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New Jersey man’s twice-restored ’70 Charger R/T wins Mopar Top Eliminator honors

Like many young men in the early 1980s, New Jersey native Bill Mann loved watching a bright-orange Dodge Charger fly through the air each week on a very popular, Southern-themed network television show. The incredible stunts of that scene-stealing Charger turned the 9-year-old Mann into a car fan who “started reading everything I could find” on cars in general and Mopars in particular.

While the TV show’s Charger was a 1969 model, Mann’s pride and joy is a 1970 Charger R/T that he has restored twice in the past 23 years. Now the car, with a Plum Crazy exterior and white interior, has been named the second Mopar Top Eliminator of 2013. Mann’s car was selected for the award in July at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pa.

The ’70 Charger R/T and Mann, from Piscataway, N.J., will join the first Mopar Top Eliminator winner in 2013, a 1964 Plymouth Savoy owned by Miles Watsko of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as featured cars in the Mopar display at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit on Aug. 17.

Mann, 43, is a Mopar man – his daily driver to and from him job at a major insurance company is a 2011 Ram 1500 Laramie pickup, the third Ram he’s owned. The Top Eliminator car shares garage space with two other cars from the Charger’s second generation: a ’68 that a teen-aged Mann and his father restored at the family home in Berkeley Heights, N.J., in the mid 1980s; and a ’69 that he put together for his wife, “built to drive with some modern features,” Mann says.

It was that father-son project that gave Mann the bug for Chargers: “When we were done with the car, I said I can’t drive this to school. So I searched the classifieds to find a beater and came up with a ’71 (Plymouth) Road Runner. But I still wanted a ’68 Charger R/T and searched through ads for months – there was no Internet back then. Then I thought maybe I could find a ’70.”

Mann finally found his car in late 1989, in Spokane, Wash. Encouraged by photos of the car and carrying enough cash to make a deal, he flew across the country to check it out. “It was unmolested, bone stock,” Mann recalls, “although I was a bit disappointed in the state of the body and the paint. But it was all there, even all the paperwork from the original buyer.”

So Mann bought the ’70 Charger R/T, and then had to wait four months before it arrived back in New Jersey as snowstorms clogged the transit route. Once the car was off the truck, Mann says he sanded, buffed and detailed the car. But by the following spring the body flaws gnawed at him to the point where he decided to take it down to the bare metal, fix any damage and repaint the Charger.

“That’s when the truth reared its ugly head,” Mann says. “I found a lot of bad body repairs, a lot of filler. I decided then to do the whole thing, inside and out.”

The restoration took five years. Committed to keeping the car as original as possible, Mann rebuilt as many parts as possible. He swapped notes with friends and fellow Mopar club members and spent plenty of time on the road going to swap meets to find parts such as new old stock fenders and quarter panels. He was picky – it took four tries to get material that closely matched the Charger’s original headliner. In late 1996 the car was finally finished.

The next summer, a friend with an enclosed trailer offered to haul Mann’s Charger to a car show in Carlisle, Pa., as Mann followed along in another car. It was from that seat he watched his friend’s vehicle crash into the back of a tractor-trailer truck in a highway construction zone, launching the Charger through the front wall of the trailer.

The post-crash inspection found that the car was damaged in many spots as it bounced around the trailer. The friend said he would have the Charger repaired and Mann began searching again for original parts, such as fenders, grille and front bumper.

But nine months later the banged-up Charger was still in a repair shop, untouched. So Mann moved the car to another friend’s garage and began a second restoration, this one taking 18 months until late in 1998.

Since then the Plum Crazy ’70 Charger R/T has been a prized possession for Mann. It was OE Certified at the Chrysler Nationals in 2000, and served as his wedding car in 2002.

A key part of the OE certification is having as much original documentation of the car as possible. Much of it came with the car when Mann bought it – he knew he was the fourth owner of the Charger and that it was built in May 1970, sold by a Dodge dealership in Walla Walla, Wash., and had the name of the original buyer. Last year, wanting to know more about the original buyer, Mann worked to contact his family and found that the first owner was still living in the Spokane area.

“Since then we’ve become quite good friends and email pen pals,” Mann says. “He, his wife and his entire family were so elated to hear his old car still existed and well cared for. He sent me a few vintage photos of when the day he bought it and has exchanged many stories with me about the car.”

Over the years Mann has taken the Charger to car shows. He wanted to bring it to this year’s Carlisle show so he could meet other members of the 1970 Dodge Charger Registry Club that were coming to the Chrysler Nationals.

Mann says he “completely forgot” about the Top Eliminator competition, even though the owner of the car parked next to his won the honor in 2012. Winning this year left him “totally shocked.”

“When Mopar tells you that your car is among the best, there’s not much else to say,” Mann says. Equipment on his car includes the 440 Magnum V-8, automatic transmission, performance axle package, power front disc brakes, air conditioning, power steering and an 8-track tape player.

Mann says he’s turned down several offers to buy the car over the years. “There’s no way I would sell, and I’ve had some mind-blowing offers. But I’ve dedicated so much of my life to it.”