COAL: 1973 Dodge Charger – You Always Remember Your First

1973 Charger

Sunrise in Binghamton

(Welcome our new Saturday COALer, Seth A.)

Ely Park, Binghampton, NY just after sunrise on 4-16-1981.  My first roll of 35 mm film with my dad’s then 20+ year old Canon camera on a frigid cold morning.  Google says that it was 27° F at the Binghampton airport at sunrise that morning.  I guess that’s why the photo is a little blurry.  Amazingly it appears to be the only photo I ever took of the car.

It had the venerable 318, allegedly bored over with 340 heads. A few weeks after this photo was taken, I swapped the manifold and added a Holly Double Pumper 4 BBL carburetor and wider tires (60’s in the front, 50’s on the rear).

Looking at the colors from the sales brochure the exterior was Medium Tan Metallic

It’s not surprising that I ended up with a Dodge.  My parents owned a series of Dart’s.  A 1967, a 1968 (270 2 -door), a 1970, a 1972, a 1973 and a 1975 (Dart Custom).  I took my driver’s license road test in the 1975 and passed despite refusing to do the mandatory broken U-turn in the middle of an icy hill.  The other cars of my youth were a 1964 Barracuda with the push button automatic (the only new car my father ever bought) and a green station wagon. I believe the station wagon was a Polara.  I’d had a crush on the theatre club’s prima donna since the 5th grade, I wanted to learn to fly and really liked Harry Chapin’s “Taxi”.  I eventually got my Commercial Pilot’s License.  While she’d had a small part in a 1976 movie and lives in the San Francisco Bay area she never became an actress.

Before buying this Charger, I’d looked at an Orange 1968 Charger.  The seller of the 1968 wanted more than I had and the floor boards were so rotten that my feet got wet during the test drive.  The rust on this 1973 was confined to the rear quarter panels and bottom of the trunk and the asking price left me enough cash to go register it.

It was late October or early November of 1981, a few weeks past my 17th birthday when I bought it and I was several months shy of my 19th birthday when I traded it in on my first new car in April 1982.  I owned it for roughly 18 months and put about 22,000 miles on it.  I look back at how I drove and am kind of amazed that I survived this car.  I never hurt the car, nor did I hurt any people or animals.  I certainly contributed more than my share to global warming, especially when the secondaries (on the carb) kicked open.

A scare on Daytona Beach made me decide to sell it.  Suffice it to say I was lucky that the breakwater is visible at low tide and I had good brakes.  Surprisingly I only got two tickets in this car, neither for speeding (although by rights they should have been).  I did get a bunch of warnings (there are advantages to being in the Navy when you’re young and stupid).  The nicest was on Christmas Eve 1981 from a South Carolina Sheriff who suggested I stop at the rest area just up the road and take a nap until the State Boys just up the road got off duty.  It was around 11 pm and I’d left the Orlando Naval Training Center (NTC) after a full workday so I guess I might not have been holding my lane position so well.  About 24 hours later I got a ticket on NY 17 (in an area called the Wurtsboro Hills) for failure to maintain my vehicle in a single lane of travel.  I’d caught a little air, blew out the right front tire when I landed and woke the State Trooper up.

In June of 1981 I’d left the Charger in Binghampton when I shipped to boot camp.  That led to the purchase of my second car, a mid-sixties Dodge Dart (to give to my sister to get my Charger back) and the first car that I really wanted but couldn’t afford to buy.  I’ve found the photo sleeve that in theory should have pictures of those two cars, but those photos and about half the negatives are missing.  Without photo’s neither of those is worth its own write up.

In late September 1981 I was finishing up my class “A” training school at Great Lakes NTC and thinking about what I was going to do for transportation.  In the parking lot across from my barracks was a Carolina Blue Plymouth Superbird with a for sale sign.  The owner was asking $7000.  I had $3000.  As an E-3 earning $642 / month who was about to transfer to another duty station no one was going to approve me for a loan so I ended spending $400 on a relatively solid mid-sixties Dart.  That Dart took me from Great Lakes to Binghampton the weekend before Columbus day and served my sister until she and her husband traded it for a stake bed truck the following December.  It had the small slant 6 and a really good heater.  I still don’t understand how the first snow storm of the season caught up with me in Ohio…

In closing I’d like to thank Paul for the opportunity to share my memories