Through sickness and health, my ’70 Charger R/T and I keep cruising

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Cancer may have reignited the spark for a Charger, but Whelan’s love for it never went out. Courtesy Murray Whelan

I got my driver’s license when I was 16, and shortly after, I bought my first car. It was a 1969 Dodge Charger in gold, with a black vinyl roof and a big-block 383.

Just after graduating from high school, I bought a ’70 Challenger R/T and sold the Charger to a friend. I hung on to the Challenger until 1992. I then went many years without a classic car, but I always had the itch.

One morning in 2006, I noticed a lump on my neck while I was shaving. It turned out to be thyroid cancer. I was 46 at the time and understood the lower survival rate for older patients. During surgical recovery, I decided to get another Charger because I really didn’t know how much time I might have.

1970 Dodge Charger RT rear
Courtesy Murray Whelan

I searched everywhere for a ’69, with no luck. Then I got a hit on a 1970 R/T in Alberta, so I decided to fly out to have a look at it. I told the seller that it needed to be in running condition for me to consider it.

We poured some gas down the carb and I cranked it while he worked the throttle linkage, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I left the door open so I could exit quickly if the thing went up in flames. Miracle of miracles, though, it fired up and ran smoothly, so I bought it on the spot and had it shipped home.

The restoration began right away. I stripped the Charger down and sent it for sandblasting. A lot of metal was replaced, but the basics were all there. I got the car home and began the rebuild; every system on the car has been restored. I had the motor balanced and gave it larger pistons and a moderate cam. I had everything ready to go by December 2011. My two sons, both attending university, were on break and helped me put the drivetrain in. By summer 2012, the Charger was ready for the road. We’ve been cruising ever since.

This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.

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