It seems that everywhere you look, from TV, to social media and print, old cars are continuously being discovered that have been stored in barns, basements, garages, sheds, or from any number of other forgotten resting places. No matter where they’ve been extracted from, the common term for all these finds has been deemed the “barn find.” The question is, when was the last time you saw a really good junkyard find? Well, we have one for you and it involves one of Chrysler’s finest examples from the muscle car era, a 1969 Dodge Daytona, and its rescue from the grim reaper at the junkyard—the dreaded crusher. While we’re going to focus on this particular Charger Red Daytona, we’ll also tell you about some of the other cars in the yard at the time. How does another ’69 Daytona sound? How about an original ’69 Hemi Dodge Charger 500?
This Daytona’s saga began in 1973 when it ended up, along with about 50 other cars, at Avenue Auto Parts in Kansas City, Missouri. While we don’t have a name for the dealership and its owner, we do know that these vehicles were part of a large collection that was impounded by the state of Missouri as a result of some unscrupulous dealer shenanigans involving bogus titles. The owner must have been knee deep in it because he ended up in jail, and the cars eventually forfeited as a result of the long-term storage bills. With their fate cast into limbo, these cars sat at the junkyard until the early 1980s, at which point they had worn out their welcome and had to go. The owner of the place had lost his shirt storing them, but once he was given the green light on ownership, they were quickly destined for the crusher.
“On that last run, I went around the rim of that thing and almost rolled the GTX over. For the first time I was scared in one of my drag cars. Suddenly it wasn’t fun anymore and I parked it.” With the GTX sidelined, he needed something else to spend his time and money on. That inspiration was found in the pages of HOT ROD Magazine. John explains, “I kept thinking about a special car, classic car, or a limited-production car. A light finally went off in my head. I remembered seeing in one of my old HOT ROD magazines an ad that had Richard Petty and a bunch of guys around a special car. I ripped through those old magazines until I found it. It was an ad for the 1970 Plymouth Superbird. That was the car that I had to have!”
That decision opened up another world to him that was far removed from the track. It led to his first Superbird purchase and membership in the Daytona Superbird club. At his first club meet, the aero world opened up even further when he saw a Dodge Charger pull up with a wing and a nose on it. His reaction was, “What the heck is that thing?” Some of the well-seasoned members in the club explained to him that the Daytona preceded the Superbird, and their production numbers were substantially lower. For those wondering, the official production figures from Chrysler are 503 Daytonas built in ’69, and 1,920 Superbirds in ’70. These numbers were mandated by NASCAR as part of their homologation process in order for race versions to be allowed to compete.
The more John found out about the Daytonas, the more he wanted one, so he put the word out that he was looking for one at a decent price, and in ’82 he got the call. One of the club members, Kyle Drake was in the process of cutting a deal for the extraction of a ’69 Hemi Dodge Charger 500 that was in a junkyard, and if John wanted a Daytona, the yard had two sitting there, but they wouldn’t be there for very long because the owner of the yard was ready to do a major purge of cars. “I called the owner and told him that I wanted to buy the red Daytona,” he explains. “He informed me that I could buy it, but I also had to buy the blue one since there were so many parts missing that it would take both to make a nice car. I agreed, but I didn’t really want the blue Daytona. I thought it was ugly back then.” The demand that John buy both cars wasn’t because two were needed to make one whole one, the guy was afraid that if he only sold one he couldn’t then sell the other one and would end being stuck with another car to crush.
Both cars were actually very similar in terms of options and drivetrain. They were still wearing their original paint and only had a little over 20,000 miles on their odometers. Of the two, the blue Daytona was the rarest of the pair, because it was painted in B5 Bright Blue Poly with a blue interior, while the red one was painted R4 Charger Red with a black interior. Both cars still had their original 440ci 4-barrel engines and 727 Torqueflite transmissions in place. They were also both column-shift cars, with the blue car having the “buddy” seat option. The asking price was $5,500 dollars for the pair, which in ’80s cash was easily the amount for a new car. By then, John was already the owner of more than one Superbird, and in order to raise the cash for both cars, he would have to cut one Plymouth loose, which didn’t take long.
These transactions were taking place rather quickly, so he didn’t waste much time hauling a trailer to the yard to pluck the red Daytona up. When he got there the cars were as described over the phone. Both vehicles were in rough shape as a result of vandalism due to break-ins over the years. Many parts had been stolen from both and there were visible signs of exterior body damage as a result of theft and being moved around numerous times with a front-loader forklift. The vintage junkyard photos given to us by the folks at the Daytona Superbird club show both cars with their wings in place before they were stolen, and also illustrate the visible level of damage to both cars. Since he could only haul one car, John notes, “I paid a large amount down and loaded up the red car which is the one I wanted, and informed him I would be back ASAP for the blue car.” Two weeks passed and the junkyard owner called and said that he had to get the blue car out of there quickly. John’s buddy stepped up and bought the blue Daytona from the yard but he couldn’t keep it due to financial difficulties, so he eventually ended up selling to John.
