairly intact, you can save dollars. Don’t be too cheap, though: Front fenders for these cars are hard to find and reproductions are not currently available, so a car that comes with the fenders is worth a premium.

The car (or part of a car) you start with doesn’t have to be pretty, and if you can find one for less than $10K, it won’t be. Before you start, you should have the car blasted to remove loose rust, old paint, and all the dirt and detritus of more than 50 years. Dustless blasting services can do the job right in your driveway, or if you don’t want to enrage the neighbors, you can haul the car to the supplier’s location. 

Upgrade That Unibody

1969 dodge charger unibody on rotisseries
A ’69 Charger unibody on a rotisserie. Reinforcing it with the USCT Chassis Stiffening kit will make it more rigid than the original ’69 Dodge Hemi Charger. Mopar expert Rick Ehrenberg says this is the way to go if you’re building a Hemi Charger clone that doesn’t break the bank.US Car Tool

It’s extremely doubtful that you will find a unibody in decent shape that came from a Hemi Charger, but the unibody of a base car can be upgraded to match or exceed the strength and rigidity of the factory-built Hemi car. You’ll want to get in touch with USCT Motorsports, a North Carolina company that restores classic Mopars and sells the parts you need to prep the unibody yourself. 

USCT’s chassis-stiffening kits enable you to duplicate the way the factory strengthened the standard unibodies to handle Hemi horsepower, and USCT can even take you beyond that with additional reinforcement. It can also provide the front K-member unique to the Hemi cars. USCT’s Level 2 chassis-strengthening kit includes frame connectors, torque boxes, inner fender braces, and a core support stiffener: In brief, all the pieces you need to render a unibody solid enough for a mega-horsepower Hemi. USCT will also provide directions that illustrate how the various pieces are installed and welded in place. Some trimming and fitting will be necessary to get everything to fit perfectly on a road-worn unibody, but do the work and it will be worthy of a Hemi. The Level 2 kit sells for $1116.94.

Level 2 chassis stiffening kit for dodge charger
The Level 2 Chassis Stiffening kit from USCT. Welded into a unibody, the kit makes a vintage Charger more rigid than the ’68–70 factory Hemi Chargers that Dodge sold.US Car Tool

The standard Charger unibody will allow a substantially large rear tire. If you want to go larger yet, order the Level 3 kit, which includes a brace to relocate the rear spring and a mini tub that will add up to 4 inches per side for tire clearance. The Level 3 kit is priced at $1814.54. 

You will also need various other restoration parts, depending on how complete your car is. A great source for Mopar body and trim parts is Auto Metal Direct, an aftermarket company that manufactures and sells restoration sheetmetal. What they don’t make they source from other suppliers. For a classic Charger build, they can supply the floor, doors, floor supports, inner fenders, wheel housings, quarter panels, hood, shock towers, and more. The parts aren’t cheap: for example, a ’70 Charger quarter panel sells for $549.99. But according to Ehrenberg, they’re of excellent quality.

Once your body unit is complete, you can shop for other components. You’ll need a heavy-duty rear axle. A new Dana 60–type housing complete with differential and axles will run you around $3000. This is a near duplicate of what the ’68–70 Hemi Chargers were equipped with. A 9-inch Ford diff and housing is just as stout. I’ve seen those for less than $2000. Either can be mounted on your unibody with heavy-duty leaf springs and dampers, much like those of the original car.

If your partial car came with front suspension, you can use the control arms, but you’ll want to renew all the bushings and links and install the heavy-duty torsion bars that came with the Hemi-powered cars along with a set of premium adjustable dampers. A variety of suspension parts for the vintage Charger, including torsion bars, adjustable shock absorbers, control arms, and bushings, is available through Bergman Autocraft and other suppliers.

Providing the Ponies

Gen 2 street Hemi in a ’68 Charger engine bay
A Gen II street Hemi in a ’68 Charger engine bay. The big classic Hemis take up almost every inch of the engine bay.Paul Stenquist

Of course, you will have to buy an engine and a transmission. If I had my way, I’d go for a classic Gen II Hemi of ’64 to ’71 vintage, which would be true to the car and project the right imagery. But that’s an expensive proposition nowadays. Not too long ago, Chrysler sold a crate version of the Gen II 426 for about $10K—no more. I shopped the motor of my fantasies online and found Ray Barton, who builds Gen II Hemis for numerous racers and enthusiasts. His engines are superb and are priced accordingly. A 540-cubic-inch engine that produces 700 horsepower on pump gas sells for $32,000, ready to run. 

“How about a clone of the original 425-horse 426?” I asked. “That’s close to the same price,” Barton said.

Gen 2 street Hemi sans air cleaner 1969 Charger custom
The Gen II street Hemi, sans air cleaner. Two AFB carburetors provided ample breathing for the big-inch engine. This restoration engine, photographed in 2013, appears to be product correct, right down to the battery caps and the printing on the wiring and hoses. Clone creators don’t have to agonize over that kind of minutiae, but it’s great to see a restoration as accurate as this one.Paul Stenquist

If you have the bucks and the desire, go for it. If not, you will probably want to settle for a Gen III Hemi. It’s still a Hemi, and it will be easy to live with—nice idle, easy starting, and all those other modern conveniences. Ehrenberg recently put a Gen III crate motor in his “Green Brick” vintage Plymouth Valiant and says he wouldn’t trade it for a Gen II engine; it’s that nice.

