I borrowed a new ’70 Challenger for senior prom, provided I followed two rules

October 17, 1969 was my first date with my wife of 47 years. High school sweethearts. We were in the same advanced senior English class, even though she was a junior. I asked her to the homecoming game. We found out later neither one of us liked football very much, but we both liked cars and went to see the homecoming queen ride in a stainless steel Lincoln convertible, one of three made. We were frozen stiff by halftime as were were poorly dressed, went back to her parents’ house to smooch and warm up, and talked about cars. It was then that she told me she wanted a “bathtub Porsche” and a red Series 1 E-type. She was very specific, as she loved the covered headlights. I fell in love. I didn’t know what a bathtub Porsche was, but that didn’t matter; she loved cars. Mopar cars, I later found out.

Fast-forward to my senior prom. I had the world’s worst date car. My father got a great deal on a canary-yellow 1967 Delmont 88 that I shared with my mother. The roof was painted white, and the interior was baby-puke green. That’s why it was cheap. I banged it up and got an Earl Scheib paint job that somewhat went with the green interior. I saved $10 by taping it myself. I was proud until my arm stuck to the wet paint on the way home. I digress.

I wanted a nice car for prom. A neighbor managed his family’s Dodge dealership and happened to need a strapping young lad to install a fence around his pool. We made a deal and I kept up my end of the bargain. Prom rolled around and I reminded him of the deal and asked for a car for the weekend. He said he would find something for me. I woke up early Saturday morning and headed across the street. He was leaning back against a brand new Polara, with the sticker still in the window. My heart sank. It was magnitudes better than the Delmont 88, but definitely not cool. Not for an 18-year-old on prom weekend.

I remember the look on his face to this day. In response to my dejected expression, he reached into his pocket and pushed the remote for his garage door. I stood in awe as the door opened and revealed a brand new 1970 Dodge Challenger 440/RT six-pack convertible in Plum Crazy with a white interior, top, and stripes. Imagine an 18-year-old realizing that he would be driving the baddest car at the prom. I didn’t really hear much of what he said, but I vaguely recalled, “Two rules, don’t drag-race it or take it out of state!”

Plum Crazy Challenger

I drove it to my then-girlfriend’s house. Her father was a bit of a Puritan and didn’t like to have me honk for his daughter, but I decided to incur his wrath. He was a Chrysler engineer, so I figured he’d like the car. I honked and the garage door opened and her father came out as she stepped onto the front porch. Her jaw dropped. She waved off her father’s approach and gave me a big hug. It turned out to be her favorite car in her favorite color. The rag top was icing on the cake. I quickly changed her father’s mind and maybe gained a little respect.

I came back later after burning up nearly a tank of gas. We got dressed up and headed to the gigantic banquet facility. I was waved into the “A” parking space. We sat in the car for 15 minutes while classmates filed past us into the hall. We went in and had the meal, listened to speeches, did the obligatory slow dance, and I excused myself from the table. After about 20 minutes, my date started feeling ditched. She went looking for me. She had friends search the bathrooms. Someone came up to her and had heard she was looking for me. He spilled the beans that I was out drag-racing on metro Detroit’s Telegraph Road. As I rolled back into the “A” spot she was standing there, all Ice Queen, folded arms and searing looks. She asked how I was going to make it up to her. I told her I had just won enough money to cover gas and tickets to Cedar Point in Ohio, across state lines, on Sunday.

I disconnected the speedometer cable, filled it up with gas and hit the road, drove two hours, had our fill of rides and horrible food and headed home, wind- and sun-burned, but didn’t care. I got home early enough to remove a million dead bugs and reconnect the speedometer cable. As an adult, I certainly don’t condone my behavior, but then I wouldn’t have a story to tell.

John Rader, if you’re still out there, thanks for a memory an 18-year-old could never forget.

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