Jack O’Hanlon’s 1969 “Radiantly Red” Dodge Charger

ohanlonleadartEverybody has had a first true love at some point in their life; doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, everyone has experienced that feeling of unsurpassed joy. That very first love of your life, the undeniable emotion that makes you realize that somehow you cannot survive without it. Some call it young love, others say its puppy love; regardless of what you might call it there’s no love greater than the love we have for our car.

DSC_1010This beautiful, radiant red Dodge Charger is Jack O’Hanlon’s first real true love. In fact, you might even say this classic example of Mopar muscle was O’Hanlon’s high school sweetheart since he bought the car in his senior year at Largo High School, in Largo, Florida. Although this beauty was not his first car, it is definitely his favorite.

“I believe I was destined to find and own this car,” O’Hanlon stated. Seems his older sister had presented him with a t-shirt when he was eight years old. Not really knowing anything about cars, his sister had one objective in mind: give her little brother a shirt with a car on it. With her non-existent knowledge of the American automobile, she grabbed the first shirt she saw that had a picture of a car on it and was the correct size. As it turned out the car on the shirt was a Dodge Charger.

DSC_1093O’ Hanlon credits dear old dad for his love of the automobile, and particularly the Mopar product line. “I was born just outside of Detroit,” Hanlon recalled, “at the time, dad worked for Dodge, he would come home from work and give me the decals that had not been used that day: Road Runner, Duster, GTX, anything and everything Mopar.”

Although unsure of where all of these decals ended up, he regrets that he doesn’t have them in his possession today. After only three-years with Dodge, his father resigned his position with the number three automaker, packed up his family and relocated to the bright sunshine and warm temperatures of Saint Petersburg, Florida.

DSC_1014Once the family was settled in the Sunshine State, O’Hanlon’s dad took a position as the manager of a Union 76 service station just north of downtown Saint Petersburg. This is where O’Hanlon gained much of his mechanical abilities. “I spent a lot of time at the station,” O’Hanlon remembers. “I was pumping gas when I was nine-years old.”

When the other kids were out of school and hanging out on the beach, O’Hanlon was spending his summer vacations at his dad’s service station honing his mechanical skills. As you might expect, O’Hanlon was soon able to perform many of the tasks associated with routine maintenance.

DSC_1053When O’Hanlon turned 14 years old, his dad presented him with his first car. O’Hanlon’s dads decided the old service station work truck, a 1958 Ford F100, would be a great learning experience for his son and further his school-of-hard-knocks education in automotive mechanics.

“This is when I really started learning about cars, working on this truck,” he said. The truck came equipped with a 223 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder motor, coupled to a three-speed manual transmission with a column mounted shifter. O’Hanlon soon discovered the old truck would require a bit of work.

“I replaced the head gasket and the water pump. The exhaust was rusted through and I had to replaced the complete system from the manifold to the exhaust tip coming out the back. I did all this before I was even legal to drive,” O’Hanlon laughed. Admittedly, talking about his old truck today brings back many fond memories, “I drove the truck on and off for a good ten years, it drove like a tank and never let me down. I wish I had never got rid of it.”

DSC_1015When O’Hanlon entered his senior year in high school he was still using his old truck as a daily driver, but that desire to own what O’Hanlon considered his dream car was stronger than ever. Over the years he had saved his money with the intent of someday buying his ideal ride, and he would settle for nothing other than a 1969 Dodge Charger.

“I think my addiction to the Charger started back when Dad worked for Dodge, and he would bring me those decals,” he recalls. The decals, the shirt his older sister gave him when he was young, and the fact that he grew up watching the “Dukes of Hazzard” cemented his craving to own a 1969 Charger. “I thought the 1969 Charger was the best looking muscle car that had ever come out of Detroit, and you can’t beat Mopar horsepower,” he grinned.

"LEE 1"

A major influence on O’Hanlon and his love of the 1969 Charger was a direct result of watching the bright Hemi Orange Charger, driven by Bo and Luke Duke. According to Warner Bros. there were 320 Chargers used to film the series that ran fron1979 until 1985. The original car labeled “LEE 1” by the production crew was a 1969 base model Charger with a 383cid engine and a 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. After filming the now-famous jump over the police cruiser of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrain, aired during the opening credits of the show, the car sustained severe structural damage landing the jump and was retired. After the show was cancelled in 1985, “LEE 1 was sold to a private owner who restored the car to its original condition. In 2012, “LEE 1” was sold at the Barrett Jackson auto auction for $110,000. To professional golfer, and two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson.

