Sui Generis is an old Latin legal term that means one-of-a-kind, or that there is nothing else like it. In other words, something that is unique. It is the term I think of when I remember a certain 1974 Charger from my youth.
Most of my TOTGA (The Ones That Got Away) cars were those I briefly test drove, really wanted, but did not buy. This one was a little different. I could have bought it if I had wanted to, but never thought about it until it was too late. And the jury is still out on whether I would have actually wanted to buy it or not.
This car came into my life in the summer of 1978. I had just graduated high school and my best friend Dan and I were planning to head off to college together, where we would be roommates. Our college allowed freshmen to have a car, but parking was inconvenient. And besides, both of our parents thought it was stupid for either of us to have a car on campus.
Dan’s father was Howard, the second of my two main car-mentors. Howard was a Mopar guy and typically bought new cars fairly frequently. Dan and I had been close friends for about six years by then, and there had been probably seven different cars in and out of the family driveway in that time. But this one was, well, unique.
The car was a bright red 1974 Dodge Charger. That, in itself, sounds pretty normal – after all, you can find bright red ’74 Chargers online all day long. Like this one.
Or this one.
This subject of this story, however, was quite abnormal in both what it was and how it got to Dan’s family. The car itself was a complete and total stripper. As in not one. single. option. This Charger was built as a “Coupe”, which meant that it was the “value leader” – think of the 1970’s version of a Studebaker Scotsman. The “Coupe” was different from the “Hardtop” in that the hardtop’s rear quarter windows rolled down and had significantly more standard equipment. The Coupe needed no such luxuries. But that was just the start.
This car came with a slant six, a three-speed manual on the column, heat, and rubber floor covering. It had a bench seat in trim “B2”.
A “B2” in black was an all-vinyl bench seat with heavy-duty silver-gray vinyl in the seating areas that gave a distinct taxi vibe. There were black tires, tiny hubcaps and pretty much nothing else.
If it was standard equipment the car had it, and if it cost a nickel extra, the car did not. Almost every other Charger may have gotten the good instrument cluster with the round gauges, but this one got the one straight out of every Coronet taxi ever built, right down to the blank space where the A.M. radio should have gone.
When Howard found it, the car had 10,000 miles on the odometer. The story was that the original owner had owned a big Buick but when the combination of high gas prices and a recession hit, he went looking for an economical new car. The dealer must have been out of Darts. The first owner must have realized his mistake right away, because he only put 2,500 miles a year on the car. Howard said that the car had never even been washed – there were still traces of yellow grease pencil marks on the tires and under the hood, and the red paint had become quite oxidized. There must have been a little fender bender too, because part of the car had been resprayed (and was therefore a slightly different color of dull, faded red).
By the summer of 1979 the Charger (as it was called) had become the boys’ car in that family, and Dan, his brother and I went several places in it – including a trip to Toledo, Ohio for Dan’s quest to get a tattoo (when tattoo parlors, as they were then called, were still illegal in Indiana). The Charger also came to school the next year for Dan and his brother to share.
First, the car suffered the failings of every one of those 1971-74 Mopar B body coupes. The bodies felt flimsy (although structurally tight, a combination that still causes me to scratch my head). The long hood was not really straight, but kind of undulated out from the windshield to the bumper in a series of small waves. The hollow “tha-lumph” of the slamming door caused the steering column/steering wheel to judder. The cranking of the slant six made the car sway side to side ever so slightly in time with the cranking of the engine. But then the engine fired and the fun started.
The Charger must have had the 2.94 gears because it was always a challenge to get away from a stop without at least one stall (until one got some practice time in). Actually a check of the Charger’s dealer book says that 3:21 gears were the only set available on the 6/3-speed combo. The gearing seemed taller to me at the time, but maybe that was just the Charger’s 3,570 pounds talking.
The shift linkage was always a bit clanky and was not at all willing to go along with fast shifts (at least without getting jammed into some place that was not a gear). When it came time to park, some work was involved. The front overhang was long, the car was wide, and so was the turning circle. The manual steering was a real muscle builder, made more so when I invariably couldn’t quite turn tight enough to get into the parking space without hitting the car next to us. Which required reverse and lots more steering before getting it moored on the second try.
Part of the problem was the new-for-1974 steering wheel that was of a fairly small diameter and had a fat-spoke design that took up way too many places your hands needed for getting the right grip to muscle the heavy car into submission.
Howard went to a junkyard and replaced it with a 3-spoke wheel from an older low-trim Mopar – it was a little larger in diameter and kept its spokes out of the way for maximum wrestling room.
The Charger was a good highway car, though. Other than the minimal sound insulation and the lack of air conditioning, it still had good fresh air vents and cruised with ease (at least with the era’s 55 mph speed limits). The long wheelbase smoothed things out and the fairly fast manual steering showed its positive side in sure-footed highway travel. There was plenty of room for stretching out in the wide back seat, unbothered by things like window cranks getting in the way.
The Charger stayed with Dan’s brother after he graduated, then Dan got it back some time after. I went to visit him once after I started law school, and wondered why nobody answered the door of his apartment when the Charger was out front. I later learned that Dan had sold the Charger to a neighbor. By that time, it had started to rust in the rear quarters (as they all did) and the paint had reverted to its faded state, improved only by a coating of rain to give it some shine.
It was only after I realized that the car had been sold that I got a little wistful, wondering if I should have tried to put in a request to call me if the thought of selling came to mind. Then again, I remembered how much I had groused every time I tried driving it in traffic and parking in public parking lots that required some maneuvering. I guess maybe I liked the idea of the Charger more than I liked the car itself. I will admit that it had been fun when other Charger owners would give this bright red one a little nod of respect, making me chuckle at how they had not a clue of what was (or was not) under the hood.
The car was probably not sui generis when Chrysler built it. 1974 was an awful year for America’s No. 3 auto manufacturer so the company was probably churning any and every combination it could think to make out into the infamous sales bank, and a low, low priced mid-sized coupe probably showed up at dealers on quite a few trucks. But now? Try to find one. I couldn’t even find a picture of a decent looking one, thus the lead photo of a ’73 with upgraded wheels and a hood bump.
I found a couple of examples of the B2 interior, but only in blue or green – not the black I knew. Except for this one that is barely recognizable.
Update: I found a 1973 version, although one that has had multiple upgrades in the dash and other trim.
Also, try to find a picture of a 74 Charger with 1) no version of the multiple vinyl roof treatments offered that year and 2) no big stripes. Really, the stripper red Charger may have been the best looking of these I ever saw, with nothing to detract from the car’s unusually clean (though, by 1974, dated) lines.
In the end, I decided that this car had to be among my collection of TOTGA because I never saw another like it, and with the passage of time, am pretty sure I will never see one like it again. This one well and truly got away, and there will never be another.