With both cars in his possession, the goal at the time was to attempt a restoration on the pair, so he started amassing vast amounts of NOS parts. Back then you could still find plenty of new parts, or really inexpensive used ones for these oddball Mopars. A set of replacement wings was one of the first things he tracked down because they were Daytona-specific, and even back then, extremely hard to find. Keep in mind, this goes back to the early ’80s. These guys, whether they knew it or not, were well ahead of the curve with all this stuff. After 25 years of parts gathering, John’s wife Linda encouraged him to go ahead and get one of the cars done, so in 2007 the first restoration was started, but it wasn’t the red one. John was committed to doing an award-winning OE restoration on the blue Daytona since it was a more unique example. John would move on to restore his 440 6-barrel Superbird to the same level.
The sale of the red Daytona started out as nothing more than casual conversation between restoration shop owners at the 2015 MCACN show. Mike Mancini, the owner of Mike Mancini’s American Muscle Car Restorations in North Kingstown, Rhode Island (www.manciniresto.com) had a customer who was looking to have a Daytona clone built. John’s name and the red Daytona came up in the conversation as a possible candidate to sell a real one. Joe Iourio was the guy who was interested in a Daytona, and the two were soon introduced. John knew that if he sold the red Daytona and Mike was doing the restoration, it was going to a good home, so he agreed to sell it. For Joe, this was the fulfillment of a childhood dream: to own a Daytona. For those of you who follow the Discovery Network’s show Graveyard Carz, you will be familiar with Mike’s work, as his other company, Instrument Specialties, is responsible for all restorations on the dash assemblies used on the show.
Shortly before the transaction was finalized, Mike flew out to Indiana to look at the Daytona and his initial assessment was that “it was a pretty much unmolested car, except for the fenders that John had put in primer. It was all original paint, instruments, and the engine bay wasn’t molested.” The other bonus was that this Daytona came with a huge amount of NOS parts. It was mostly engine bay items, exterior trim pieces, and a lot of very difficult to find detail items. Mike notes, “It is nice to have all of that, it made my life easier, otherwise I would have to make the existing pieces look like they were NOS, or actually go out and hunt down NOS parts which is both time consuming and expensive.” With his inspection complete, Joe green lighted the purchase and the deal was made.
When you embark on one of these restorations, and a customer has an open checkbook to get it to the concours level, it helps that a shop has done a few restorations on these types of cars because it actually saves money. Mike approaches a Daytona restoration in the same way that Chrysler built the car, which means that you first have to focus on restoring a Charger R/T. You then need to duplicate the process for the Daytona transformation, which was done by Creative Industries, an outside vendor tasked with doing the conversion work. On a Daytona, one of the more complicated aspects to properly capture are the nuances between what was done at the factory, and the latter sloppy installation of the front clip and finish work on the rear window plug. When we tell you that these cars were literally thrown together, it’s not an exaggeration, and the tricky part is to make that mess look day-one correct.
Disassembly is also a critical part of the restoration because it will dictate the way the car is restored. Things like factory markings, paint overspray, decal placement, undercoat application, or even runs in the undercarriage primer are all documented and eventually duplicated. Each component on the car is removed, inspected, cataloged, and a decision at that point made as to what will be done to it. Often parts need to be repaired or replated, and when that isn’t an option, new ones or used ones in good condition are tracked down.
For the crew at Mike’s shop, the teardown of the Daytona began in 2016 with a goal of making it to the 2017 MCACN show. The restoration was a linear process that was made much simpler by not having to track down or replace sheet metal. The biggest obstacle they had was repairing the damaged trunk lid that had been pried open at the junkyard when the rear wing was stolen. Many man hours were spent getting the car to the paint stage, and as Mike points out, “customers have an option in how they will have their car painted. They can opt for a modern base-coat/clearcoat finish, or if they are looking for 100-percent originality, then spraying it with an enamel finish is the other option.” When it came time to lay down the R4 Charger Red shade on the Daytona, Joe opted for the modern style finish. The Daytona was finished in time for the 2017 Carlisle Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and then went to the 2017 MCACN show, where it was one of the special unveilings. It was also bestowed with a Concours Gold award at that show.
These cars were saved from the crusher, and will now live on as some of the finest examples of their kind, but we suspect most of the other 50 that landed there didn’t have such a happy ending, which was the sad fate of many muscle cars from that era since they were considered disposable.
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