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The Lonsdale engine plant might be unrecognisable and Tonsley Park has little signage left, but there's plenty of examples of Chrysler's production history still running hard. The Chrysler Charger legend was born in 1971 and for years was the fastest-accelerating Australian-built car.
Tony and Karen Lennell have strong connections to the breed, with family working for the company at the time of the Charger's production. But it wasn't always Chryslers that sat in the Lennell garage - Holdens and later HSVs were under the the roof as well.
"I was a Holden man but had family ties to Chrysler here - Karen's dad was an engineer there, they've grown on me over the years so we decided to buy one," he says. The couple - under the pretence of a weekend away in Sydney - found what they were looking for just over a year ago at Australian Musclecar Sales in Sydney.
The couple's car is a pretty rare beast - a 1971 three-speed manual VH E37 Charger R/T, powered by the famous 265-cubic inch (about 4.3-litre) in-line "Hemi" six-cylinder engine. When it left the factory in 1971 priced at $3935 new, there was 248 horsepower on offer - 185kW and 415Nm - thanks to triple Weber carburettors.
It's one of only 135 R/Ts built and one of just 18 painted in the hot mustard colour - while Mr Lennell was coy about how much he paid for the car, pristine examples have sold for as much as $100,000. "We flew to Sydney for a weekend away, and I happened to just say that we were going to stop off and look at a car - four hours later we owned the car," he says.
The E37 has been returned to factory-spec after the long and expensive task of sourcing parts and getting the car to the right automotive people for the serious work. Friday nights have become known as shed night with work continuing into early hours of Saturday morning. "We got to work on researching the original parts and equipment, it needed a three-speed gearbox, Mark at Brighton Service Centre put that in for me - he sourced the gearbox for me."
Mr Lennell said the floor, interior trim and the cabin have been returned to how the car was as it left the line at Tonsley Park 40 years ago. "The engine and diff have been given the once-over as well, the 3.23:1 LSD is back in there, it's got new original-spec extractors and the triple carburettors have been put back to rights by West Torrens Dyno Centre," he says.
Although registered on historic plates, the E37 isn't a molly-coddled museum piece - the Lennells drove it to Renmark for an award-winning appearance at a recent club event and more recently braved locusts and native fauna to enter the car in the Chrysler on The Murray event at Albury-Wodonga. "We were just at Chrysler On The Murray, where we won the best VH Charger .... we were one of more than 150 Chargers up there for the 40th anniversary," he says.
The couple received plenty of "Hey Charger" salutes on the trip to Albury-Wodonga. "Every time we stopped for fuel it took about half an hour to leave as people wanted to have a look at the car, it hardly used any oil and cruised at 100km/h all the way. "We were driving down the Hume with Leo Geoghegan's car next to us, E49s, E38s - they got a group shot of 150 of these cars together, it was fantastic."
The job is not done yet as the couple have plans to pull the engine out for another re-build - as well as a taking it back to its original colour - re-painting the engine bay and re-building the front suspension in preparation for next year.
"It was a fun drive and we're going to do it again next year - we're going to take it up to Bathurst next year and take it up The Mountain," he says.
About the Chrysler Valiant Charger
The Chrysler Valiant Charger is an icon of Australian motor vehicle manufacturing and the VH started it all. The company started manufacturing in 1971 and built 17,918 VH Chargers - at one stage accounting for half of the total Valiant production by Chrysler.
Overall, around 1300 were R/T models, and of these, but R/T E37 Performance models numbered only 135.
The R/T had a 3.23:1 differential (rather than the 2.92 standard in other Chargers), as well as a tachometer, oil pressure gauge, six-inch rims, a front anti-roll bar and a three-speed manual gearbox.
At the time the company claimed a stock E37 could complete a quarter-mile sprint in 15.7 seconds, but that number fell if the optional "six-pack" package was added, which put three two-barrel Weber carburettors on the straight-six engine and upped the power to 248hp (a 30hp increase) and 306 foot pounds.
The base-model car was priced from $2795 but the R/T was priced $3395 - now these cars can fetch anywhere between $60,000 and $110,000.
The R/T high performance pack came about from a desire to go motor racing, adding black stripes, a black radiator grille, driving lights, model-specific steel wheels, a sports instrumentation pack and a two-spoke aluminium steering wheel.