Home Car Stories One Owner 1971 DODGE Challenger Hemi R/T- Greg Hernandez
1971 DODGE Challenger Hemi R/T- Greg Hernandez PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Saturday, 17 September 2016 08:39

1971 DODGE Challenger Hemi R/T- Greg Hernandez


Writing copyright D. S. Brown photography copyright Mecum auctions.

Chrysler actually beat Ford to the punch by releasing the Plymouth Barracuda a full 2 weeks prior to the April 17, 1964 debut of the Ford Mustang. If the Barracuda had caught on we would be calling 'ponycars' by the name 'fishcars' instead. But Ford got the looks right and the Mustang was a runaway hit while the Barracuda posted fewer sales.

Both the Barracuda and Mustang were just re-skinnings of prosaic economy cars. The Falcon roots of the Mustang were invisible while the Valiant genetics were blatantly apparent when looking at the Barracuda.

Dodge decided to stay out of the ponycar market and used the Coronet platform to create the Dodge Charger for their version of a fastback performance car. After trying to nurture the Dodge Dart GTS to further sales Dodge finally got on the bandwagon and decided to piggy back off Plymouth when the new "E body' 1970 Barracuda was created. Dodge named their version of the E body the Challenger.

71 Dodge Challenger Hemi Greg full view

The Challenger had a longer wheelbase than the Barracuda and it's own sheetmetal although the 2 cars closely resembled each other. Dodge was aiming at the Mercury Cougar ponycar when they created the Challenger. Everything was right about the E body cars. They looked fantastic and had engine bays wide enough to handle the 440 and 426 Hemi monster motors.

71 Dodge Challenger Hemi Greg driverside

Everything was right about the cars and wrong about the timing. 1970 is commonly seen as the swan song year of musclecars. 1971 saw no slackening of insane insurance rates that were now combined with tightening smog laws that lowered compression ratios and added emission control equipment. Plentiful non smog cars on used car lots worked hand in hand with the increasing age of the core musclecar buyer to snuff out the new car lot musclecar phenomenon in just a few short years.

71 Dodge Challenger Hemi Greg interior

Chrysler managed to keep its head high in 1971 with both Cuda and Challenger R/T available with the monster 440 and 426 Hemi. This was going to be the last year of the Hemi and those who heard about this were inspired to jump. Greg Hernandez was one of the guys out there who heard about the extinction of the Hemi in the magazines of the day and decided to grab one of the last dinosaurs. Greg headed from his home in North Liberty, Iowa, over to Hendryx Motor Company in Center Point, Iowa to put in an order for a 1971 Challenger with a Hemi. Greg grew up in Texas and was affected by the car culture there which he states inspired him to own musclecars.

71 Dodge Challenger Hemi Greg drivers rear

As Greg relates the story,

“My brother called me from South Texas one day and said ‘You ought to look at those Challengers they’re selling now; you can even get a 426 Hemi with it.’ I had just bought a ’69 Charger with a 440 engine, but I went and looked at the Challenger. I liked it and I traded the Charger for it, not that far from here in Center Point, Iowa at Hendryx Motor Company. I told the salesman that’s what I wanted and we went through the options and I ordered the car.”

Greg was stonewalled. Greg's experience is similar to another ONE OWNER story on this website. The original owner of the 1966 Charger Hemi met fierce opposition from the salesman and had to fight to get the order through.

Although he was only 29 years old, Greg was a railroad employee making excellent pay and was well qualified to pay for the expensive Hemi option. Greg discovered that the sales force was soured on the Hemi because a prior buyer had insisted that the service department get it running right.

71 dodge challenger RT hemi greg engine

Greg remembers that the salesman was pretty negative about a Hemi, “He was adamant about saying it wasn’t a good choice for a family car! But i insisted that was what I wanted and we went ahead and made out the order."

The Hemi 'Elephant Motors' were notorious for running poorly unless a good tuneup man got ahold of them. Car magazine testers were abused by Mopar True Believers back in the day for posting weak quarter mile times. Eventually most car magazine testers brought in a tune up expert to get their test Hemis into factory correct tune. Imagine the frustration this sort of thing would cause the dealership service department who didn't want to fuss with a finicky engine. Apparently the owner of the Hemi was also adamant about getting results.

As Greg relates,

“The gentleman who sold me the car had only sold one other Hemi car, and he had a big problem with it,” Hernandez said. “The gentleman who bought the other Hemi car came back with a broken engine only months after he got it. The dealership replaced the engine, and pretty soon, he came back with another broken motor, but they didn’t replace it. The salesman wasn’t enthused about me buying the car with the Hemi, but I said, ‘I definitely want it.’”

By the end of the day on October 19, 1970 Greg managed to get his order through for a 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T. Aside from the 426 cubic inch 425 HP Hemi V-8 option Greg also specified the Pistol Grip Hurst shfited 4-speed manual transmission, A34 Super Track Pack, Power brakes, Solid State AM radio, console, C16, bucket seats C55, Sport hood with “426 Hemi” nameplates J54, tinted glass, sill moldings, locking gas cap, collapsible spare, and black longitudinal R/T sport stripes. Greg chose Y9 Dark Gold with Gold vinyl top paint and matched it to a Black leather interior.

