CONCORD – From Charlotte Motor Speedway: Mopar enthusiasts will rejoice during the April 4-7 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the last documented car to leave any Chrysler plant with a factory-installed 426 HEMI engine will make its first public appearance after restoration.
The 1971 Dodge Charger, dubbed “The Last HEMI,” was restored by Mooresville, N.C.-based RKM Performance Center. The car will be unveiled to the public at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 4, as part of opening day of the Food Lion AutoFair.
The history of this 1971 Charger, believed to be one of only 33 from 1971 with the HEMI/automatic transmission combination, is certainly an interesting one. Records show the car was built on June 18, 1971, a full two weeks later than the closest documented HEMI-equipped car.
Ordered by a customer at Glavic Dodge in Wickliffe, Ohio, the salesman at the time told the customer the car would likely never be built as Chrysler had discontinued the HEMI. Against all odds and to the delight of the customer, the bright white car with full R/T striping was delivered just three weeks after being ordered.
In the late 1970s, a 14-year-old boy named Joe Angelucci noticed the car sticking out of a garage. Angelucci, the son of a racer, immediately recognized the car for what it was and tracked down the owner.
“After talking to my dad and finding out it might have a HEMI, my interest grew from there,” said Angelucci.
The car, which had changed hands once since it was originally purchased, wasn’t for sale at that point in time.
Fast forward to the early 1990s and Angelucci, now an adult in his mid-20s, found out that the Charger was for sale. The owner, who remembered the young boy from years past, agreed to sell the Charger to the young man.
“I didn’t find out it was the last HEMI for many years. I bought the car because I loved it. It had nothing to do with the value,” said Angelucci, who recently decided to get it restored. “I’d known of RK Motors for a while and had seen the kind of work they do. I knew that was where the Charger had to go.”
The car, with its 426cid HEMI V8 425-horsepower engine that features 490 foot pounds of torque, left its owner in Ohio and is now at RKM Performance Center. The skilled mechanics and technicians there were given orders to restore the car to better-than-new condition before its first public appearance at the Food Lion AutoFair.
Mike Velek, the restoration manager at RKM Performance Center, was unsure at first as to how the restoration would go after seeing the car for the first time.
“I initially had mixed emotions about the Charger,” Velek said. “While it was great to see an untouched original HEMI car, northeastern life had definitely taken its toll. I knew it was going to be a labor-intensive build.”
Tasked with returning the car to better-than-new condition, Velek put his team to work. They tracked down original parts, gave the car a coat of fresh paint and put in countless hours of work to make sure Mopar fans all around the world will be awestruck when the car debuts at AutoFair in April.
“Like any restoration, The Last HEMI came with its own set of challenges,” Velek said. “Sourcing NOS (new old stock) parts was especially difficult given the low R/T production numbers for the year.”
After hours of hard work on the 1971 Dodge Charger R/T, Velek expects the car to draw large crowds during AutoFair.
“In the end, I’m proud of the final product and can’t wait for Mopar fans to see it for the first time,” Velek said. “It’s been an honor to lead the restoration of The Last HEMI. I’m confident that, even without the car’s historical significance, it would be among the top ’71 Chargers in the country. There were absolutely no shortcuts taken anywhere.”
The Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 100,000 visitors, features nearly 50 car club displays and offers a surplus of automotive parts and memorabilia for sale or trade. There’s also a collector car auction conducted by Dealer Auctions Inc. and more than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Food Lion AutoFair Tickets are $10 for adults and free for children 13 and under. AutoFair is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For tickets or additional information about Food Lion AutoFair or other events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, call 1-800-455-FANS or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.