After attending a car show in Ogdensburg with his 1977 Dodge Charger SE, Liverpool resident Tom Rose took a drive past his grandparents’ house in the area, opening a floodgate of memories.
The Charger lived in the house’s garage for almost 20 years, collecting dust, before it soon became Rose’s.
He had a love for the car ever since he was 11 years old. In 1977 he accompanied his grandfather, Henry Ryan, during the purchase of the car. Ever since then, the car became iconic to him. Its immaculate silver paint job, accented by a burgundy top and stripes down the side appealed to Rose and his grandfather alike.
“I thought who would put those strips on a car like that?” Rose says. “I loved the burgundy seats and the counsel shifter. It was just cool to me.”
The most special aspect of the car to him is the fact he got to pick it out with his grandfather, he says.
The car was to serve as a commuter for his grandfather, making round-trips from Ogdensburg to Massena for work, presumably for the next four years or so. But Rose says life got in the way. About four months after purchasing the car his grandfather had a stroke. He survived, but was left – legally – unable to drive.
Ryan’s wife didn’t drive, so the car was only driven sporadically by family members. In 1983 Ryan’s wife decided to take the car off the road. And so it sat, marked with just about 11,000 on the dash. Just sitting. Not even prepped for any kind of long-term storage. Rose says as a teenager he would go over to the house to fire the car up “for kicks.” He did so until the car’s original battery failed. After a while, he says he decided it would be best to put the car on blocks and throw a cover over it, as it was destined to sit for a while longer.
But within time, it would find new life. Knowing the sentimental value the car had to Rose, his grandmother eventually offered him the Charger. It was an opportunity he could not let pass. By 1999 he had a house with enough room to bring the Charger to its new home. Doing so meant digging it out of the jungle of miscellaneous objects covering it at his grandparents’ house. Getting to bring it home was worth the challenge.
However, once he got it home, Rose says it ended up sitting in his garage for a couple of years before he got around to working on it. By 2001 he got the car running. He changed just about everything under the hood – including the engine, eventually putting a 451 in place of the stock motor.
“It was fun to drive, but couldn’t get out of its own way,” Rose said.
Tires, rims, exhaust and more eventually changed overtime, as well. Rose also added a special feature to the exhaust where you turn the car from a subtle classic car to an emphatic muscle car. It’s his favorite toy on the car, he says. After years of work, one of the only mechanical parts he hasn’t touched is the transmission.
After almost 20 years of owning the car, Rose has put another 20,000 miles on it. He recently purchased a new Challenger, which is the newest fun toy to play with, but he will still take the Charger out for a drive any chance he gets.
Just before putting it into hibernation for the winter, Rose gave it one last quick cruise for the year in early November. With the first turn of the key, the Charger came to life. Then it stalled. “No surprise,” Rose said. In an instant it was back to life, ready to remind Liverpool why classic cars are still cool.
Riding next to Rose as he peels out at the flash of the green light, opening exhaust note, you would swear you were riding next to his teenage self. He wore a smile only something truly special could produce. The Challenger may come close, but the Charger has a sentimental value that the Challenger will never come close to. If you need any reminder of that, just look at the rear bumper of the Charger. In the corner it reads “Pop’s car.”
“It’s a piece of my grandfather,” Rose says. “It’s irreplaceable.”
Although, if you ask him if he’d sell it for a million bucks like his wife did… “That’s not fair to ask,” Rose says.
He’s taken the car to quite a few car shows in its years, including Carlisle nine times. One of the nine times was during the 50th anniversary of the Dodge Charger. That trip was one of his highlights with the car. Another being his trip to the annual Seaway Festival Car Show in Ogdensburg, NY. In 2017, it was the 57th year of the car show. It was an honor to bring the car back to where it lived the first half of its life, sharing the story of its history. And as if he needed any reassurance that his grandfather and he picked the right Charger back in 1977, he took home the award for Best Mopar at the show.