Story by Geoff Stunkard * Photos by Geoff & John Stunkard
Tim and Pam Wellborn’s legendary collection of musclecars is anchored by their incredible group of authentic 1971 Hemi Chargers (as well as examples with other power from that model release). After all, one of the first cars in the group was a Tawny Gold 1971 Hemi Charger that Tim’s father had purchased not long after these cars ended up on the street. In the ensuing years, Tim and Pam gathered other examples, including famous ones that were road-tested by national magazines and used in factory advertising. Recently, they debuted one of the earliest and the final 426 Hemi examples built.
Here are the two Chargers driving down the road. Like all the cars the Wellborns own, they are kept in running order and get ‘regular exercise.’
The first car ends in serial number 00023, and was originally delivered to the legendary Grand-Spaulding Dodge in Chicago. This was likely the very first Hemi car delivered there, and was among those rarities of rarities – a pilot car that was not scrapped.
The underside of the pilot car’s deck shows that no provision to mount a rear spoiler had been created yet.
This is the production car spoiler mounts, seen on a 440 Six Pack 1971 Charger that is in the collection.
Pilot cars were done to create several examples of each vehicle package; it was especially critical in that summer of 1970, as the B-Body Dodges and Plymouths were completely redesigned for 1971. Moreover, most pilot cars were scrapped as they were actually ‘test shots.’ The pilot process gave engineering, management, and laborers time to decide the sequence of construction, parts fitment, and other details that would be harder to solve once the production line was up and running at speed.
Roger Gibson did use replacement door panels since the ones on the car were marked as trim plant samples when they were created. The car is a time capsule showing what changed leading toward the beginning of production later in 1970.
“It’s really unbelievable to own a car built as early as this one,” says Tim Wellborn, who owns it now. “What’s more, we also have the final one built in 1971, meaning you can see both the first and last 1971 Chargers when they are on display.”
The pilot car is painted FE5 Red and was recently subjected to a very complete restoration by noted artisan Roger Gibson as it was purchased disassembled from its previous owner. The car had many unique pieces on it, and Gibson was careful to either replicate or restore those items. This included things like one-off stampings and parts markedly different from what ended up in later production. The window glass is dated 2-70 and the rear springs are off of the 1970 model.
More specifically, the 1971 model year ended up being the performance finale for Dodge’s musclecar production – the R/T, the Hemi, the Six Pack, and the Super Bee (now based on the Charger platform) all exited at the end of the model year. To that end, Tim began searching for the last 1971 Hemi Charger to roll off the assembly line, whose VIN ended in 90774 according to Chrysler Corporation records. The car turned up in Michigan, and shows just under 43,000 miles on the odometer. Painted FY1 Top Banana yellow, the car is similar to the pilot car since it is an R/T and included the Hemi / four-speed combination, console interior, and black graphics. The car will eventually end up with Gibson as well, since it is an older restoration; assembled the last day of production, July 30, 1971 there is no question that it is the last-built VIN Hemi Charger.
One thing that was standard on the Hemi-equipped 1971 Charger which had never been offered before was the functional Ramcharger hood scoop; no prior Charger had used one, and it got an A+ for ‘cool factor.’
These two bracket no less than 23 other 1971 Hemi Chargers in the collection. All of the cars at the museum will be part of a special event that will take place on the second weekend of October, the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the 1971 Dodge Charger, which will showcase a group of 150 cars that have been selected for display. The two-day occurrence will encompass presentations and special displays. While the field has been set as of this date, weekend admission to the entire program is available, with local accommodations available. Contact the museum for more info.