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1966 DODGE Charger Hemi- Cora and Keith PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 27 April 2011 19:55

1966 DODGE Charger Hemi- Cora Case and Keith Arteman

oneownercollectorcar.com

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

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THE BLOOMINGTON GHOST

My memories of cruising around decades ago in an old 100,000 mile faded, dented light green 1967 383 Charger differ radically from vivid memories of blasting out the weeds in Cora and Keith's 8,500 mile 1966 Mauve 426 Hemi Charger.

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The 426 Hemi overwhelms most other factors at first. It's only later when the car is parked that the incredible condition of the Mauve Charger really sinks in. Yes, the drab green Charger's presence fails to measure up to the Technicolor Mauve factory fresh original low miles car. But details like this fade away when the gas pedal is shoved to the floor. Contrasting a ride in the 383 and the 426 Hemi is like day and night. It seems that the old 1960s term 'super car' is more apt than the modern usage 'muscle car'.

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Back in the days when I was driving that old green car the optional 383 provided extra power to yank the Charger down the road at a touch of the gas. Tellingly, I recall as much about the rough cockpit in the old green Charger 383 as I do the performance. Driving on a country road at night there wasn't a sense of desperate adrenalin when you floored that car. The car was fast, just not terrifyingly ferocious the way some musclecars can be.

Mainly it was irritating at high speeds as the discomforts became magnified. The somewhat worn suspension clunked and crashed over bumps. The glove box and the console lid rattled. The soundproofing didn't mask the echo chamber effect of riding around in a steel box. That old green Charger wasn't sealed very well and had developed a vague smell of must. Tangled wires dangled below the dash above the pedals, there were carpet gaps, door clangs and noisy wind leaks. The 383 handled the large 117 inch wheelbase first generation Charger with aplomb but not like a bomb.

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Race forwards a decade and I'm sitting inside Cora and Keith's Mauve 1966 Charger. Despite the passage of many years since my days in the old 383, this Hemi car defies time. It's the ultimate one owner collector car: a rare desirable model preserved in factory fresh unrestored condition. The interior is taut, the doors close right and everything has decent fit and finish. Chryslers may just loosen up faster than other cars, because this 1966 doesn't have the obvious quality control issues that plague most high mileage Chryslers and that were critiqued in road tests from the era. No rattle or wind roar.

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On the road Cora and Keith's Charger is solid and firm riding. Normally any ride in an old car involves new tires, shocks and often bushings which alter the ride quality. But in this car you experience the exact way a Charger rode off the factory line on Blue Streak tires and original shocks. Apparently, many reproduction bias ply tires have some variations in construction which can alter ride sensation.

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With the windows down you hear the Hemi all the time. The black and chrome interior is comfortable. Unlike the 1967 which provided room for three in back, the 1966 was strictly a 2+2 design. A full length console runs the entire length of the cockpit separating the driver side and passenger side seats front and rear. Nothing has loosened up in this car despite having experienced its fair share of hard launches.

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Out on a country road the Hemi Charger doesn't merely pull out briskly like that old green 383 did. When the gas is shoved down the Hemi launches forwards like a frenzied beast chasing down prey. The automatic transmission crashes up into the next gear at over 80 MPH and screeches the tires before ripping away at the pavement with renewed vigor. The Illinois corn fields become a blur as the heavy Charger is hurtled down the country road by monstrous force. It keeps coming on even at higher speeds where lesser cars suffer a drop-off and eventual plateau in acceleration. The surge of power feels limitless, seemingly increasing as the speed mounts. The Hemi overshadows everything, even the unique color and the amazing condition of the car.

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The funny thing is that the stupendous king of musclecar engines doesn't sound as amazing it feels when you read the cold numbers off the first few years of road tests. MOTOR TREND's May 1967 test of the Charger reflects a gradual trend rather than a radical one when each engine is ranked. 0 to 60 ranged from 10.9 (318), 8.9 (383), 8.0 (440) to 7.6 (426). The Hemi's power is hinted at when we look at how the quarter shortened: 18.6 at 76 (318), 16.5 at 86.4 (383), 15.5 at 93 (440) and 14.4 at 100 (426). At the higher end the Hemi will keep going, although early tests posted mild top speeds.