A perusal of the Direct Connection listings reveals that the supercharged, 6.2-liter Hellephant—a 1025-horsepower beast of a Gen III Hemi—is offered at $27,675. That’s almost as pricey as that Gen II engine. (There’s also a 1500-horsepower version for a mere $59,990.) But most of us would be very happy—and healthier—with far fewer ponies in the stable. Direct Connection’s 392 cubic-inch (6.4-liter) naturally aspirated Hemi produces a stout 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft torque, and it’s priced at $9600. That’s enough power to make me smile.

6.4- liter 485-horsepower crate Hemi
The 6.4-liter, 485-horsepower crate Hemi from direct connection sells for $9600. You’ll also need the non-E.O. Engine Kit which includes the wiring and other pieces you’ll need to install the engine in any pre-1976 car. It’s priced at $1795. It’s not the classic Gen II motor, but it’s more powerful than the original, and it’s much more livable on the road.Direct Connection

If you decide to go with the Gen III powerplant, you can get an adjustable motor mount kit from USCT Motorsports. They can also provide a notch kit for the K member that allows you to use the standard Gen III oil pan. 

You have to be able to change gears, too. Passon Performance of Pennsylvania sells fully rebuilt four-speed transmissions of the near bulletproof variety used by the vintage Hemi Chargers. Their gearbox sells for $2695, and there’s a $50.00 crate charge added. A new high-performance clutch, flywheel, and bell housing will likely set you back another $1500.

1968 dodge charger dog dish hubcaps and red line tires
A Hemi Charger sold for about $4000 in 1968. Standard equipment included dog-dish hubcaps and red line tires. Good restorations or survivors now bring six-figure money.Paul Stenquist

All the other components, like brakes, tubing, wiring, electrical parts, radiator, wheels, and tires will continue to jack up the total. And of course, you want your new Charger to turn heads, so a great paint job will be necessary. Some of the classic car owners I’ve interviewed for Hagerty have built a temporary plastic-sheet spray booth outside their garage and painted their own cars. But it’s an iffy proposition if you haven’t painted a car before. If you pay for a paint job, figure on spending about $8K to get it done right. 

If you watch your nickels and dimes, in the end you’ll have a classic Hemi Charger clone that will likely be worth close to as much as you’ve poured into it. In the world of enthusiast automobiles, that’s a good balance to strike.


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    Great article.
    If I were younger, I’d love a MOPAR B or E body of some sort.

    I watch a certain TV show for my vicarious MORPAR thrills, and I try not to think that back in the ’80s I would have been ahead of the game buying a nice original or restored Charger/Challenger/’cuda/Superbird/Daytona instead of chasing the imports Car and Driver was telling me to buy.

    Still, it’s nice to have a car that, when you shut the door it doesn’t sound like a can filled with rocks and having a modern HVAC system.

    In a world if $55,000 Mustangs, $80,000 nothing special puxkups, and $100,000+ SUVs, $150-200k for your “once in a lifetime” dream toy isn’t that unreasonable.

    Look aroynd, A lot of folks have boats and RV’s that cost that much

    Pretty pricey, but build whatever you want (and can afford) and enjoy it. I remember the days in high school (late 70’s) when these cars were just old used cars. Knew a kid that bought a blue ’69 Charger with white vinyl top and 318 automatic. I bet he kicks himself for not keeping it. It was rust free and even with the 318 would be worth a boatload of $ today. He bought and sold about a dozen cars and trucks while in high school. None were true muscle cars, but all were pretty nice shape. Worked with a guy who also bought and sold cars. His WERE muscle cars, bought on the cheap: ’68 Charger 383 auto, ’68 GTO 4 sp., 72 Nova SS 350 4 sp. and rare folding sun roof. ’71 Cougar w/351 Cleveland (his buddy wrapped it around a pole>>he was still paying on it). All category 3-4 condition.

    Ironically, that 318 Charger for 21K has a more efficient and durable engine that already has more power than you can responsibly use. Extra horsepower comes in handy though when you have a need to brag about how much horsepower you have.

    All that money gust to go fast in a straight line. My 4 cyl could take them on a windy road.
    That is where the fun and skill is.

    I didn’t know they offered a 68-70 Charger with a 4!

    Since they didn’t, you are comparing a modern daily driver to a vintage collectable.
    They my be in the same parking lot, but they are not in the same universe.

    Similarly, your car gets better mileage than a Duesenberg….and has cupholders.

    The Charger is a collectable, your 4 is probably an appliance.

