1973 Dodge Charger 318 from North America
Dependable, comfortable performance and style
When I bought this car, it was in essence little more than a rolling chassis. The original 318 had been replaced by a junk 360, and I subsequently replaced that with an overhauled 318 from my '71 Barracuda when I installed a 340 in it. However, I have put 90,000 miles on my overhaul job, so it has held up well.
The A904 Torqueflite transmission was damaged when I bought the car, and on cold mornings it had trouble going into reverse and would slip on the 2-3 shift. Even so, I drove it like that for over 30,000 miles and it held up. I finally had the transmission rebuilt around 2003.
I have owned this car for so long, since 1987, that most things have been replaced or repaired at one time or another, with the possible exception of the rear differential. I have replaced the ball joints, steering gearbox, starter, radiator, driveshaft, brake rotors, brake cylinders, gas tank sending unit, starter relay, and voltage regulator (3 times -- it eats them on average every 30,000 miles).
After owning the car for almost 20 years, I took it to the body shop as a reward for faithful service in 2005. It was stripped to bare metal, dents removed/filled, repainted, new vinyl top, new chrome accents. It finally looked as good as it deserved to.
Despite the laundry list of repairs, this has been a great car, and has taken me to every important place I ever had to go. When I bought it, I was only 19 and found it in California in beater condition. I installed the overhauled 318 and drove it like that for 30,000 miles with no problems, up until 2001. During that time, it took me to college and graduate school, and was a good, dependable car that cost me no money on upkeep. The 30,000 miles in 14 years meant that some years it sat in a shed, and other years I drove it several thousand miles.
After 2001 when I had a good job, that is when all the repairs started because I could finally indulge my desire to make the car as nice as I always wanted it to be. I also began driving it a lot more, putting 60,000 miles on it between 2001 and 2012. In the mid-2000s I was taking it on a 1,000-mile road trip every summer and putting 7-8,000 miles per year on it. This car has been to the Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, the Canadian border, Mexican border, and every place in between.
This car has been dependable and comfortable, turns heads everywhere it goes, and makes you happy to see it.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 16th April, 2013
2nd Nov 2019, 16:57
This is the original reviewer, posting an update summary for my 1973 Dodge Charger. I posted the original review as a summary, and have not kept up a yearly review because the car had entered a state of semi-retirement. Since the previous review, which was posted on April 16, 2013, I have added 10,000 miles, which averages to about 1,500 miles per year since the original review was posted. Averages are, of course, just that, and during the past year, I've only put about 500 miles on the car. I still enjoy driving it, but the opportunities seem less, and depend much on suitability of the weather. The car is not driven between the time of the first major snowfall and until after the Spring thunderstorms have washed all the Winter salt off the roads. The car is not driven in the rain, and with non-functional air conditioning, it's not pleasant to drive in the Summer heat and humidity. It's only driven on weekends, where trips might be anywhere between 15 to 200 miles. Recently, a 2010 Cadillac DTS came into my hands, a review for which is also posted on this site, and that vehicle has been taking up much of the miles formerly assigned to the Charger.
As I mentioned, the Charger had been to the body shop in 2007, I drove it quite a bit after that, but when I got married in 2012, there was no room at the house so it had to go to storage out-of-state to make room for my wife's car. That move required a 1,300 mile road trip in 2012, and the car sat in a garage for the next 3-4 years. Then a number of significant things happened in parallel. My 1973 Charger and 1971 Barracuda, which also has a review on this site, were both being garaged at my dad's place, but dad entered his dotage around this time and invited some unsavory people to start hanging around the place, to the point that I no longer felt that my cars were safe there. By the way, those people were dealt with in due course. At the same time, I was lucky enough to be able to buy enough adjacent property to my home to build a garage, so finally I would have room for both cars to stay with me at last. Flat land suitable for building is really at a premium here! This is a complete aside, but how was I able to afford to buy up adjacent property, build a garage, and buy a new car all around the same time with cash? Because, thanks to the reliability of this 1973 Charger, my previous 1985 Dodge Ramcharger, the ability to keep them maintained myself, and the used 2002 Ford Explorer that replaced it, I have never had a car payment in my life. So first the Barracuda came back home in December 2015, followed by the Charger in May 2016 to live in the new garage. Both made that 1,300 mile return trip magnificently.
So now, on to an update on the Charger. For years, the car had been plagued by an alignment problem in which front tires were chewed up within a few thousand miles. I suspected that the alignment was off as a result of re-tensioning the rear leaf springs and re-adjusting the torsion bars, thereby changing the way the car sat on the ground. However, tire shop after tire shop reported that the alignment was good, even as I continued to buy tires that were subsequently chewed up in a few thousand miles, by which I mean, the outer side of the tread worn down to expose the steel belts. When the car returned home from storage in 2016, I had a new tire put on the front, and by the end of the trip, the steel belts were already showing through. Finally, I took it to my local Monro Muffler, where the manager knows old cars and drives them himself, and they adjusted the camber and there has been no premature wear on the new set of tires. That was May 10, 2016 at mileage 161,903. It really did drive like a different car, and they did a great job.