Magazine stats don't show as pronounced a divide between the 383 and 426 as it felt to me. In the Feb 1966 CAR AND DRIVER a 1966 Charger 383 with Torque-Flite and 3.23:1 rear end covered 0-60 in 7.8, the quarter mile in 16.2 at 88 mph with a top speed of 120. The 1967 Charger is virtually identical to the 1966. CARS tested one in the March, 1967 issue. This 1967 Charger Hemi, also with Torque-Flite, but with steeper 4.10:1 axle gears saw 0-60 in 6.8, the quarter in 14.2 at 103 and a top speed of 110. These are slow numbers by Hemi standards although they are impressive for the middle period of the muscle car era.

Later road tests of the Hemi produced numbers that back up the seat of pants feel Cora and Keith's Hemi produced. A 1968 Hemi Charger with automatic posted incredible numbers in Nov 1967 CAR AND DRIVER tests: 4.8 to 60 and the quarter in 13.5 at 105. C & D 'only' went 139 MPH in the test car, but estimated top speed at 156 MPH. This may be attributed to the lower 3.23 axle or the new aerodynamic body style or perhaps the car was properly set up. Joe Oldham, a writer for HIGH PERFORMANCE CARS reminisced that Hemis never performed off the factory floor because the cantankerous Hemi engines needed fiddling to get them running right.

Interestingly, soon after getting the Charger, the original owner of this car, Cora Mae Case substituted her Hemi badges for 383 badges in a vain attempt to rustle up some street action.

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Everyone knew about the distinct 1966 Mauve lady driven Charger cleaning up the competition. When Cora scoured old Route 66 seeking muscle cars for a race, the only people who hadn't had their doors blown off or heard about the car were from out of town. But even they could hear the idle at lights. No one believed the 383 badges floating above a strident, urgently guttural and menacing noise.

Ironically, Cora would have been behind the wheel of a 383 Charger for real if she hadn't have been stubborn about wanting a Hemi. Cora has a very independent personality and is knowledgeable about cars. Cora's dad drove Chryslers- period. Cora naturally became a fan of Chryslers and Richard Petty's racing wins. In 1965 Cora was at work in the Courtesy Dodge car dealership in Bloomington, Illinois when she read about the new street Hemi in the promotional literature that came through the mail. She wanted a Hemi and she wanted the new Charger. Cora sat down with Bob, owner of the car dealership to hammer out an order form. Back then a hard lead pencil was used to check off options.

"You want a heater?" Cora nodded yes or no as the order form proceeded in a routine manner.

"Power steering?" Affirmative.

"Radio?" Affirmative.

 The lead pencil stayed poised in the air for quite some time when they arrived at the engine choice. "You want a 383?" It was more of a statement than a question.

Cora dug in her heels, "No I want a Hemi." Bob was a good friend of hers and protectively tried to steer her back to the inexpensive more practical 383.

"Oh, Cora! The Hemi is very expensive. You want the 383. It's cheaper up front, it costs less in maintenance, it's got far better mileage.."

"No, I want the Hemi!"

"We'll get back to this."

"I still want the Hemi!"

Bob began to gently chide her, "Oh, Cora!"

At this point Cora leapt to her feet and declared,

"Listen, if it's good enough for Richard, it's good enough for me!"

She was referring to race legend Richard Petty. Bob relented and put in an order for a 1966 Gold Hemi Charger. That moment marked the future forty years later. Cora now owns a high dollar rare performance collectible car, not just a nice 383 collector car. The Hemi is symbolic of the absolute peak extreme of the muscle car era. At the time of course, Cora wasn't concerned about the future collectabilty of the car. She was just a keen performance enthusiast.

Being a low volume car, the Hemi wasn't a routine build. Telegrams and letters from Chrysler came in periodically promising a build date. Follow-up correspondence apologized for delays while providing revised build times. The car was ordered Oct 5, 1965. The first official announcement of the Dodge Charger was issued Dec 6, 1965 with the showroom introduction date slated for Jan 1, 1966. Cora's early sneak preview of the car allowed her to get her order in sooner than normal, but the factory was still stalling Cora in spring of 1966.

Cora asked Bob to try and find her a Hemi from another car dealership and bring it in for her. Bob was lucky, finding a dealer with a Hemi Charger in Springfield, Illinois. This is only 70 miles Southwest of Bloomington. The Charger was built in the Lynch Road, Michigan factory. It was Mauve which deterred a lot of speed freaks from buying it. Despite the slow selling status of the car, Bob had to entice the other dealer by adding a trade to the deal, giving him a convertible Dart GT 273 from his stock at Courtesy Dodge. Cora took delivery of the Charger April 16, 1966. She was delighted as it arrived at Courtesy Dodge about 6 PM. She exclaimed, "Is that mine?" 

