Mopar Muscle: Larry Koth’s ’69 Dodge Charger

Ken Curtis

special to The Garden Island

Have you ever wondered why the term “Mopar” is associated with Chrysler products? If you don’t already know, I’m going to tell you. If you already know, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Back in the 1930’s, Chrysler Motor Parts had a logo with the letters D, C, P, and D, which stood for Dodge, Chrysler, Plymouth and Desoto. In 1937, a Chrysler Corporation “think tank” wanted to create a new product name to put on cans of Chrysler Motor Parts antifreeze. They took the “Mo” from “Motor” and the “Par” from “Parts,” put them together and created “Mopar,” the easy-to-remember name now associated with all Chrysler parts and vehicles.

 Many people believe the Ford Mustang started the muscle car wars back in 1964. Others say it was the Pontiac GTO earlier the same year. Still others go back to 1955, when Chrysler introduced the Chrysler 300C series with the 331 cubic-inch hemi engine. Whatever the correct answer, Lee Iacocca’s hot-selling Mustang deserves credit for accelerating the race. Chrysler Corporation responded to the marketing challenge with the Plymouth Barracuda in late ‘64. The Dodge Charger was introduced in 1966 to fill a gap between Ford’s two sporty offerings: the Mustang “pony car” and the Thunderbird “personal luxury” car. General Motors’ answer to the challenge was the Chevrolet Camaro in 1967. The race was on, and the muscle car era was here.

The first generation of the Charger, an attractive fastback that shared a chassis and front sheet metal with the Dodge Coronet, lasted only two years before it was restyled. Like most cars of the era, the second-generation Charger, offered from 1968 to 1970, did away with the “slab-sided” look and went with “coke bottle styling,” with bulging wheel wells that presented a powerful, muscular form.

Kapa’a resident Larry Koth had a 30-year career with Lockheed-Martin in Palmdale, CA. In 1997, while still  living in California, he purchased a 1969 Dodge Charger for $2,000. The decrepit car didn’t run, and the faded green body had a tattered white vinyl top. Three years later, there was an interesting development. Koth learned that his wife Patricia had a friend whose husband restored old Mopars.That was almost too good to be true, so the Charger went to the Mopar hospital for surgery.

 The mean, green machine came equipped with a 440 cubic inch, engine with a 4-barrel carburetor. Job number one was to rebuild the engine and transmission. With the addition of a modified cam and Hooker Headers, the engine generates 500 horsepower. The “heart” was made healthy.

Next up: cosmetic surgery. A fresh coat of Porsche red paing replaced the dingy green, and a black “bumble bee stripe” was added to the rear. All the trim and moldings were re-chromed to bring back the luster. A new black vinyl top was added, along with a fresh black vinyl interior. Not many other cars can boast of a fully-functional 8-track tape player in the dashboard and the original bumper jack in the trunk, but you’ll find both in Koth’s Charger. The 14-inch Wide Oval tires are wrapped around the stylish Mag 500 rims, just the way it came from the factory.

After retiring, Koth moved back to his native Seattle where he kept his prized muscle car. When he moved to Kaua’i 10 years ago, he left his Charger in Seattle, but after four years, he decided to ship the car to Kaua’i. Since its arrival, Koth has been involved in the Kauai Classic Car Club, where his eye-popping Charger has been seen at several car shows and local parades. In his spare time, Koth drives a school bus for Akita Enterprises. That’s quite a contrast to a 500-horsepower Charger.

But there is still one thing that puzzles us all: where does a person go to purchase 8-track tapes?

• Wheels in Motion is a weekly feature showcasing interesting island vehicles and the people who own them. Email to suggest a vehicle that should be featured.


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