    I was able to do something similiar a few years ago. I have a ’68 GTX that I’ve had for over forty years; it was a 440 car, but the original block was long gone when I first got it. Had it been numbers matching I would never have changed it. Several years ago, a friend of mine, an old hemi guy, told me that he had a complete 426 hemi, with a casting date of April of ’68 that just needed to be in my car. And so it is. The car was built in April of ’68, so the engine is actually a little too new to have been in the car originally, but it’s close enough. We used a hemi K frame, etc. I also found the hemi callouts for the hood, and the hemi badge for the trunk. It wasn’t cheap, but it sure is neat. My friend was in his late 70’s or early 80’s at the time, and was a wealth of knowledge. RIP Marion T.

    I was fortunate enough to have owned several ’68-’69 Chargers through the years, and still find them one of the most attractive & stimulating designs ever. And actually, though all of mine were either 383 or 440 cars, the styling is so gorgeous that I don’t care what engine is in one. That’s saying something for a guy who’s also owned Hemi Road Runners, a 911, multiple Z28s, etc…
    That said, prices for 2nd-gen Chargers barely above scrap status can be daunting – I’ve seen truly daunting projects sell in the high ‘teens to low-twenties in the last couple of years.

    The modern Chrysler V8 is a Hemi only in name. Its combustion chamber is not semi-spherical (the original Hemi had a semi, not hemispherical combustion chamber). It’s merely average when compared to the modern V8 engines produced by Ford and GM.

    $8k for a paint job??? Maybe more like $15k minimum.

    I’ll stick with my 67 fastback charger with a 440.

    Would love to a 69 charger but at $100k minimum is too deep for me.

    “$100k minimum” is quite pessimistic. I follow Charger Facebook groups and there are $20-$30k cars out there, that you can invest into whatever level of restomodding you want: $20k for the car, $20k for the engine, $20k for paint and details. Spend a little more than that and you’re still less in than a modern Hellcat. But you won’t have the tech and the smooth quiet ride.

    Wanted one since I was in H.S. before the Dukes was on TV. When I turned 23 on my birthday, bought the Charger I lusted after. 383 auto. Still have it today at 58. I paid 2000 for it. Spent 5000 on paint and quarters. Even though I’m a Mopar guy, I found a 69 mach1 428 4spd .engine replaced, needs quarters, interior great. Bought it for Father/Son project. Lady’s husband passed and she just wanted it gone. Paid $750 for it. No Brainer .

    I’ll add this to my previous post…if I had it to do over again, I’m not sure I’d go to all the trouble and expense of putting the hemi into the GTX. However, having turned sixteen in 1969, I had always wanted one. For lots less money, I could have bought a 500ish inch wedge which would have been a direct replacement, and, with today’s technology, had more power than the hemi. Having said that, I’m not a racer any more, so the power’s not a big deal. I do still love the sound of the solid lifters, and the ragged exhaust note, even with the stock exhaust. I have noticed that since the name “hemi” has become be so common, unless a person is of a “certain age,” old hemis like the one in the GTX don’t attract near the attention at car shows as they once did. Younger folks seem to think, “Meh, just another hemi. Half the cars and pickups here are hemis.” The older ones still flock around, though. At a recent car show, a bunch of guys were standing around waiting for me to leave. When I talked with them, they said, “We just wanted to hear a real hemi fire up!” If you know, you know.

    Take the last paragraph, remove ‘Hemi Charger’, and substitute your current project. So ends today’s economics comment.

    I ordered a ’68 R/T with the 440 Magnum engine & H/D Torqueflite. Dark blue, no bumble bee strips & definitely no vinyl top crap. I even deleted power steering as it took away from the engine power. It turned out to be a Wednesday build & was quite a car. As usual, I wish I still had it.

    If you like a good story . . . In 1983 I worked with a guy that had a white 1971 Dodge Charger with the black vinyl roof ( I think it may be called a landou). It was rough, but I loved it. I had a beat up 1964 VW bug. We talked about doing a trade and we swapped cars for a day. My grandfather was an old school shade tree mechanic that had bought and sold cars for over 50 years so I took it to him for his assessment and opinion.

    “Son, that car is a rolling piece of worn out junk.”

    I was heartbroken, but I fully trusted and respected his opinion. I took the car back to Elvis (the coworker’s nickname) and told him the deal was off. He was okay with that because the VW had acted up while he was driving it. It turned out to be some trash in the VW’s fuel line. A few months later, the Dodge crapped out. Grandpa was right! A few years later, I sold the VW engine and hauled the car to the junk yard.

    Things that have always transported this Baby Boomer back to those “Good Old Days” are the aroma of high octane tetraethyl lead gasoline ….. and those early 60s Mopar Wedge B bodies (very underappreciated street warriors IMO).

    Something besides Chargers. I have a 1965 Dodge Coronet, and when the old 273 CU. IN. died I installed a stock 5.7 liter HEMI, donated from a scrapped Durango. Its not a screamer but a great cruiser, the EFI starts evry time, and gas mileage is great.

    That’s great! I have a 67 Coronet station wagon I’ve been working on. I’m looking at a transplanted Gen3 Hemi for it, for driveability. Because no matter how much I tinkered with my old carbureted cars, they always let me down.

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