Chrysler has long been known for its concept cars. Often outrageous vehicles, they showcased the engineering work that, for years, Chrysler heralded as its chief selling point. From these studios, we get classics like the 1955 DeSoto Adventurer II and the 1989 Dodge Viper. Tough economic times put a damper on a company's show car budget first, but when times are good, the ideas and concept cars flow from the studios to the delight of car enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, our current economy means exotic new Chrysler concept cars have been difficult to find. Still, such old concepts as the 1964 Dodge Hemi Charger can create as much of a stir today as they did nearly half a century ago.
For this particular concept car, designers started with a standard B-body Polara two-door and chopped it. Out went the bumpers, roof, back seats, and door handles, as well as half the windshield.
The new lowered body gained tiny little "nerf" bars front and rear and a thick, body-colored roll bar just behind the driver and passenger seats. Low-back black-leather bucket seats sat in the black-and-burgundy interior just below the roll bar-mounted headrests.
Mounted on the sides of that hoop-style roll bar was the now-iconic script logo for Charger, which wouldn't debut on a production model for several more years. The high-beam pair of the Polara's quad headlights was removed, and the outer pair gained bezels like the Chrysler Turbine of 1963. Filling in the gap was a blacked-out rectangular grille opening.
Without bumpers, the long and low (only 48 inches high) two-door acquired a dynamic forward lean as if the vehicle were in perpetual motion, sucking up the road through its slit-like front air intake.
Splitting the car down the middle are dual white racing stripes against the bronze metallic bodywork.
And "splitting" is the key word, since the stripes run from the front valance to the rear valance, interrupted only by the grille opening, the intake for the large hood scoop, and the rear fascia. The bodywork even splits the interior into two distinct seating areas for the driver and passenger.
As the story goes, the Hemi Charger was built to introduce the 426 Hemi to the world. With most of the early Hemis in race cars, the engine planned for the Hemi Charger concept was usurped by one of the racing teams, leaving the "Hemi" to be powered by the Polara's 383cid V8 engine.
After leaving the show circuit, the car was purchased by a Dodge dealer in Pennsylvania. The son of the owner made a few custom modifications to it. From 1964 until 1999, this one-of-a-kind concept car changed hands a number of times.
As the end of the millennium neared, renowned collector-car enthusiast Joe Bortz acquired the Hemi Charger. He set about restoring the car not to its original show condition but to the form intended by the designers.
Bortz located one of the original 15 426 Hemi racing engines with a vintage Holley four-barrel carb to power the Hemi Charger. In 600-horsepower form, the engine is mated to a Torqueflite three-speed automatic, just as originally intended.
Bortz completed a rotisserie restoration on the car, repairing the vehicle or finding such period-correct NOS parts as the rare Halibrand alloy wheels. The Hemi Charger was now a real driver with real performance and durability not originally built into the early 426 Hemi engines.
In 2007, Bortz' Hemi Charger crossed the block at Monterey Sports and Classic Car Auction. With an expected price in the $1.5-$2.0-million range, it was a bit of a disappointment when the car finally sold for a "mere" $1.1 million.
Only two and a half years later, the same car emerges at another RM Auction. This time, it goes on the block at the Automobiles of Arizona auction in Phoenix in January.
Has the market now warmed up enough for the $2-million potential to be realized?
Color photos used here are courtesy of shooterz.biz via RM Auctions. The historic black-and-white images are courtesy of the National Automotive Historic Center of the Detroit Public Library. For additional photographs, visit the Automotive Traveler Image Gallery.