Original Owner and His Challenger R/T Convertible Are Reunited

The annual Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN) is more than just an awesome indoor car show held every November outside Chicago. It’s also a reunion of sorts of former love interests and fond memories. Instead of old high school friends getting together at a banquet hall or country club to reminisce about the good old days of drive-in movies and restaurants, first dates, classmate crushes, football games and homecoming, MCACN has been the place for original owners to be reunited with muscle cars they had in their youth. Every year at MCACN, current owners of the cars they brought to the show meet up with the original owners. While it may not be as historically impactful in the big scheme of things, for hardcore enthusiasts who put the blood, sweat and boatloads of money into restoring a rare machine, meeting the person who actually bought the car brand new is a big deal and consider it living history.

Thomas Dubusky (76) of Lexington, Ohio, a retired engineer, purchased this stunning Bright Red 1970 Challenger R/T Convertible brand new. He was only 23 at the time and it was his first year out of college and he wanted a new car. “I thought I wanted a Corvette but when the new Plymouth ‘Cudas and Dodge Challengers came out in 1970, I changed my mind,” smiled Thomas. “I then had to decide between a ‘Cuda and a Challenger, so I went to my local Dodge dealer, Hopkins Motor, and they had a Plum Crazy Challenger with a white interior in the showroom and knew right away I wanted a Challenger. So, I picked up a Challenger brochure from the dealer and I went home that night and checked off the options I wanted. When it came to deciding on the color, I chose red with a black interior. My cousin, who was a few years older than me, had a new 1964 ½ Ford Mustang and he ordered it red with a black interior, so I really liked the way that looked and that’s how I chose the color.” 

After Thomas made up his mind on the color, engine, transmission and other options, he headed to another dealer, Valley Dodge Sales Inc. in Wheeling, West Virginia, to get the ball rolling. “I ordered the Challenger on January 12, 1970. I wanted to get the 426 HEMI®, but the salesman sort of talked me out of it,” exclaimed Thomas. “I could kick myself now for not ordering the HEMI, but I decided on the 440 Magnum and four-speed. I put a down payment on the car and it showed up February 6th of that year. The day it came in, I went right down to the dealer and drove the Challenger to drive it home. It was amazing to feel the power and torque of the 440 and go through the gears, I fell in love right away. I had to park it on the street as I didn’t have a garage where I was living back then, but I kept it clean by washing it once a week and vacuuming the interior. I liked this car so much; I changed the oil and filter every 1,500 miles!” 

As the 1970s progressed, Thomas started dating Letitia Massey. Her earliest memories of the Challenger came before she and Thomas were even a couple. “Thomas was living below me in an apartment, but I didn’t really know. His Challenger was parked out from in the street, and it snowed that evening. He was trying to get to work in the morning, but his car was stuck. He was revving the engine trying to rock the car and get it unstuck. The windows in my room were rattling from the noise of the car. I then opened the window and asked if he needed help and would like a beer,” laughed Letitia. That’s all it took for Thomas to begin dating and eventually marry Letitia. “Thomas and I took the Challenger on many trips to the lake towing our 14-foot boat and with that powerful engine, it felt as if we had the world on a string.” 

Since the Challenger R/T was the pride and joy of Thomas, the unwritten rule in the house was no one drove the car but him. Until the time Thomas was out playing golf and Letitia had friends and family stop over. They fired up the Challenger R/T, dropped the top and went for a cruise. No one was wiser despite Thomas noting he saw another Challenger just like his cruising past the golf course. Letitia’s secret remained in the vault for years! There was, however, an unfortunate mishap with the Challenger that occurred in April of 1975. “I was driving and got into some black ice and the car spun out. No one was hurt but it did substantial damage,” remembered Thomas. 

The Challenger would get repaired and was soon relegated to summertime weekend travel. As the value of Mopar® muscle cars increased, especially on big-block E-body convertibles, Thomas drove the car less and less to preserve it. By 2018, he was ready to sell it and the next chapter was about to begin. Enter Mark Hoffman from Northern California, a diehard Mopar enthusiast looking for a cool car. “I heard about Thomas selling his Challenger a few years ago but I passed on it because I had another Mopar car in my sights,” said Mark. “Then at the 2019 MCACN show, the Challenger was on display in the ‘VIP Corral’ and there it was. I called my good friend Eric Andersen and Eric said, ‘That’s the one that got away, if you can get that Challenger, get that car!’ Of course, Thomas has some great attachment to it but if you’re a car collector, this checks off all the buttons. It’s numbers matching, great color combination, tons of paperwork, one of 34 built, it’s an amazing collectible car,” commented Mark. 

When Mark bought the car, it wasn’t a “basket case” by any means, but the prior amateur restoration wasn’t up to his standards. “The Challenger was in good shape and ran well, but a thorough restoration was justified due to the rareness of a 1970 440 Magnum Challenger R/T convertible. So, a ground-up rotisserie restoration was performed by Dave Mortensen. He’s been restoring Mopar vehicles for over three decades and did a fantastic job on the Challenger. I’m very happy on how it turned out! I’ll be taking the car to more national, regional and local shows. After that, I’ll just enjoy driving to ‘Cars and Coffee’ events near my house,” declared Mark. 

Looking back over the decades of owning this rare example of Dodge’s “Pony Car”, Letitia had this to say, “Thomas loved the car more than me, but after we had children, he loved us more than his Challenger. But seeing Thomas’ Challenger is above and beyond anything we expected and it’s wonderful to be back with the car.” For Thomas, we can tell the flame in his heart for his first-ever brand-new car has not flickered one bit. “Feels great to be reunited with his Challenger, it looks better than the day I drove it home from the dealer.” 

This is one reunion we’re glad to have attended!