I will never be able to tell this full story in the space provided. It's the story of one car with two exceptional histories. A car that should be in a parts yard, but lived to reunite with its original owner, thanks to the thoughtfulness of its current owner.
The story starts with a familiar song. It's the late 60's in America. Muscle cars are flexing on the streets of Anytown, USA, and the U.S.A. is flexing its' military might in the hills and valleys of Vietnam. Jim Munday from Muscatine is playing a part in both scenes, first as a college kid, then as a draftee.
His number was called in 1970, and he kissed his new wife goodbye and shipped off to places unknown with the 1st Cavalry. For the immediate future, his days would be spent on patrol, M-60 on his hip, a couple hundred rounds of ammo wrapped around him like a constrictor. 2 weeks at a time, then a little rest at a Firebase to regroup, and head back out. Such was the dangerous, repetitive, assignment of the infantry. Some months in, and still alive, Jim Munday found himself re-assigned to Battalion HQ Company, 7th Calvary on Bien Hoa.
It was at Battalion HQ Munday found himself paging through the catalog at the PX, and spotted the 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T in Plum Crazy Purple, with the vinyl seats and top. Munday placed the order right there, to be picked up when he returned stateside. Or, more accurately, for his wife to pick up from the Dodge dealer in Iowa City. I asked Munday how he explained to his then wife that he had just bought a new Challenger from the PX, and his reply was, "Well, we were still newlyweds." He left it at that. They are no longer together.
Jim Munday returned from Vietnam, and was stationed in Ft. Hood, TX to finish his bid. He later joined the Army Reserve, and his Challenger followed him along for the ride. The drives were fun, back and forth to college after he retuned home to Muscatine, but his growing family and shrinking wallet required he find something a little more sensible for the garage. After 4 years he traded the Challenger.
Around this same time, John Miller, also in Muscatine, was looking for a 'sensible' used car for himself. He came upon the newly traded Plum Crazy Challenger, and asked the dealer if he could buy it. Typically, the dealer told him, "Sure if you buy it now--but I got another guy coming tomorrow, so I can't promise you it will still be here tomorrow." John knew that he needed a down payment, so he found three uncashed paychecks in his wallet, and signed them over to the dealer right there, with a promise to return the next day. And thus begins life Number 2 for this Mopar.
John and his friends joyously cruised the streets and county roads of Muscatine, and surrounding areas, doing the things a young man with a fast car might do in the late 70's. John's best friend Steve Hepker ran a '73 'Cuda around the same time, and between the both of them, I imagine Muscatine's finest issued many warnings, if not worse! Real life would catch up to John as well, and he too sold the Purple Dodge after 4 years. John was happy to have sold it for only slightly less than he paid for it, and he went on to other cars. All of us car guys do. But we always wonder about that ONE--the one we wish we still had.
Fast forward about 30 years, when John gets a call from the man he sold the car to way back when, who had seen a Plum Crazy Purple Dodge Challenger R/T on the pages of Ebay. Not just any Plum Crazy, but his Plum Crazy! He phones his wife Jan, and they end up with the winning bid! John is now the 7th owner (And was the 2nd owner) of that 1971 Plum Crazy Dodge Challenger.
And in those 30 years, and multiple owners, the car had become, well, different somehow. So John set out to restore the car to its original condition. This required a lot of work. Hunting down parts, calling on friends and family for labor. John didn't know exactly what he'd end up with, but he wanted to remain true to the car. The original stripes, for instance, were left intact during the restoration. The original stripes had a better story to tell. He wanted the car correct, but not necessarily factory fresh. His vision gives the car a unique feel when you walk around it. Like visiting an old friend.
It was during this restoration that John uncovered a tag on the inside driver side front fender. It was unlike anything he'd seen before on a Mopar. Same too for his friends. So he started asking around. The plate, an oval aluminum tag not much larger than a military dog tag, indicated that this Dodge was "Made in The U.S.A." A strange additional designation for a car obviously full of Detroit Muscle (Well, Auburn Hills, anyway.) John discovered that vehicles purchased from overseas contained an export tag affixed from the factory. Since this car was purchased by an American Soldier while serving in Vietnam, it was technically an out-of-country purchase origin. Hence, the export plate. It's a little extra unique feature which car guys love to tell the story of, and adds to the overall story of this Plum Crazy.
A lot of guys would be satisfied with that answer. But John Miller decided he wanted to know more about where this page came from. He found the original owner, Jim Munday, and heard his PX story and history of the car before he came to own it. As they talked on the phone, John decided that he would try and reunite this car with its' original owner sometime down the road.
But the more they talked the more urgently John wanted to make the meeting happen. Like most of our veterans who came back from Vietnam, Jim has had a few health issues, and John wanted to make sure that Jim could not only sit in the car, but start it and drive it if he wished. At least one more time with the wheel in his hand, and a few hundred horses under his seat.
The reunion happened today, at the 3rd Annual Palms Charity Car Show in Muscatine, and I got to be a fly on the proverbial wall as two enthusiasts talked about their history with their car--the same car. John talked about driving the two-lanes around Muscatine, and Jim shared a few tales of how and why he knew that the max speed of this particular car is 135mph. All statute of limitations have passed, he assured me. He also shared with John why the 'R/T' insignia was no longer on the hood of the vehicle, as was common with that model. The carburetor had caught fire, "Probably scorched the hood, and when I had it repainted, it was cheaper to keep it off." Jim would like it to be known that the fire occurred while his then-wife was driving. I asked if that had anything to do with her now being an "Ex-wife" and he told me he wasn't going to comment. I see the survival skills he learned in Vietnam continued to keep him safe back in the states!
It was my privilege to see this hero, thank him for his service, and talk to him about some truly great days. In one of the most touching moments, Jim began to reminisce about another car at the show, which happened to be parked next to the Plum Crazy Challenger. A 'Cuda, similar to the one Jim's brother-in-law would drive when the two of them cruised around town, sent him into a story that he abruptly stopped, choking back tears. "Those were good days," was all he would say. I am also grateful to know John Miller, and more so, that there are still people like him who know what it means to reach out to somebody, and give them a moment. We could sure use a lot more folks like John Miller.
If you see John, and the Challenger now named "The Grape" at a car show, go ahead and take a look at the booklet on the radiator. There are few more photos now, including Jim Munday and the events of today. Jim and his sister got to take the car for a little drive after today's show. Time sure flies.