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Cora thus became one of only 468 people who went all the way to a Hemi in a 1966 Charger. There were only 2,731 street use Hemi installations in all body styles of Dodge and Plymouth for 1966. This was the first year for the street Hemi. Despite public excitement the huge cost deterred many potential buyers leaving factory projections of 5,000 to 7,000 orders unrealized. 1967 saw even fewer Hemis ordered across the board. For the first two years of the Hemi, they were infrequently encountered cars on public roads. Cora's Gold Hemi arrived at Courtesy Dodge two weeks after she bought the Mauve car.

The Charger itself was a fairly successful body style, but it rubbed some people the wrong way just like the radical fastback Valiant based Barracuda did in 1964. Dodge was given the opportunity to piggyback on the Barracuda, but they opted to apply the fastback treatment to the Coronet platform instead. As it turned out it was a smart move. Plymouth didn't see major success with the Barracuda, partly because the Mustang owned the segment and partly because the Barracuda was clearly a Valiant with a roof graft. Plymouth completely redid the Barracuda for 1967 in order to separate it from its Valiant kin. In 1968 the new Charger design would likewise create an identity for the Charger that divorced it from its Coronet foundation. Like the original Valiant Barracuda the 1966-7 Charger was versatile, creating amazing amounts of room when needed. Below is a shot of the rear seats with central console. Below that you can see how the seats fold down.

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 In the bottom picture, you see the central padded arm rest that can be created by folding the central carpeted portion on top of the console upwards.

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The Charger retained some of the elements of the Charger II showcar which helped disguise the Coronet platform. The front grille was full length to match the full length tail light at the back. Below you can follow the sequence of the hidden headlight swiveling process.

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66-charger-hemi-cora-headlight-closing.

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Despite the fact that her Charger wasn't a Gold car like she ordered, the unusual Mauve color instantly appealed to Cora. This Charger was bare bones: A727 Torque- Flite, 3.54:1 axle, power steering, non power drum brakes, and an AM radio. The Charger was a fun car, never a commuter car. The Charger didn't have any quirks or give Cora any problems during the time she raced and cruised Route 66. She doesn't recall heavy oil use which Hemis are infamous for right from day one.

Cora enjoyed ripping up the town in her new Charger that spring and summer of 1966 and 1967. The Charger was stored fall and winter. Soon the Charger was languishing in storage more often than not. Cora worked several jobs simultaneously and simply didn't have time to drive the Charger. Her family home was demolished to accommodate a street widening project, depriving her of parking for multiple vehicles. She needed parking space for her daily driver Satellite and the work van. Not having the Charger nearby diminished opportunities for taking it out on a spontaneous spin. Her outings in the Charger became so infrequent that the odometer remained frozen at the 6,000 mile mark for quite a few years until the car was permanently stored at 6,800.

The years unrolled. Cora's Charger became part of the many folk legends that circulate about cars from the muscle car era. Occasional sightings of the car kept the tales alive. The fleeting glimpses of the car soon earned the Charger its nickname 'The Bloomington Ghost'. Cora first stored the Charger at the old car dealership while driving a business van. Later she switched it to a second storage location for 20 years. 

Cora also logged quite a few miles on a 1974 Satellite Sebring two door she bought off a car dealership lot in Jan, 1974. This car had a few more options than her Charger: A/C, power steering, power brakes, heater and radio. It has been parked since the Dec 1, 1994 and is in rough shape, but its all there. I hope to profile the Satellite here in the ONE OWNER column of the OOCC site at some point; stay tuned.

At the end of the 1980s Cora wanted to get The Bloomington Ghost into new storage facilities but needed some legal advice to sort out the terms of the present storage situation. Keith Arteman enters the story at this point. Keith was a Zenith dealer in Normal, Illinois and had known Cora for 20 years. He was able to track down an old stacker style turntable for her, digging one out of back stock from a warehouse. His persistence at that task and his business smarts indicated that Keith was the right person to unravel the legal labyrinth involving Cora's storage.

It took a year of legal work, but Keith was able to resolve the issues at the old storage location. In 1990 when the Charger was on a hoist about to be towed to a new location, Cora knew that the right place to take it was Keith's house. In gratitude for his help Cora fielded a generous proposition,

"You wouldn't want half of it?"

