How A 1968 HEMI Charger Survived The Test Of Time

From the late 1960s until 1974, Chrysler Corporation was arguably the coolest car company in the world. Yeah, after 1971, the horsepower ratings went into the toilet, but you could still buy a Charger, Road Runner, Barracuda, or Challenger, just with puny SAE net power ratings. By 1975, it was all over, and by 1980, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy.

Matt Koops’ 1968 HEMI Charger R/T is the most vivid snapshot of late-sixties Chrysler cool we’ve seen in some time. Magnificent in EE1 Dark Blue Poly, redlines, and white accents, the only thing missing is a Laugh-In era Goldie Hawn dancing next to the car in a bikini. High-impact colors would debut for the 1970 model year, but this Charger’s beautiful factory Dark Blue Poly was a precursor of what was coming.

Matt’s Dodge Charger HEMI R/T four-speed was built in Hamtramck, Michigan on November 1st, 1967, and was delivered new in Sarasota, Florida that same year. It was sold as one of a pair of identical cars the dealership ordered. It’s rumored that the twin car survives today and remains in Sarasota. Sadly, the twin has seen better days and is in rough condition.

The original owner of the Charger did not have much luck with the car as it had constant overheating issues. After taking the car back to the dealership many times to try and correct the issue, the original owner finally had enough and traded the Charger in on a four-door Impala at the local Chevrolet dealership.

Word got around town quickly that a Hemi Charger was for sale on the used car lot of the Chevy Dealership. A young fellow named Chuck heard about the Hemi Charger, quickly rode his bicycle up to the dealership, and struck a deal to buy the car. Unfortunately, Chuck would have to have his father drive it home as Chuck didn’t have his driver’s license yet. He was just 15 and a half when he bought it and had to leave the car in his Dad’s garage as he waited six months until he was legal to drive. That’s a long time to wait when you’re not yet 16 years old, and Chuck’s emotional quotient must have been off the charts for his age.

When he finally got his driver’s license, Chuck found out the car ran hot and he couldn’t seem to get the overheating thing figured out. By 1975, he decided to start racing the Charger. He painted the car black, removed the vinyl top, and installed a 440cid mill in the car. He set the grumpy hot HEMI aside and installed a hood with a custom scoop. 

He raced it at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Bradenton, Florida, and all over the Southeast United States. The Charger saw track time in Rockingham, North Carolina, Alabama, and throughout Georgia. The car competed in the 11.00 class, but could easily run 10.80s with Chuck rowing the four-speed. Over the years, Chuck won 13 points trophies, and five championships, racing it until 1991. Wanting to go faster but not wanting to cut up an original Hemi Charger, Chuck sold it to a friend of the current owner.

During that time, the new owner returned the car to its original color of EE1 Dark Blue Poly, installed a new white vinyl top and white stripes, and reinstalled the original hood. He’d heard the rumors that the original HEMI ran hot, and he just happened to have a NOS 426 block in his possession.

He married the new block with the parts from the original motor and put the factory block in storage. The car retains its factory supplied, “833,” 18-spline, four-speed transmission, and Dana 60 rear end which is the only way HEMI four-speed cars were delivered. Here’s the kicker. After all that work, the owner started it, drove it around the block, and then never drove it again. Think of the old saying “Life got in the way” and you get the idea.

This brings us to its current owner, Matt Koops out of Lakeland, Florida, who bought the Charger in 2022. Matt has worn many hats in his professional life. From a mechanical engineer, and an entertainment industry exec, to running his own restoration shop titled Muscle OR Performance Auto Restoration (MOPAR). Matt is a Dodge specialist restoring only 1968-70 Chargers and Daytonas. He owns many rare Mopars as well, and he even has a 1968 Chevelle SS 396 that he drove in high school, just to clear the palette, if you will.

The car was 80% restored when Matt bought it, so he tied up loose ends and got all the details dialed in. The finer things in a restoration are what separates a great car from a good car. The Charger had a pretty severe case of “storage disease” after sitting for 30 years, even though it was in a climate-controlled garage.

Matt installed new weatherstripping, re-plated a few parts, adjusted the clutch, worked on the brakes, and rebuilt the carburetors. He returned the rolling stock of the car to the factory-correct painted steel rims, dog dish caps, and new redline tires. The car has never been wrecked, the body has never been apart, and there has never been any rust. Matt’s Muscle OR Performance Auto Restoration shop completed the car to the standard that you see it at today.

After the car was back in shape, Matt reached out to Chuck and met him at Bradenton Motorsports Park where Chuck raced the car all those years ago. Matt says if you take a damp cloth and wipe the side windows, you can still see the residue that reads #2322 from the stickers the car wore when it was being raced.

Chuck had welded and reinforced the rear end and installed a chrome rear-end cover when he was getting it ready to be raced. The first thing he did when he saw the car was get under it and confirm it was his old car. Chuck even brought the original painted rear-end cover and reunited it with the car, that night at Bradenton Motorsports Park.

Chuck reunited with his old Charger

In 2014, Matt bought a Charger hood with a custom hood scoop at a swap meet. Turns out that it was the same hood Chuck installed (the original was returned to the car at some point in the ’90s) and with some crazy stroke of fate, Matt serendipitously bought Chuck’s hood years later. As you can imagine, Chuck got a bit teary when he revisited the car with all those memories rushing back.

Today, the Charger is restored to its former glory and has 39,000 documented miles on the clock. The car is equipped with power steering, drum brakes all the way around, a factory “Music Master” radio, and a heater. It also has a rare passenger side mirror and buckets with a center “buddy seat.” The 426 HEMI made 425hp 493lbs-ft of torque back in the day and factory performance times were 13.5 seconds in the quarter mile @ 101mph.

Chrysler made 92.589 Chargers for 1968 and 17,584 were R/T models. The new body style was a huge hit with sales skyrocketing over 500 percent. The HEMI was a $604 option and just 478 were sold. Only 211 HEMI-equipped Chargers were four-speed cars.

Matt says he drives the car regularly but is aware of its rarity and provenance. We say the best thing that happened to this Charger was when Matt acquired it. If this car got into the hands of a less knowledgeable shepherd, it might have been lost forever. Thanks, Matt!

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an editor at Power Automedia. He digs all flavors of automobiles, from classic cars to modern EVs. Dave loves music, design, tech, current events, and fitness.
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