Me & My Car: Charger for life
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You’re driving a 1972 Chrysler Valiant Charger R/T E49, Mercury Silver with a black bonnet? Any modifications?
No, apart from a brake booster, it has been restored to exactly as it left the factory in 1972. It is one of 149 E49s built and 100 remaining — 24 are in NZ. Only four E49s were built in Mercury Silver with the black bonnet option.
You have a soft spot for Chargers?
My father purchased the first Charger in Hawkes Bay in 1971. A year later I bought one myself at the tender age of 20. After driving a Charger R/T E38 at the time I was smitten!
You bought this charger in 1988. How many owners had it had?
It was sold new in Queensland and imported into New Zealand in 1974. It had 10 owners before me and has no competition history, to my knowledge. It is a matching numbers car; in fact we used it in the book Hey Charger when decoding the engine/body numbers paint and option codes.
What is special about Chargers?
Chargers have often been described as Australia’s Mustang and were a sensation when they were released in 1971. Today they have a strong cult following on both sides of the Tasman. Chargers were also assembled in New Zealand by Todd Motors and remain the most successful production race car on NZ circuits winning the B&H 500 — NZ’s Bathurst — at Pukekohe seven years in a row. An E49 like mine, driven by Leo Leonard, also held the production lap record on all NZ circuits.
You’re more a classic car kind of guy?
I am a car nut but do love the classics. I would have more in my garage if I could afford them. I once owned a BMW Isetta bubble car, quite a contrast to the Charger!
Who else drives the Charger?
Tony, Darryl and Justin Alderton at Short Motors Papakura did a magnificent job of the final assembly so they get to drive it. I have 18-year-old twin daughters who love the Charger but have yet to learn to drive a manual transmission car. It has no power steering and a heavy-duty clutch for competition so it’s not the car for Auckland traffic.
How does your car suit your personality?
We are both ageing disgracefully!
1962 PA Vauxhall Velox when I was 17. I did like it but never fell in love with it like I did with the Charger.
Any cars you regretted selling?
The other two Chargers I owned, and a lovely Valiant Regal station wagon.
Is this your dream car?
It is. I watched the E49s when they dominated the racetracks in NZ in the 1970s, which left a huge impression on me. After driving an earlier Charger R/T E38, at the age of 20, the top of the range E49 was always my dream car.
Favourite car colour?
Bob Hubbach, who designed the Australian Chargers, said Mercury Silver was his favourite colour for a Charger and that’s good enough for me!
How often do you clean this car?
It is very much a show pony these days, so it’s cleaned every time it’s taken out and driven.
What do you keep in your car?
A few essential tools, a fire extinguisher, cleaning gear and a show display board.
Anything else in your garage?
My daily drive is a 2013 Suzuki Swift Diesel, which I bought new. It’s a delightful little car to drive and own. It’s at the other extreme to the Charger in the economy stakes.
Your favourite car scene in a movie?
The car chase in Bullit where the baddies drove a black Dodge Charger. None better.
If you could go anywhere, in any car, with anyone?
Well, the Southern Alps must rank as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Perhaps in my E49 with Charger grand master Leo Leonard alongside teaching me how to drive it!
What do you listen to when you’re driving?
The howl of the Charger’s magnificent Six Pack engine will suffice.
And Auckland’s traffic?
We need to expand the rail network to reduce the demands on our roads. Use the train during the week and take your classic out for a spin in the weekends.