They become co owners of the Charger. Neither of them had any inkling that the value would escalate so much in later years. At this time the first muscle car bubble had blown up and burst but the Hemis were still within the means of most collectors. Keith was assigned the task of maintenance, proper storage and display of the Charger at car shows. Both Cora and Keith were keen to have the Charger seen and enjoyed by muscle car fans. A long time car collector, Keith had the facilities to keep the Charger in safe, warm, dry storage and possessed the know how to deal with any issues the Charger may have developed from sitting until 1990.

The Bloomington Ghost turned out to have very few issues after sitting for two decades. The gas tank had about 8 pounds of lead crystal blocking the pickup. When a new fuel pump didn't cure the problem the tank had to be dropped and cleaned out. A new float and sending unit were installed at this time. The battery also needed replacement. The carburetor was rebuilt and a tune-up was performed.

The Bloomington Ghost is an unmarred factory original except for one faint crease in the hood. The hood was closed with a pocket knife sitting on the air cleaner which left behind its impression in the metal. Otherwise the car boasts flawlessly mint unrestored original body and interior. Factory original service items which are by nature transitory are still on this car.

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The Charger retains most routine replacement items such as air cleaner, original oil filter, fuel filters, original exhaust, wires, hoses and tires. The Charger still has a tie down used during the original transport of the car from the factory. Below is a shot of the radiator and original hose and clamp.   

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Once the Hemi is silenced and the Charger is parked, the amazing originality captivates you. If this car was just a 318 car, it would still hold you rapt with fascination. You can see exactly what a new Charger looked like back in 1966. A restoration is a fascinating close approximation of factory appearance. Many restorations are genuine art. The Bloomington Ghost is unrestored pure history. Several knowledgeable Mopar experts have pronounced Cora and Keith's Charger to be one of the best preserved Hemi cars ever. Below is a shot of the exhaust tip with factory stamping K-2781286.

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Keith takes pleasure when spectators delve into the details of the car at shows. Restorers have studied the car as a reference. The Charger has won awards and was prominent in the 40th anniversary celebration of the Charger at the Walter P Chrysler Museum. The Charger has been driven minimally in the last 20 years and currently shows 8,500 miles on the odometer.

The distinctive color and originality of the Bloomington Ghost makes it well known in the Chrysler community. The only other Mauve Hemi Charger is in New Jersey. Unlike the Bloomington Ghost's black interior, the New Jersey car has a white interior. Owner Myron Plotkin rescued it from a barn and treated it to a full restoration.

Despite being trailered to many shows, the Bloomington Ghost only suffered one close call. When trailering the car to a show at the Chrysler museum in Belvidere, Illinois a steep slippery hill sent Keith's truck and the trailer with the Charger in it sideways. The other cars cleared a path for him. A guy talking on his cell phone was oblivious to the developments until it was too late. Keith slid into his Taurus. The Charger was securely fastened in place using the original factory tie downs and unharmed. The police arrived to give Keith his first ticket since 1976. The first officer on the scene was Sgt Craig Wilt, a car guy. He deduced that the Charger in the trailer was the Bloomington Ghost and quipped to Keith,

"That car got a Hemi in it?"

Keith has met many interesting people while taking part in a vast number of amazing shows. He treasures the memories and has anecdotes about shows he's attended. Cora and Keith are both getting on in age and have reached the point where it is time to sell the car. See the listing in the FOR SALE section of this site. Keith is also the owner of a pristine 14,000 mile 1970 Monte Carlo. To see that story go to the ONE FAMILY section of the CAR STORIES.

Below is a photo of the original Blue Streak tire and simulated mag wheel hubcap mounted on the Charger and the Blue Streak spare. If you go to your browser and select magnification you can read the sizes on the tire sidewalls. The tire size is 7.75- 14 inches, not the 15 inch size that all Hemi cars were supposedly equipped with. The tires have never been changed on this car.

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The inside of the glove box lid has a dealer service record sheet riveted inside for warranty purposes. The Bloomington Ghost has a completely blank record since mileage never accrued to the first oil change service interval.

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Update. The Charger is no longer for sale. The Charger was sold at Mecum May, 2012 for $190,000.00. The Charger was a one owner car for 46 years and one month.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 July 2013 22:07 )