Nearing graduation, his best buddy, Dean, approached him and told him about a Charger he had located and about the lady who wanted to sell it. With this new found information, he and Dean ducked away from school one afternoon to track down the Charger.

“The car was at a gas station in Clearwater,” he said. “It belonged to a single mom who wanted something more economical.” O’Hanlon struck a deal with the lady, and promptly emptied his savings account. He cashed in all of his saving bonds and borrowed the remaining balance from his Mom to come up with the $650 needed to purchase the car.

When O’Hanlon bought the car it was not exactly what he had envisioned; it was a strange, almost faded looking orange color, with a tan vinyl top and a white interior. But more importantly it was a 1969 Dodge Charger and he knew that in time he could make a few cosmetic changes to the car that would be more to his liking.

As life wore on, these changes took a bit longer than expected. Shortly after he bought the car, O’Hanlon began what he calls “a constant, on-going restoration process”. After a marriage, becoming a father, going through a divorce, and changing jobs on more than one occasion, the restoration process was finally completed nearly 25 years after purchasing the car.

Today, O’Hanlon reserves the car as an occasion driver and show car. With the help of a few good friends and his daughter Teresa, the restoration was able to be completed, and great care was taken to maintain the original heritage of the car. The chassis and suspension have been restored to the original factory specifications, retaining the stock torsion bar system in the front, and the leaf spring configuration in the rear. Although he considered upgrading to a modern disc brake system, O’Hanlon opted to keep the stock Chrysler 10-inch drum and shoe brakes.

The 335-hp 383 Magnum engine is completely rebuilt utilizing the stock Chrysler steel crankshaft and connecting rods, but O’Hanlon replaced the stock pistons with TRW flat top pistons. The cylinder heads are Chrysler 440 high performance ported steel heads with hydraulic lifters and a Chrysler purple-shaft camshaft.

The intake manifold is stock Chrysler with a standard Carter AVS 4-bbl carburetor. The ignition is stock Chrysler; O’Hanlon is quick to point out that the distributor still has a set of points in it. The exhaust is a stock 2-¼ inch, dual system from front to back.

“I did add the chrome tips to the exhaust, for no other reason than I like the way they look,” he said. The Magnum engine is coupled to a Chrysler A833 4-speed manual transmission with a Hurst “wraparound” shifter. The 335 horses are moved to the pavement through a stock Chrysler differential sporting 4.10 gears. The car sits on the original 15-inch Magnum 500 steel wheels, and are wrapped with BF Goodrich red line, radial rubber.

Great attention to detail is evident when you look in the trunk

O’Hanlon and his lifelong friend Dean – who discovered the car for his pal back when they were in High School – combined to do the body and paint on the car. After twenty-plus years in the humid, sub-tropical Florida environment the car had a bit of rust that required attention. The two friends removed the damaged metal, and Dean fabricated the metal work to repair the affected areas.

Dean also laid the radiant red color coat, and the clear coats to the body after O’Hanlon assisted with the pre-paint prep. Due to the fact the interior was white, he purchased a vinyl roof replacement kit from YearOne Muscle Car Parts to replaced the tan roof and to match the interior. He also reupholstered the seats and replaced the headliner with kits from YearOne. He retained the original seat frames and the door panels required only a thorough cleaning. The dash and instrumentation is all original, including the still functioning AM radio.

DSC_1103Now complete, O’Hanlon’s Charger is a classic example of American, and more precisely, Mopar muscle. When he cruises by in his beautiful Radiant Red Charger, that distinct Mopar rumble can be heard from several blocks away, and you can’t help but to take notice of the guy with the ear to ear grin behind the wheel, obviously a man in love. As stated in the opening paragraph of this article, there’s no love quite like the love we have for our car, O’Hanlon is living proof.

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About the author

Chuck Green

As a professional writer, and photographer Chuck has always had an affliction for anything related to motorsports. Over the years he worked events from local short tracks to the high profile series of NASCAR, Indy Car, IHRA, and NHRA.
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