Update: Frugal Dad Files: Dadmobile Edition Part 2, Hemi Charger

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Update: From what I have experienced and learned recently I would no longer recommend the purchase of this or any product with a HEMI engine. While the older Crown Vic still runs like new money this HEMI has the recently discovered, by me, dreaded seized roller issue…

As explained in recent months on Youtube and confirmed by Dodge’s own mechanic a low pressure oil pump does not get enough oil to the top of the engine to keep the lifters properly lubricated. This causes lifter rollers to seize. Once they seize they start wearing down the cam lobes. This is made worse on vehicles that go from idle to full acceleration often like police cars. Was told by a mechanic that he has seen this on vehicles with less than 40k miles. Once the cam lobes are worn they start throwing misfire codes. If not addressed this will eventually cause internal damage as components that were not meant to meet introduce themselves.

…requiring lifter and cam replacement for upwards of $6,000 all in. Check please. If this had went well with this car I had been considering a new 300C or Charger next. Not now. Have sold this car off and all HEMIs are no longer on my shopping list.

Working subtitle: How I bought a Hemi with a functioning car attached.

Here we are with my Part 2 return to vehicular ramblings.

As mentioned in my Part 1 post my Dad hooked me on cars early starting with my love for his Plymouth Road Runner. Dad is mostly a GM man, but this one time early Mopar foray of his may have planted the Mopar seed.

Cousin Johnsie and I in front of my Dad's Road Runner.
Cousin Johnsie and I in front of my Dad’s Road Runner.

OK, there was my Mom’s decidedly non-V8 slant 6 Dodge Dart later on, but we are not counting that secondhand burnt orange/brownish “everyone slide up on the count of 3” manual bench front seat, stall on hard left take offs wonder of utilitarian vehicularity. One of my first car designs as a kid was an all-wheel-drive matte black modified 70s Hemi Charger.

As mentioned previously I no longer have the Crown Vic from Part 1. My Dad took a great liking to it and as a token of appreciation for all he has done for us my wife and I gave it to him.

Did miss the Crown Vic, but I made peace with it. When purchasing the Crown Vic I was also smitten with the more common offerings they had.

Was good car wise so we had no need. Then after a vehicular altercation where no one was harmed, we had an opening. Back to the surplus I went.

Surplus Car Rules of Engagement

As we learned with the first purchase vehicles in rougher shape are auctioned online, but the better examples are not listed online at all, but put out front and have to be reviewed and purchased in person. Like some sort of not so secret, secret club. Here is the Dodge rundown.

Bluesmobile Dodge upgrades.

Again these are retired, well maintained state trooper vehicles.

  • Performance
    • It has Hemi. Pretty much does it.
      • HP: 370 HP
      • Torque: 395 lb. ft.
      • Nearly a hundred up on HP and torque above anything I have owned.
      • I’m good.
    • Heavy duty running gear.
    • Sidebar: There are plenty of aftermarket 5.7L upgrades that can get this engine further into license losing power levels if that is your thing.
  • Handling
    • This was one of the most pleasant surprises of this car.
    • Not sure of all that was done, but this is a nimble beast staying very flat in corners.
    • Read that one of the upgrades was the auto-leveling Nivomat rear suspension.
    • Also has a very comfortable ride. Love the Crown Vic, but on washboard surfaces like a long stretch of under construction highway, it would make you start questioning your lunch choices. Big difference between stiff shocks on a less than rigid body on frame chassis and a rather stiff unibody starting point.
  • Brakes
    • Upgraded brakes. Front rotors are upgraded to 14.5″ rotors (normally 13.6″).
      • My first car, a VW Fox, had smaller wheels than this has brakes at 14″.
    • Interestingly the transmission plays a great part during braking on abrupt stops. The first time I had to reduce speed with urgency on a highway the transmission kicked down gears like I would have done when I drove stick. The result is that a gap quickly formed between myself and the car in front of me. Much more quickly than I expected from such a large vehicle. Had to let off of the brake to keep the Civic behind me, that started getting squirrely trying to stop, from rear-ending me.
  • Oddities
    • To make space for the center console gear the shifter moves to the steering column. The stick is also where the manual shift switch has moved. But the transmission handles duties so deftly I rarely use it.
    • That shifter is connected to the older 5-speed transmission, not the newer civilian 8-speed. Not sure, but perhaps the older transmission is a sturdier unit? The 8 does yield better acceleration numbers on paper. I will say that after test driving a civilian model with an 8-speed I did not feel an appreciable seat of the pants difference between the two. I imagine 395 lb. ft. of torque played a part in that.
  • Pleasant Surprises
    • This car is nice. Not that I was expecting it to be awful. But I was expecting a rough and tumble car. A more powerful version of the rough around the edges Crown Vic. But this car feels more polished like a more powerful version of our V6 VW Passat. And dare I say better handling. Makes sense since the base Charger architecture was lifted from E Class MBs of years ago as a result of the Daimler marriage long since annulled. A great starting point. The current VW Passat is a softer American built and American market vehicle which may explain it being more softly sprung than the Charger.
    • Media. The base touchscreen system has been flawless. No Bluetooth, but it proved to be no issue. There is a USB slot where I loaded my music and there is a conveniently located AUX cable between two power ports in the lower dash.IMG_20181229_230234 Great sounding stereo. More ways to customize the locks, lights, wipers, audio, etc. through the touch screen than I have ever seen. Has an in-dash display with great information available. Not the latest and greatest, but far better than I would expect from a sub 5 digit vehicle.
    • Wheels. All black hubcaps that are so fetching that I have no plans to replace them._DSC2024
    • Tires. Initially thought I might do a plus one or two upgrade taking it to 19″ or 20″ wheels. Then I drove it and as mentioned above I was already smitten with the look. Determined that it would be a lot of money spent with little or no reward while jacking up future tire replacement costs and very possibly ruining the ride.
    • Comfort. While first researching Dodge Chargers my son and I test drove a civilian Charger and found it to be very tight inside. But surplus vehicles have seats with less padding to accommodate utility belts. Same for the backseat. Combined this also provides more backseat leg room. No center console also makes for better hip room up front. No sunroof so it gave my son proper Afro clearance.20181016_131037
    • Keyless entry and remote start. Never had it before. Odd at first, but nice to have. Start buttons do seem neat, but I am still not convinced it improves on the old school key.
    • No plastic engine cover like the civilian model and most every other modern car. Bare naked engine is another nice throwback to an earlier time. Plus the pic below shows the state as clean as purchased.IMG_20181229_230328
    • Has cylinder deactivation so fuel economy was rated at 25 MPG highway. That matches the VW Passat that has 90 less HP. Takes medium grade fuel instead of the premium required for the VW so the fuel bill ends up being about the same or less under normal use.
    • Trunk is decked out with a full size spare leaving a deep well where the donut spare went. To recoup some air space above the relocated spare they outfitted it with a slide-out tray. Imagine it was intended for the gun rack or computer equipment. It makes for a great place to store stuff you do not want rolling around in the bottom of the trunk.

