465bhp 1969 Dodge Charger R/T Clone
What do you do when you dream of a 426 Charger but don't have the cash for it? Simple: you build it yourself.
Text: Marion Kattler-Vetter
Photos: Mario Klemm, marioklemm.com
You want it? You got it! Tomas Johansson and his '69 Dodge Charger.
Tomas Johansson decided to treat his '69 Hemi SE to a brand-new engine and transform it into an R/T. Fake? Not at all. Tomas' baby is a genuine clone.
TOMAS JOHANSSON AND HIS '69 DODGE CHARGER
In 1969, when Woodstock and the moon landing opened up new horizons for people, the Charger was soaring high. Apart from the fake air vents, it didn't need any fashionable design gimmicks. Clean, charismatic, and unbelievably cool, it was considered the king of drag racers and even made its mark on real racetracks. While a small prince with a hot camshaft was enough to satisfy racing enthusiasts in Germany, American kids were driving themselves crazy with powerful muscle cars. As the horsepower war between Chrysler, FoMoCo, and GM reached its peak, Dodge introduced the split-grille design and joined the R/T models. The 425 horsepower Hemi with 426 cubic inches became the benchmark, with the 440 engine featuring conventional cylinders, a four-barrel carburetor, and 375 horsepower coming in below that. The Charger could now be ordered with SE (Special Edition) trim, which aimed to attract buyers of luxurious cars with wood-look interior, leather seats, and deep-dish wheels. About 15 years later, a moped-riding teenager in Sweden became aware of muscle cars. The Mopar virus had already reached the north.
Tomas Johansson was also captivated, especially by a '71 Charger and an open '70 Challenger, which left a lasting impression. Both Hemis cruised through his hometown of Nybro in Småland. There was also a '70 Challenger — albeit «only» with a 440 engine. And then there was a sawmill director with his '71 Barracuda Convertible, equipped with a 4-barrel 383 Super Commando under the hood. These were quite unusual cars in small Nybro during the mid-'80s. A muscle car had to be in his possession. The decision was made: Tomas also wanted a Mopar, but as frequent as they were in Nybro, they were rarely offered for sale. At the tender age of 16, Tomas bought a '68 Mustang Hardtop, followed by a variety of other American cars, including a '57 Cadillac Biarritz that he completely restored over the years. It wasn't until the 2000s that Tomas started actively searching for a Mopar again, specifically a '69 Charger with the new front and the awesome rear end. Unfortunately, the timing was off. The hype surrounding U.S. classics was in full swing, the selection was meager, and the offerings were either ridiculously expensive or in a state of decay. «In the end, I placed an ad,» Tomas recalls the frustration, «and I actually received ONE response.» The car was located in Sundsvall, and on a gray Christmas weekend, the Charger enthusiast made his way north by train. «There was snow up there,» Tomas grins, «and I arrived wearing sneakers and a thin jacket, ready for a test drive.» Despite slippery summer tires, he was thrilled and purchased the 383 SE, driving his new acquisition back south without any issues. That was in 2003. Since then, Tomas has also discovered the history of his muscle car: In 1972, a Swede named Runo discovered it at a NATO base in Germany, bought it for 5,000 SEK, and brought it to Västerås, the Swedish hotspot of muscle car culture. But, unbelievably, Runo traded it for a Mercedes after just one year… and the new owner quickly parted ways with it too, complaining about its high fuel consumption. The next owner traded his Ford Capri plus a few thousand dollars for the Charger, and so it went on: Most people found the fuel consumption too high. Then came someone who recognized the true value of the muscle car. He kept it for 10 years, retrofitted electric windows, R/T drums, stabilizers, and a carburetor, had it repainted, and added the white Bumblebee stripe on the rear and the R/T emblem. The next owner replaced the front seat covers with new leather hides but soon after that decided to sell… and he came across Tomas' ad!
A real challenge: the new crate engine.
Finally, the moment of the Charger enthusiast had arrived. Tomas transported the muscle car to the deep forests of Småland. During the first few winters, he took care of minor repairs such as turn signals, alternator, cables, rear axle, and speedometer—things that bothered the Charger nerd from Nybro. But there were still plenty of tours: Wheels & Wings in Varberg, the Nostalgia Festival in Ronneby, the Power Meet in Emmaboda, and many outings with his wife and daughters. Everything was great, but something was missing: a Hemi engine. A new 426 engine cost $14,000, not including the air filter, headers, and more.
It was no small feat for a service manager at a car dealership, but in the winter of 2008, the decision was made. The order was placed with JEGS in Ohio, and then the long wait began. In March, a huge wooden crate arrived with the crate engine, and the trouble started right from the unloading. «The behemoth was so heavy that it bent my engine crane,» Tomas laughs about it now, but the frustration continued. Cars with original Hemis had a different front subframe, so motor mounts were ordered to fit the standard Charger's subframe. And that wasn't all. «I had to replace the starter, exhaust system, pulleys, kickdown, oil dipstick, fan shroud, carburetor, and several other things before it was time for the test start. Some parts were available in Sweden, while others came from the USA. After much cursing, sweating, and despair, when the time finally came for the first drive, the R/T Tribute lowered its nose dangerously close to the ground and lifted its rear end. „The 426 engine is equipped with stronger suspension, so I replaced the torsion bars with the correct ones,“ calmly states Tomas.
Nothing can shake this petrolhead anymore. He knows all the idiosyncrasies of a true R/T and has faithfully built his SE according to the original specifications. Crazy? No, passionate. After all, Tomas is upholding the Hemi tradition in Nybro. And the rides with this thunderbolt make up for everything. Truly, for everything...
TECHNICAL DATA 1969 Dodge Charger R/T Clone
- Year of Manufacture: 1969
- Engine: V8 Hemi
- Displacement: 426 cubic inches / 6,974 cc
- Power: 342 kW (465 bhp)
- Max. Torque: 669 Nm at 4,200 rpm
- Transmission: 4-speed manual
- Drive: Rear-wheel drive
- L/W/H in mm: 5,283/1,948/1,