Don’t Restore ’Em

Posted May 29, 2019

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, Craigslist

While they’ve become fewer and further between, every once in a while a prodigious barn find will surface on the web. With a thick layer of dust and accessories from yesteryear, it’s clear that cars like this haven’t been on the road in many years. I found this 1973 Dodge Charger on my local Craigslist classifieds, and it got me thinking, I sure hope someone saves this car. But my definition of “saves” and yours might not be the same.

The 1973-’74 Challenger Rallye was not exactly an exceptional Mopar. It was physically a sign of the times, as the muscle car era gave way to a rather unexceptional era of American cars in the 1970s thanks to raising fuel prices, insurance premiums and dropping compression ratios. But Dodge clung to the Challenger’s modern outlaw identity, even as the muscle was systematically removed from the muscle car.

To accomplish this, Chrysler built on the Challenger’s existing strengths and loaded it up with aesthetic additions. The twin-bulge hood scoop was retained and often adorned with cubic-inch emblems, and strobe stripes were added down the sides to give the Challenger the look of speed. But these additions did little to hide the car’s homely headlights, taillights and new 5-mph bumpers.

’73 Challenger Rallye 3

So yeah, the Challenger Rallye isn’t exactly an exceptional Mopar, but I still feel like this one should be saved, and I don’t mean saved as in restored. I think this car should be shown exactly as is, with its dust, mismatched tires and all — at least for a short time. Then maybe down the line a bit, do a mechanical restoration and clean up the paint to a somewhat presentable condition.

But I couldn’t bear to see someone do a complete restoration on this car, not right now anyways. If that were done, you’d spend an additional $20,000 just to have a restored ’73 Challenger Rallye, a car Hagerty’s price guide has pegged between $20,000 and $30,000 for most examples. What I say, is that you can always restore the car in the future, but they're only original (or period modified in this case) once. Drive it, show it and enjoy it for now as a rolling testament to "the way they were back in the day," and restore it in the future when it's worth big money.

The value I see in this Dodge is exceptional patina and ultra period-correct modifications. Slot-mag wheels will always get my vote on any car or truck from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but it’s the paint and graphics that really bring me back to ’73-’75 (some 20 years before I was born). The old western font on the quarter panels and bumper boasting “Dodge” and “Mopar” are ’70s correct, and the custom leaf motif and stripping are far out — way far out. Combine that with chrome mudguards, aftermarket driving lamps and that groovy stealth antenna on the deck lid, and you’ve got a car that could only exist in the ’70s and early ’80s. It’s painfully legit, and done to a level that just couldn’t (or maybe wouldn't) be faked.

The seller claims that the car is remarkably solid everywhere that matters, and the car has never been wrecked and includes its original title. It’s been hidden away for the last 25-30 years and is seeing sunlight for the first time, dust and all. Likely expecting a healthy profit, they’ve offered the car for sale here on Appleton Craigslist for $20,000, citing that you’re getting a good deal because “This car has the potential of being a $100,000 car or better.” Unfortunately, that’s just not true, as the most exceptional Challenger Rallye in the world isn’t worth half that at $49,800.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Challenger and any Challenger (even a ’73 Rallye) is better than the one I currently own (none). I’d love this car and proudly campaign it exactly as it sits, as an untouched ’70s street machine survivor — a tribute to an odd and innovative era of customization.

Do justice to outlandish outlaws, stop light soldiers and car show queens of the 1970s, don’t restore this car.

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