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Cosmetic condition.

These cars are the cream of the surplus crop.


Very few cosmetic blemishes and most are forgivable. Most are very clean. The very cheapest carry a few dings, but the car I chose was very clean. A bit of touch up paint here and there and that about did it. Unadorned (no chrome) as these cars come really emphasizes the clean good looks of this car’s design in my opinion.


A bit of shampoo for the front seats.

What about reliability concerns?

Legitimate concern. These surplus cars are packing over 100,000 miles. But they come with a folder stocked with all of the service documents. And there are a few things that helped me get past my concerns:

  • A Hemi engine alone runs about $6,000 depending on where you look. These cars started around $6,000.
  • The only repair for this car after a thorough review by the local Dodge dealership was less than $200 of exhaust work to rid the car of a rattle. For a little more I had a missing cargo hook in the trunk replaced.
    • Note: Turns out the NASCAR Lite raucous engine note on startup, normal running, and especially at full whack I loved when we first purchased it was a result of what experts would call an “exhaust leak” that was quickly fixed above. Took me a few after the first postfix startup to recalibrate and make peace with the new, still clearly V8, but more civilized engine note. First couple of days I wanted to get it back on a lift and “unfix” it, but I stood down.

Purchasing strategy.

Same as you would use anywhere. They do not let you drive the cars, but they will let you start them and open them up. Ran through the usual checklist:

  • Do all power windows, door locks, mirrors, and other auxiliary equipment work?
  • Run the engine with no radio to see if there are any errant clicks, squeaks, whines, or ticks.
  • Get low. Look in wheel wells, at the exhaust, and under the car for any signs of corrosion or leaks.
  • Test A/C to see if the cold blows cold and the hot blows hot.
  • Cigarette lighter check for cell phone power.
  • Open the hood and trunk to gauge the state of things. Any fluid leaks or rotted plastics or rubber up front. Feel around the trunk for any signs of water leaks.
  • Check the tires for how much life is left.
  • Look through the provided service records to see if big service items have been addressed.
  • Gun it. Purely for the sake of science of course.

There is no haggling by the way. Price is as posted. Reasonable price for a well-maintained vehicle in great condition with well-sorted factory upgrades.

Choosing our Hemi.

As mentioned earlier the least expensive of the offerings was available for $6,450. The most expensive of the RWD 2014 and earlier Chargers was just shy of $10,000.


Year 2015 and beyond are AWD. Read that Dodge offered AWD as an option for 2014 and so many cars were ordered that they made AWD standard from 2015 on. As a result 2015 models and on bring a $3,000 premium. May sound unreasonable until you consider that a high powered AWD full-size vehicle for $12,000 is actually a pretty good deal. May come back for one in a few years.

Went for the middle ground at $8,700.


My calculation was simple. The least expensive car with no major blemishes, no ticks, functioning switchgear, good tires, and black hubcaps. I also liked the missing chrome exhaust trim on the one I chose. Simple bare exhaust fit the gray and black theme of the car perfectly.

My upgrades.

Did not need anything. Changed one thing.

As with the Crown Vic removing the police gear in the center console left a big gap, but unlike the Crown Vic a large metal plate was left that did not allow for a $29 mail order center console.


This took a little more research for a solution. My theory was that someone out there created a solution and wanted my money. And I was right. For $95 I found this cupholder/armrest that was made to be bolted to just this type of metal plate.



If you are an old land yacht car head that enjoys the rumble of a V8 of the HEMI variety, a smooth ride, ample interior space, but does not want to spend a ton of money I highly recommend that you look for one of these old decommissioned cruisers. If you are fortunate to have one of these surplus facilities near you even better. For less than $9,000 all in I can ride in style in a whimsical vehicle that does not embarrass itself when the odd evasive maneuver is required.

As an added bonus on-ramp merging is a breeze, especially at night.


I present to you the Dadmobile 5000.2:



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