The Last Original Charger

If you go to a lot of car shows, you see a lot of similar vehicles at those shows. For example, there are always going to be ‘55, ‘56 and ‘57 Chevrolets - they’re very popular. But to run across a 1974 Dodge Charger is a rare thing indeed. When you see the literature that Ben Cherri has with his ’74 Charger, you know he loves this car.

It turns out that Cherri is the original owner of this rare machine and is proud to point out that, as of his last look at these kinds of things, there are only 29 1974 Chargers left in the state of California and there are less than five left with the sun roof. That sun roof that he has is a big deal because even some dedicated Mopar fans dispute its authenticity until he pulls out the original brochure for the car which shows a photo that features a young lady with her upper half sticking out of the sunroof. 

Apparently, the only way you could get that sun roof in 1974 was to order the Charger with a vinyl top. With that option you could then get the optional sunroof. 

But what makes this car even more fun is the story behind it. 

“In ’72 and ’73 I wanted a Charger but in ’74 they made an announcement that they were going to change the car for 1975 and that the muscle cars were going to be discontinued because of gas and insurance.” And he knew what he wanted - a black one. 

That was easier said than done, apparently, because Cherri shopped at numerous dealerships for the car and couldn’t find one. Remember this was also in the days before the Internet so you actually had to do leg work to find what you wanted - there was no shopping in front of your computer although that process still isn’t without its flaws if you’ve tried to buy a new car lately. 

Ben and his family stopped at one Dodge dealership and there was a beautiful metallic brown Charger. In 1974 cars with V8 engines weren’t flying off the showroom floor so the salesperson actually offered to repaint that car black, but Ben decided against this option. 

After almost giving up the Cherri family was cruising along by Brookhurst Dodge on their way to get a birthday cake when Ben’s daughter exclaimed, “Dad! Dad! There’s a black one!” Even though Ben was eyeing the dealership he hadn’t seen it sticking out of the showroom like the girl in the sunroof picture, but it was there. They stopped to look at it but Ben was disheartened when he saw a man’s jacket on he front seat - the car was apparently sold.

Jim Cherry and his original 1974 Dodge Charger

Jim Cherry and his original 1974 Dodge Charger

1974 Dodge Charger

1974 was a year where the American auto industry was taking blows. The exuberance of the 1960s was long gone as a combination of government regulation and consumer demand squeezed the “Big Three.” Every year the combination of new safety regulations and tighter emissions standards combined with rising gasoline prices and gas shortages made a new car ever less desirable, especially the typical “Detroit Iron” with its large, powerful and thirsty V8. 

What once were thundering monsters had now become wheezing gas guzzlers in the eyes of many consumers and car companies spent huge percentages of their engineering budgets just trying to figure out how to make their vehicles pass emissions controls and still remain drivable. 

To make matters worse, the Japanese were beginning to make decent little cars that were affordable and got great gasoline mileage. Suddenly Americans began to take notice and names like Toyota, Honda and Datsun started to appear on shopping lists. 

Another nail in the coffin of “muscle cars” was provided by the insurance companies, who had really cracked down on cars like Chargers and their ilk. It would seem like the fun was going out of buying and owning a new car. 

Still, even with all the negativity in the industry, a 1974 Dodge Charger with a 440 cubic inch V8 was still a really respectable car. Its curvy lines and throaty rumble were a siren song for many and it was a fast fun car. It was also the last of a breed that really wouldn’t come back until the 1990s when car companies started dipping their toes into the waters of big fun cars again. 

Ben Cherri and His Charger

Ben's certificate showing the rarity of his vehicle. 

Ben's certificate showing the rarity of his vehicle. 

Back at Brookhurst Dodge, Ben asked the salesperson about the Charger and it turns out it was ordered by the Sales Manager as his personal car, but he hadn’t taken delivery of it yet. Ben went home, got his wife, and later that evening drove the car home. “I was just thrilled to death.”

Since then it has spent a lot time as his personal driver until the mid 1980s when he realized how unique his car had become. That daily service had taken its toll with door dings and sunlight making the black paint job look dull. Otherwise, the car was in terrific shape so Ben had the Charger repainted with the original Sinclair paint. 

Since then he has spent quite a bit of time at car shows and his trophy case, the trunk of the car, demonstrates that he’s not the only one who appreciates the vehicle. 

“We’re really surprised about the attention the car gets. Not a lot of original owners out there, I guess,” said Ben. 

Going to car shows is fun for Ben and his wife. “We usually make a nice day of the shows. I’m not in it for the trophies - I love my car and like to go to the shows. If I win a trophy it’s always a surprise.”

Seeing such an unusual and nice original car was also a surprise. And you can find Ben and his family enjoying the car show experience in Southern California.

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Tony Barthel

Tony Barthel has been writing the Curbside blog since 1996 with reviews of new cars, stories about old cars and the people who love them and finding the best car shows around for the Curbside car show calendar.