The reasons any of us choose to love a vintage vehicle are as varied as the vehicles themselves, but it’s always good to find a car with history that also has had just one loving owner. Such is the case of Ken Wade and his 1979 Dodge Magnum. Some of you are testing your memory banks with the Magnum and I was pretty surprised when I saw it at a car show recently.
Ken was absolutely smitten with the Magnum when he saw them roll off the delivery truck in ’79. In those days he was first in line as a mechanic at a Dodge dealership and already had a 1975 Dodge Charger, which is very similar to the Magnum. But with its t-tops, red leather interior and quad rectangular headlights hidden behind a hideaway lens, that car spoke to Ken.
Part of that conversation might have been a reminder that the Magnum was essentially an updated version of the Charger Ken already had, but was specifically freshened to compete against Mustangs and Camaros in the stock car races of the day.
Kyle Petty, who raced under the Dodge flag, convinced the company to make the changes to the car to make it more competitive in the challenges he faced at work. But with the business challenges that faced Chrysler Corporation in the mid 1970s they weren’t very supportive and didn’t provide much help at all when it came to the hemi V8 under the hood. Faced with limited support from Chrysler, who was suffering from horrible quality woes and lethargic sales at the time, the Petty team ultimately gave up on the Magnum and switched to Chevrolets, much like so many retail buyers in the United States.
So it would seem that racing and sales ran a parallel course for disaster for America’s number three automaker as it nearly because just a memory until the government bailed it out to the tune of $1.2 billion dollars.
These big coupes are great to see nowadays and to see one in the original colors with the t-top is a rare site indeed since Ken mentions that fewer than 3800 of these were ever built. Eyeing that red interior makes one wonder why colors like this are no longer used in interiors - it’s so much nicer than today’s bland grey and brown and is the same color as the interior of a Dodge I owned.
While the 360 V8 is the original that came with the car, Ken’s made sure that it’s better than new with a tested 362 horsepower rather than the meager 170 it had when he first drove it off the lot. Funny to think that the engine that today Chrysler touts as the “Hemi” high-performance engine was the same smog-choked mill that drives this car. Ken has done a good job of making sure it gets up and goes as this car should.
Other changes that have found their way into the car are a number of upgrades thanks to the police use of this chassis in the 1970s. There is a bigger rear end, engine and transmission coolers and a few other bits. “The CHP has given me a lot of parts from the pick and pull,” says Ken.
I’m not the only one who stopped and admired this vehicle at a car show as it has won a good number of trophies including quite a number of firsts in some larger car shows. Good thing the trunk is huge, this car has plenty of trophies to haul around.
It’s great to see a car of this era and an owner who appreciates it as much as Ken does. And who could blame him? Pop the t-tops and listen to that V8 rumble under the hood. Memories are what makes our hobby so great and being the first and only owner of a vintage car means there are lots of great memories with each turn of the odometer. Ken’s 1979 Dodge Magnum certainly brought back memories for me!
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