According to Walter he drove the car for about six months after he purchased it and then decided to do some body work but eventually ran out of time. He then decided to park it for the next 20 years. Walter said he always had an idea the car was rare but never actually knew how rare it was until one day he contacted Todd Lewis of Xtreme Restorations who told him he had one of the rarest Mopars in existence.
Walter's Challenger was 1 of Only 2,399 T/A (Trans Am) models made between March 10 and April 17, 1970, enough to cover qualifications for racing. Manufacturers were required to make some street versions of the cars they raced. It's the sister car of the Plymouth AAR Cuda, though Barracudas and Challengers have different dimensions.
That spurred Baker, who owns a trucking company, to do a full-blown restoration that has produced a show car that he rarely drives.
First, he had to find a 340-Six Pack engine that powered all T/A models. "The person I bought the car from had put in a 318 automatic because he said his girlfriend had too many speeding tickets," Baker said. He found the drivetrain in Smithfield and spent years seeking out other parts.
They aren't that easy to find. "A lot of this stuff was available only in 1970," Baker said. And many of the items are exclusive to the T/A model. Baker paid a premium for a Fiberglas hood, for example, so that he could have the correct chrome pieces.
The 340-Six Pack is coupled with a four-speed transmission with a Pistol Grip shifter. It has dual side exhaust pipes in front of the rear wheels, which are larger than the front wheels so the pipes have road clearance. The rear springs are higher, also.
Disc brakes in front and 11-inch drum brakes in the rear were another T/A hallmark, as are the rear spoiler and the "whiskers" under the front bumper. Baker's Challenger has power steering and brakes, a Rallye dash and six-way driver's seat.
And then there's the color, one of Mopar's high-impact paints of the era. It's Go-Mango, called Vitamin C Orange on the Barracuda. "I love that color," Baker says. The special stripes are decals.
Because of the short building time, most T/As came out as factory cars. "You didn't really order them," Baker says.
In the course of the restoration, Baker bought a donor car and had so many parts that he has decided to build another T/A, a "tribute" car with modern running gear that he can drive whenever he wants. It will be Go-Mango, of course, and look much like the original, which is too valuable for everyday duty. "It has been appraised for $95,000, and I've been offered $120,000, but it's not for sale," he insists. In fact Baker, 67, says that his will states that the car must remain in the family.
Last July, Baker trailered the Challenger to the Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, Pa., and won two trophies. He's not sure if he's going to Carlisle for the Nats next month, but if he does, he can see first-hand the concept model of the new Challenger that Dodge is certain to make next year.