As I said in the original review, this car eats voltage regulators, and I had to replace it at 161,177. The usual pattern is that they died every 30,000 miles, but this time it only lasted about 10,000 miles. Maybe that was an indication of a compromised charging system, because it wasn't long after that I had to replace the alternator at 164,268 miles, and finally the battery at 164,551 miles. It's interesting to note that an alternator for this car is the same $60 that it has always been, but that apparently batteries have skyrocketed in cost, $154 for this one.
Last November, I replaced the rear brake shoes and attendant hardware. The springs were so rusty that they needed to be replaced. The shoes still had wearable thickness, but were cracked and chipped, so needed replacement. It was a real trial to find the correct ones, and it was really apparent that people at the auto parts stores no longer know anything about '70s cars. Every counter person gave me incorrect information, including the wrong replacement shoes. My litmus test now is that if I walk into a parts store and they've never heard of a 318 or a Plymouth Barracuda, then I'm wasting my time to even talk to them. They will advise you on chrome skull valve stem caps, but that's about the extent of their expertise.
Back in 2016 I also finally completed the car by getting the front seats reupholstered, and had the mouse-eaten headliner replaced. That cost $1,400 but the guy (Mike's Seat Covers in Belleaire, Ohio) did a fabulous job, matched the original pattern perfectly, and it was the last touch to finish the car. I had pulled those seats out of a junkyard years ago from a 1974 Charger SE, so none of the pre-made upholstery options available from YearOne or any other supplier was going to match my 1973 Charger interior. That meant custom upholstery, and thank goodness there is still someone left who does that kind of craftsmanship.
And one last repair, the passenger side rear axle bearing failed at 161,293 miles. I was very lucky because I had just pulled into the garage and noticed a trail of gear oil following the tire, and it hadn't even started to grind yet. When I removed the bearing, several rollers were broken and displaced, and the housing was so thin that it fell apart in my hand, and the axle race was scored. There was also a smell of overheated gear oil that you can never forget. All the auto parts stores failed me in trying to find a new axle, but I discovered Moser Engineering in Ohio and I can't laud them enough. I filled out their on-line form, make-model-year of vehicle, length of axle and number of splines, and they custom cut a new axle for me and had it shipped to me within about 3 days of placing the order, cost $245. It fit perfectly, and no problems since then, and it's been about 4,000 miles.
That brings us up to the present, with a mileage of 164,997 as it sits today. I still love driving the car, and it looks like I will keep it the rest of my life, barring it being hit by a semi or something. The stock Rochester 2-barrel has always been cold blooded, which makes it difficult to drive the car in modern traffic. There was a time when this car was my daily driver, in the 1990s and early 2000s when I could alternate it with my 1985 Dodge Ramcharger. When I got my 2002 Ford Explorer, the 1973 Charger seemed to have less of a practical purpose, and that is even more the case now that I have the 2017 Ford Explorer and 2010 Cadillac DTS at my disposal. It is definitely a weekend cruising car, in places where traffic is not likely to be aggressive. I have been thinking of replacing the 2-barrel Rochester with a 4-barrel Holley 600 CFM, which this 318 once had on it when it was in my Barracuda. But that would require dual exhaust, and I would have thoughts that as long as I was pulling the intake manifold, would it be time for a complete rebuild? I overhauled the 318 back in 1989, when I was a penniless kid in the Army and had spent all my money on the 340 for the Barracuda. I thought if I replaced the crank and rod bearings, timing chain, oil pump, rebuilt the heads, replaced the cam, lifters, and push rods, it would last a few years until I got a real job and had the money to do it right. Then the years went by, the 318 continued running great (as they generally do), there seemed no need, and suddenly that overhaul was 100,000 miles and 30 years ago. That means the pistons, rings, rods, cylinders, and crank have 190,000 miles on them! The engine still runs well and doesn't blow oil smoke, so perhaps the need is still not there. I've used Mobil 1 synthetic oil since 1999 and am convinced that has kept wear down. If I have a worry, it's that I did not have the foresight to have hardened valve seats installed in the heads, so I've been running unleaded gas with lead additive all these years. I guess if the engine sucks a valve that has been eroded down, that will decide the question for me. I think it would be of more value to expend my energy on getting the AC working so it will be drivable in the Summer, though.
For now, the plan is to just keep driving and enjoying the car.