My Charger and I Go Back 50 Years

Bryan Swopes

March 30, 1974, was a rainy Saturday in Southern California. I spent the afternoon with Joe Van Pelt, the sales manager at Glendale Dodge, to place a Special Factory Order for a new 1974 Dodge Charger SE. We went through the sales catalog while I selected the optional equipment that I wanted: brocade cloth upholstery, plush carpeting, air conditioning, power steering, brakes, and windows, cruise control. Although the Charger was more of a personal luxury car by 1974, I ordered all of the performance and heavy-duty options, like the 440 High Performance engine and 3.21:1 Sure Grip rear axle. Finished, I gave him a check for $150.00 as a deposit and the order was sent off to Chrysler.

Bryan, red velvet suit, Highwood Court, June 1975
Bryan Swopes

My triple-black Charger was built at Chrysler’s St. Louis Assembly at Fenton, Missouri, on April 16. It was delivered to me on May 6; the total price was $5,360.75. I still have my copy of the sales contract, the deposit receipt, loan contract, loan payment stubs, owner’s manual, broadcast sheet, and factory service manuals.  

According to the International Chrysler Collectors Authority, of the 72,376 Dodge Chargers produced in 1974, this Charger is one of only 204 to be built with the sales code E86 440 High Performance engine (VIN code “U”). This engine had the heavy-duty Six Pack connecting rods, a forged crankshaft, 440 Magnum camshaft, and an 850 cfm Carter ThermoQuad carburetor. Even though it’s a smog-era engine with an 8.2:1 compression ratio, it was rated at a healthy 275 horsepower.

1974 Dodge Charger engine 440
Bryan Swopes

My Charger has been a part of our family for 50 years. My wife and I went on our first date in this car. Driving it home from my grandparents’ 50th anniversary celebration, I proposed to her. When our son was born, we drove him home from the hospital in it. 16 years later, I taught him to drive it.

Needless to say, I’ve taken good care of my Charger over the years. The car was repainted in 2019 by Abel Lopez at AutoCraft, the bumpers were re-chromed, and new glass was installed. Also, a new Legendary Interiors upholstery set was just installed.

The original 440 engine (which had been previously rebuilt by Dick Landy Industries) self-destructed at 187,303.9 miles. The number two connecting rod broke, knocking out both sides of the cylinder block. A new engine, bored 0.040 over to 448 cubic inches and with 10.2:1 compression, was built by Shallcross Restorations in Chatsworth, California. The numbers-matching ThermoQuad carburetor was sent to Harms Automotive, in Spokane, Washington, for restoration; the Torqueflite was overhauled by CRC Transmissions here in Thousand Oaks; and the differential by Hoopers Rear Ends in Sun Valley. The power steering pump and steering gearbox were overhauled by Firm Feel in Vancouver, Washington.

My Charger is still going strong. To date it has accumulated more than 188,000 miles.


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    My wife and I were married in 1974. Our second car was a blue 1974 Dodge Charger SE with 318 engine. Black vinyl roof. Bucket seats. Had slotted disc American mags and good year white lettered tires. Great car. Good looking car too.

    Thank you for sharing such a truly wonderful story… I must admit I shed a tear..I was handed down a 69 Dart with the high performance 340..I am so glad that this man kept his charger.

    It’s awesome you haven’t only kept it for the 50 years since buying it, that you’ve taken such good care of it for 50 years as well. Some people will never understand what a vehicle means to others well beyond a monetary value. It’s the memories connected to it that mean more than anything. For me personally it’s pretty dang cool it was manufactured at the (former) Chrysler plant in Fenton MO. My grandfather retired from the Fenton assembly plant in the early 90’s when I was in grade school still after working there 25 years as a millwright. My uncle transferred to the Belvedere Illinois assembly plant to finish his 25 years for full retirement benefits after the Fenton plant closure.

    Hi Bryan
    Brings back good memories
    I ordered the same car (almost) with every option available.
    I had the tan/gold interior and I wanted the 4 speed which meant I had to take the 400 4 barrel
    It also came with the same white lettered tires and wheelcovers as I had a set of new American Racing “Vector” style wheels to put on it
    Most people were surprised to see the pistol grip instead of the automatic
    Thanks for your story

    Nice to see a story about a (3rd. gen.) Charger and owner. This generation of car is so underrated and overlooked. Thanks for this read and photos.

    Wonderful car. If my memory is correct, the California 440 cars had exhaust pipe turndowns before the rear bumper, but in other states this car would have been equipped with the slotted exhaust tips sticking straight out the back. Either way, very cool car and hope you can continue to enjoy it for many years.

    50 years is a long time for any relationship!! Congrats, and thanks for sharing. Now get that suit out so we can see you in it. I was feeling pretty snarky that I have managed to keep my E Type for 34 years. If we make it to 50 together, I doubt I will be able to get in and out of it.

    My late father had a 74, 400 2bbl, auto SE. First car with A/C. He told my mother he was buying a polara sedan. Surprise! At that time she blamed the brochure for the model on the car. Root beer brown, tan interior, white top. I remember driving that car. Reading the article brought a small to my crusty face.

    I have a ’69 Dodge Charger White Hat Special that I have been associated with for 54 of it’s 55 years. Mine was also sold new by Glendale Dodge and it still has the original CA black plates and the original diecast Glendale Dodge license plate frames. My Charger was assembled at the Dodge Main Plant (Hamtramck, MI) on Feb. 23, 1969 as a stock order. It was not sold until early Sept., 1969 to a person that I worked with. I have kept this car as original as possible and hope to keep enjoying taking it to Cars & Coffee events in the San Gabriel Valley.

    I have a 75 charger se bought new. Starlite blue,black top ,400 4bbl loaded with options. Ordered with white letter tires . had to order 3 times as was non recommended combination. It was had 1 repaint 25 years ago. engine has never been apart. Low/reverse band broke in the trans many years ago. I was a chrysler mechanic so no big deal. I have 5 cars and that will be the last one to go.

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