Lot 332: 1969 Dodge Charger Coupe
1969 was the heyday of the American Muscle Car and the Dodge Charger was in the core of the furnace. The Charger’s fastback two-door hardtop body style with its “Coke bottle” fenders, full width grille and simulated fender side extractor vents was distinctly purposeful and subtly refined. Its appeal didn’t depend on fins, flairs or embellishment, just good design attractively presented.
Under the skin the Charger had the stuff to back up its visual appeal: magnificent engines, strong transmissions and solid suspension. It wasn’t, however, a “Good Guys” car, having a potent but portentous presence that communicated more menace than promise.
That was the temper of the times, which may have been why the producers of Bullitt chose a Dodge Charger R/T for the bad guys to drive. In retrospect, where everything about the great Bullitt chase scene is bonded in the epoxy of legend, questions are irrelevant. Bad guys drove Chargers.
The original Bullitt Chargers and Lt. Bullitt’s Mustang GTs (there were only two of each) were prepared for the film by Max Balchowsky, one of California’s great road racing specials builders. His “Ol’ Yaller” road racers embarrassed scores of Italian stallions in the Fifties and Sixties. Steve McQueen, who knew the difference between appearance and function, engaged Balchowsky to build the chase cars for Bullitt, reinforcing them first and loading them up with performance second.
The Bullitt chase sequence began with 3 1/2 minutes of cat and mouse moves through San Francisco’s hills as McQueen and “the killers” jockey for position. It ends when the Charger’s driver, Bill Hickman, reaches over and with no expression at all secures his belts. It is an eloquent gesture, saying nothing but saying everything with a simple, commonplace move: it was time to get serious. Hickman immediately nails the Charger’s throttle, setting off a nonstop chase through the streets of San Francisco and its outskirts that lasted 7 1/2 minutes on the screen and has forever after defined “chase” in cinematic terms.
During the eleven minute Bullitt minuet not a single word is spoken, not even an expletive [deleted]. It may be the longest wordless movie sequence since The Jazz Singer.
It’s no surprise that Bruce Willis was taken with it. Many of us have been.
After watching Bullitt while filming Breakfast of Champions in Idaho he happened to be offered this 1969 Charger, a cherry 383/335hp in Green with a Green vinyl roof. It had never been smoked in. He bought it and commissioned the creation of the ultimate Bullitt Charger R/T, the Charger Max Balchowsky could only have wished to have built.
Its Mopar 440 engine is bored and stroked to 502 cubic inches, built by the specialists at The Balance Shop. Aries pistons, a 1/4” stroker crank and an aggressive but not radical roller cam with roller rockers, Edelbrock heads and intake manifold, Holley 750 cfm double pumper carburetor, headers and Flowmaster exhaust measuring 2 1/2” throughout produces an instantly responsive 700 horsepower and nearly 700 lb-ft torque. It is put down through a Mopar 727 Torqueflite automatic with B&M shifter, a 2500-3000 rpm stall torque converter and a 3.73:1 Dana 60 rear axle.
There’s a lot of other stuff, like Mopar 4-wheel disc brakes with instant Hydroboost assist with boost pressure off the power steering pump, power steering, Perfect Fit air conditioning, an aluminum radiator and an elaborate Alpine stereo system. The gauges have been rebuilt including installing an authentic Mopar Tic-Toc-Tach.
It is finished in sinister Black all over with paint by Performance Paint in Torrance, California. The interior is Black leather. Bruce Willis’s favorite Cragar S/S alloy wheels and low profile blackwall tires complete the package, a “killer” muscle car with brilliant cosmetics and performance that makes the paint, chrome and interior secondary considerations.
Its history reflects the care and attention which Bruce Willis has lavished upon it, a progressive process of development and improvement that began in 2001 and has gone through a series of upgrades and enhancements to keep the chassis, body, suspension and drivetrain in balance throughout its development.
Steve McQueen and Bill Hickman would have delighted in this Charger, and enjoyed the challenge of its performance. McQueen might even have sought a better Mustang than the 390 GTs that he and Bud Ekins drove in Bullitt.
That’s a sequel.
Bruce Willis produced it, too.
A Sale of Important Motorcycles and Motorcars|
Bonhams, The Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California
|Hammer Price (inc premium)||$86580|
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