The North Star

Writing and Photos: John Kennedy

There’s nothing Dodgy about this Dodge – it’s what a Charger would have been like in 1970 if the factory had spent days on each car!

From its debut back in the Sixties, the Dodge Charger has been one of the most iconic muscle cars to have ever graced the world’s roads. A visit to see Craig Marsden, owner of both The Prestige Body Shop and an amazing fully restored 1970 Dodge Charger 500, confirmed the Charger’s status. With its wrap around chrome bumper and one-piece grille concealing the headlights to its instantly recognisable door scoops and hood scallops, there’s no mistaking what this car is. The stance of it makes you think blimey – this motor means business!

The Charger was in a right state before Craig got his hands on it. The car was in desperate need of saving and completely restoring. Prestige, having the tools of the trade and some unbelievably talented guys working for them were just the company for the job. A quick cuppa and a chat to the workshop guys just proved their expertise.

The workshop had a mixture of European marques, some exotic Audi stuff and some mean-looking American metal dotted around the place, from a project C10 to a 1972 El Camino parked outside awaiting its turn in the surgery. An impressive ’65 Mustang was being prepped ready for the spray booth, which itself is state of the art. It was a hive of activity, with everyone working methodically.

The Charger project was destined for a complete rebuild – everything had to be stripped, dipped and blasted. Every single nut and bolt, every panel, the lot came off it leaving only the shell. The front wings had rotted out causing a major headache as original or patterned wings for the ’70 are just not available. The only other way is to find a breakers likely to have the stripped parts on the shelf – “Hen’s teeth” springs to mind. Not deterred by this, Craig’s fabricator and master craftsman stepped in, and from original specs and drawings he completely fabricated two new wings from scratch, and superb they look, too!

Overall the body wasn’t the worst the guys had seen but it was pretty close and needed restoring properly. As was to be expected with a 45-year- old car, some additional panels needed replacing. All bodywork was done at the Prestige Body Shop at Birdwell as they have all the in-house facilities required for this kind of restoration job. Craig says, “When we bought the car in February 2012 from the West Midlands it was in a bit of a state–as you can tell from the delivery and inspection photos. The engine sounded strong but as there was no fuel tank, boot or front floors we couldn’t run it for long. The original matching numbers 383 engine came in a crate with the car but needed a complete rebuild. Every single nut and bolt came off the car, we then blasted the shell and chassis back to bare metal. New front and boot floors and fuel tank were installed, and the front wings were fabricated and fitted. A lot of welding went into the car, and everything that wasn’t blasted was stripped by hand was then painted or powdercoated”.

“Craig’s fabricator and master craftsman stepped in, and from original specs and drawings he completely fabricated two new wings from scratch”

“All the interior needed restoring or recovering, including new carpets and headliner, with most parts coming from Legendary Auto Interiors in the States. We really went to town on it. Exterior wise, all chrome work was stripped and re-plated, and the new vinyl roof was fitted by She ield Trimmers. All suspension was renewed, with new springs and shocks fitted. It already had disc brakes, but these were replaced along with a new servo and brake master cylinder, plus all new brake and fuel lines. Everything was either replaced or restored that needed to be, but that’s the only way a job like this can be done.”

Prestige’s specialist sprayer certainly had his work cut out but being the complete perfectionist Stan is, his mission was to get the car back to looking like it had just rolled off the assembly line… He exceeded that and then some, the care and detail to attention in the beautiful metallic green spray job is astonishing. Every inch of that body, inside and out, chassis, arches, even under the car has been sprayed and finished to the highest degree. The depth in paint and lacquer is so deep, the workshop team must have spent weeks prepping everything top to bottom. The doors for example are in actual fact painted in two different greens, as was standard at manufacture and they look superb, all the chrome work has also been re-chromed, and to an amazingly high specification. The completely restored interior is all original with deep front bucket seats and rear bench as was standard in this year.

“Everything was either replaced or restored that needed to be, but that’s the only way a job like this can be done”

With the original 383 block awaiting it’s rebuild, the other engine that came in the car was installed, another 383 V8 Mopar unit that has been on the dyno and is producing 380bhp! “We did rebuild and fit the original numbers-matching engine,” says Craig, “but at Americana last year it developed a bit of a misfire. It turned out to be a major failure, so we put the spare engine in ready for the Mopar Euronationals, but then it belted with rain all day Sunday and we didn’t end up going! We still have the original engine; we might get Dave Billadeau to have a look at it, but then we’ll shrink-wrap it and store it, then if we ever sell the car the original engine can go with it. I think I’ll have a word with Dave about an upgraded torque converter, too.”

I followed the Charger with that monster V8 in it to the shoot location and believe me the noise through those enormous rear pipes makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand- up, it’s magical. There wasn’t one person the Charger passed by en route who didn’t turn their head, each face with a massive grin from ear to ear. A little blip of the throttle and the Charger was off – it’s so quick! My not- so-luxurious jelly mould couldn’t keep up. Oh, if I only had a spare £100,000 laying around.

“The other engine that came in the car was installed, another 383 V8 Mopar unit that has been on the dyno and is producing 380bhp!”

The Charger is Prestige’s show piece and rightly so, as everywhere the car goes it’s greeted with admiration. The sheer quality of the workmanship in the Charger is gaining them more notoriety, clients and many new fans, too – including the celebrity presenter of Wheeler Dealers – Mike Brewer. “Once we started this job, it developed a life of its own,” says Craig. “If you’re going to do a job like this, you really need to do it properly, and the amount of work it’s brought to the garage is amazing.” Since this feature was shot, Prestige have bare-metalled the El Camino and it’s waiting for green paint, there’s a Mach I Mustang in for full restoration and a ’57 Bel Air coming. It seems like the American hot rod/resto shops we see on Discovery Channel have got themselves some competition… from Barnsley!