As to Greg's color choice and also his preservation of the car in its original Gold- this is a really great thing. This is a rare color that only gets rarer every year that a car changes hands. There are so many Resale Red cars out there now that it is a positive relief to see an original Gold car. Greg's memory of how he came to choose Gold was fairly instinctive at the time of ordering the car,

“I heard someone mention that it’s such a gentleman’s color; I agree with that,” Hernandez said. “It’s something that you love or hate. I didn’t know too much about the Hi-Impact Colors at the time, and the salesman showed me little paint chips, and I thought, ‘That looks like a great color.’” When Hernandez displayed the car at the MoPar Nationals in Columbus in the early 2000s, he reported that the unrestored Challenger’s color received high acclaims.

“Everybody just loves the color,” he said. “It’s unusual to see one of these cars in this color. A lot of people thank me for saving the car; it’s pretty nice of them.”

MSRP was $4,862.35 but Greg had his trade in Charger R/T to offset some of that.

Greg's Challenger was built Saturday, November 7, 1970. It arrived at Hendryx December 8, 1970. Greg traded in his 1969 Dodge Charger 440 and drove back home in his new Hemi. Greg recalls the day he got his Hemi,

"I got the car December 8, I believe. My wife drove our 1960 Chevy Impala along with me to the dealer and I drove the Charger. I drove the Challenger home with my two daughters in the back.”

It was an exciting car but the timing was just as bad for Greg personally as it was for the Challenger on the National sales front although for different reasons. Greg could afford the insurance and his Hemi was still rated at a full 425 HP so this car was not hindered by any of the factors killing musclecars across the nation. What put Greg's Hemi into hibernation was the weather. It was impossible to drive it in the snow. Simple as that.

“To begin with, the Hemi Challenger was hard to start in the winter, and I had to commute 40 miles to work and could not see driving that nice car to work every day.” Plus, “the car is useless in the winter.” Driving to his job site through the debris-riddled rail yard also threatened to ruin his pristine new Challenger.

Greg got a VW Beatle for the work commute in snow. The rear engine 'bugs' put all the weight on the driving wheels and handle the snow quite well.

Greg recalls, “When I brought the Challenger home there was snow on the ground and it was cold. I tried to take it out where we lived  in North Liberty and I just couldn’t go anywhere because of the snow; it just sat there and spun. So that’s where the Volkswagen came in. I drove the wheels off that Volkswagen, going back and forth to work, and we even went on family vacations in it all the way to South Texas. So the Volkswagen saved the Hemi car’s life.”

Greg still drove the Challenger R/T on nice days when he didn’t have to work. Greg was working long hours and hence the Challenger didn't get a lot of road time. Greg's family also took up his time. The Challenger made an occasional trip around the block or a short run to the store. The farthest Greg drove his Hemi Challenger R/T was to the dealership for service.

Greg says, “Right after I bought it, I replaced the exhaust and put on headers and header mufflers.” Greg stored the exhaust under his mobile home. When he moved into a house he forgot to take the parts with him. When he returned later for the parts the mobile home had been bulldozed and the parts were lost. In later years Greg switched the headers back to the original manifolds and added reproduction mufflers.

“In those days what a guy did with a car like that was just clean it up when you got it, but then the first thing that came off was the exhaust and you got different wheels. So I put a set of Hooker headers on it right away in my driveway, which was gravel, and I took the aluminum wheels from my Charger before I traded it in and put those on my Challenger. But they were just too wide, so about a year or so later I took them off and I put everything back, the exhaust, everything the way it used to be, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.”

Right after he bought the Hemi Challenger he also added the aftermarket Ansen mag wheels that he had used on the Charger he’d traded in. The tires rubbed the Hemi Challenger’s fenders, which forced Greg to go back to the original steel wheels and  Polyglas GT tires.

71 dodge challenger hemi greg speedometer

Despite not driving the car much Greg regularly started up the car to “keep things moving.” 'As of 2015 the car had 1,871 original miles.

71 Dodge Challenger Hemi Greg r seatbelt plastic

The protective plastic is still on the rear seat belts and retains the original Goodyear Polyglas GT tires. Greg saved the original window sticker, order sheet, consumer information sheet, loan agreement, owners manual, and payment checks, Scat Pack club and Dodge Owners Club ID cards as well as copies of the broadcast sheet, MSO and title application.

Once Greg retired, the Hemi Challenger was moved by enclosed trailer to MoPar events throughout the USA such as Carlisle, Belvidere and the Mopar Nationals. The Challenger won a Mopar Nationals Unrestored Factory Stock certificate.

Greg's car is 1 of 70 Hemi Challengers produced in 1971 and most likely 1 of 36 known to exist today and was expected to fetch $450,000 - $550,000 at auction.

71 dodge challenger RT hemi greg rear





Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 March 2021 14:19 )