Car Feature: Homecoming Charger


photography by: the author

This ’71 Charger Pays Homage to the one that Got Away

The human mind and memory are powerful things. Feelings that we experience as children, both positive and negative, can affect our entire lives. Oftentimes, these moments involve automobiles and lay the foundation for who, and what we become as adults.

Hailing from the island of Puerto Rico, Orlando Rodriguez’s story resonates with many of us; a car enthusiast from an early age, perhaps regretting ‘the one that got away,’ regularly scanning classified ads while raising a family, and ultimately jumping on the opportunity to bring a dream to life—in Orlando’s case, a show-stopping 1971 Dodge Charger.

“My dad owned one just like this, and when I was a kid, he’d take me to school in it. All of my friends loved that car,” Orlando says. When he turned 20 years of age, his father gave him the car and the younger Rodriguez steadfastly saved his money, acquiring parts for his dream machine.

“My dad owned one just like this, and when I was a kid, he’d take me to school in it. All of my friends loved that car.” – Orlando Rodriguez

When Orlando moved from Puerto Rico to Central Florida in 2006, progress on his beloved Charger came to a halt and the car sat untouched at his childhood home. Unfortunately, Orlando’s parents went through a divorce and his father sold the car without consulting him. This may have been the end of the story for some, but Orlando was determined to have a classic Mopar again one day.

With no chance of getting the old Charger back, Orlando set out in search of another. Though sleek and sexy, with gorgeous curves and a seductive profile, the 1971-1974 models don’t yet command the high prices of the 1968-1970 versions, and he was able to score his B-Body on Craigslist for $3500 in April of 2007. Orlando is just the third owner of this Dodge and says, “The first owner was a lady, and then a father bought it for his son, but the kid lost interest and wanted an import instead.” We’re guessing the kid is already kicking himself for that decision, and if he sees the superb workmanship performed on the Charger in just less than seven years, he may need therapy, too.

“The first owner was a lady, and then a father bought it for his son, but the kid lost interest and wanted an import instead.” – Orlando Rodriguez

Like many vintage cars, the Charger needed some attention to reclaim its former glory. “The weatherstrips were rotted out, so water got in and accumulated inside the car. The passenger side front floor, and the rear floor were replaced,” says Orlando. A body man by trade, he tackled the majority of the project himself, but occasionally, his co-workers would lend a hand. With the rust issues resolved, the rest of the body was stripped to bare metal, and the remaining imperfections were repaired. Then, the entire car was coated with Sikkens urethane primer and block-sanded to ensure a smooth, straight canvas on which to paint.


The eye-catching hue is code EL5 Butterscotch and was expertly applied by Jeremiah Ayala and Javier Pantoja. A Sikkens basecoat/clearcoat system was employed and almost makes the Butterscotch seem edible. Orlando also shaved the bumper bolts and painted them body color for a Scat-Pack appearance. Adding to the muscular aesthetic of Orlando’s machine is a Mopar Go Wing rear spoiler and an R/T Power Bulge hood. “I searched for almost five years for that hood and paid almost the same amount I paid for the whole car,” he says.


The 440 engine was in good condition and needed only minor modifications to become a high-performing power plant. It retains the standard bore of 4.32 inches but now wears cylinder heads from Aerohead Racing Components, a stock division of Indy Cylinder Head focused on improving OEM offerings. The heads feature 86-88 cc open chambers and stainless steel valves with 2.14-inch intake and 1.81-inch exhaust.

Beneath the large dual-snorkel air cleaner, an Edelbrock 750 carburetor feeds the aluminum Mopar intake manifold. The air/fuel mixture is sparked by an MSD distributor and coil. Spent fumes are emitted through TTI ceramic-coated headers and pass through dual Flowmaster mufflers and 2.5-inch pipes, resulting in a classic muscle car tone.

The stump-pulling power is delivered to a rebuilt 727 Torqueflite 3-speed automatic transmission and billet flexplate. A stout 8-3/4″ rear end fitted with 3.23 gears and posi unit result in both hard acceleration and comfortable highway cruising. YearOne 17×9 Mopar Rallye wheels are an updated and tasteful version of the popular factory wheel and are shod in 275/40/17 Falken rubber up front and 295/45/17 Mickey Thompson Street Radials in the rear.


Orlando’s vision for the Charger—a well-balanced machine that could hold up to frequent, spirited driving—necessitated upgrades to the suspension and braking systems. QA1 front upper and lower control arms were implemented and the front drum-brakes were swapped out in favor of discs sourced from Right Stuff Detailing. Orlando says, “It rides very smooth and handles great. I didn’t build the car to race, but it certainly has a lot of power.” Standard issue front and rear sway bars and refurbished rear drum brakes complete the setup.71SB-2

The ultra-clean interior is mostly as Dodge designed it more than 40 years ago. The factory Tuff steering wheel looks great in any vintage Mopar and the Corbeau racing seats perfectly complement the stock console and T-handle shifter. Subtle flourishes include custom white-face gauges, along with a trio of matching aftermarket units mounted under the dash, which keep a watchful eye on the engine’s vital signs. The Charger retains its original radio, but a CD player was added inside the glovebox and wired to four Kicker speakers, keeping Orlando surrounded in tunes when he’s motoring down the expressway.

Orlando’s slick 1971 Dodge Charger gets plenty of attention wherever it goes and has racked up numerous awards at cruises and shows throughout Central Florida. It’s also proof that some cars are more than just soulless vehicles designed to take us from point A to point B. With hard work and determination, memories and dreams from childhood can become reality. Orlando states, “It took me a few years to build, but it was worth it. After some time went by, my dad and I got together, but he didn’t know I had the car. When he saw it, he was very impressed with the way it was coming along. I told him that when it’s finished, he’d be the first one to drive it to a car show, and it happened just like that. I’ll never forget that day. This car means a lot to me and my family.”

Orlando wishes to thank all of his friends and relatives that helped bring his Mopar vision to life.


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Dave Bonaskiewich

Dave’s a very passionate musclecar aficionado. An automotive painter by trade, he’s done a complete restoration on his very first car, a 1970 Pontiac LeMans that he’s owned for over 20 years. Dave’s superior photographic skills, writing talents and Florida location make him an ideal year-round contributor.

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