First Duesenberg, Hemi Challenger street racer added to HVA Register

The two historic vehicles join 26 others enshrined by the Library of Congress

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The 1921 Duesenberg stayed in the same family for 99 years | HVA photos
The 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger was a stealthy competitor on Detroit streets

Two more cars have been inducted into the National Historic Vehicle Register, a 1921 Duesenberg Straight Eight that was the first passenger car produced by the storied brand, and a preserved original 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T SE with a 426/425-horsepower Hemi V8 and an intriguing back story. 

The Duesenberg and the Dodge are the 27th and 28th cars, respectively, to be added to the HVA’s ranks of automobiles documented at the Library of Congress as significant historic vehicles in the US automotive landscape.

The HVA induction of the Duesenberg coincides with the 100th anniversary of the automobile company launched by engineers and racecar builders August and Fred Duesenberg.  The brothers’ first motorcar was the Straight Eight, later known as the Model A, built in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The first production model was custom ordered in 1919 by Hawaiian industrialist Samuel Northrup Castle, who took possession of the closed car after production delays in 1921, making him the seminal owner of a Duesenberg passenger car.

Castle was a very tall man, towering about 7 feet, and the car was designed by the Bender Body Company of Cleveland, Ohio, to accommodate his stature. Among the mechanical advances for the time were four-wheel hydraulic brakes and the industry’s first overhead-cam straight-8 engine in an automobile.

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After Castle died in 1959, the Duesenberg passed through members of his family.  In 2010, his grand-nephew Chris Castle and wife, CyrAnn, “commissioned an intensive 10,000-hour frame-off restoration of the car to its 1920s splendor,” according to HVA’s website.  The Straight Eight was presented at a number of classic car shows, including the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The Duesenberg had been with the Castle family for nearly a century when it was donated by them in late 2019 to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Indiana.

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The Duesenberg outside the ACD museum

“This gift to the museum is one of the most significant donations to the collection in the 46-year history of the museum,” Brandon J. Anderson, executive director and CEO of the ACD museum, is quoted on the website.  “To have the Castle Duesenberg placed on the HVA’s National Historic Vehicle Register means the story of this iconic vehicle will continue to be shared for hundreds of years to come.”

The 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger coupe is an iconic muscle car, embodying just about every attribute of the high-horsepower breed.  This all-black Challenger remains in unrestored preserved condition, with 45,000 original miles and in the possession of the son of the Detroit police officer who bought it new, then led a double life when off duty as a street racer.

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The Hemi Challenger was fully accessorized

“In 1969, 27-year-old combat veteran, Purple Heart recipient and Detroit police officer Godfrey Qualls special ordered this 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T SE,” the HVA says on its website.

“Qualls checked virtually every option when configuring his ultimate muscle car: 426 Hemi engine, the ‘Super Track Pak’ featuring a four-speed manual transmission with a floor mounted Hurst pistol grip shifter, Dana 60 rear-end with 4.10 gears and Sure-Grip differential, the SE or ‘Special Edition’ trim and interior package, ‘bumble bee’ white stripe on the tail, hood pins, houndstooth interior and a gator-grain black vinyl top.

“It is one of just 23 four-speed Hemi R/T SE Challengers built in the model’s debut year and is likely the only Challenger with this unique configuration of performance and trim options.”

Gregory Qualls at the wheel of his father’s Challenger

When not riding a Harley-Davidson for his police job, Quail used the Challenger as his daily driver. Naturally, he maintained a low profile as an unsanctioned drag racer and disappeared for months at a time between runs down Woodward or Telegraph.

“Due to his elusive antics, fellow Detroit street racers dubbed the sinister and mysterious Challenger the ‘Black Ghost’,” the HVA says.

Toward the end of the ‘70s, the Challenger was parked in the family garage, where it remained for more than two decades. After Godfrey Qualls died in 2016, his son Gregory worked with friends and family to put the car back on the road as a tribute to his father.

“My father would be thrilled that not only is the car is in running condition but also going on the National Historic Vehicle Register,” Gregory Qualls said. “One day I hope to pass it on to my son to continue to share and enjoy.”

Like the Duesenberg, the Challenger is marking a significant anniversary. 

“With Duesenberg celebrating its 100th anniversary and Challenger celebrating its 50th anniversary, there is no better time than now to recognize each of these vehicles as having made an impact on America’s history,” the HVA said.

Full-length documentaries are being prepared on each of these cars, which can be watched on the HVA website toward the end of 2020, according to the organization.

The Historic Vehicle Register was established in 2013 in collaboration with the U.S. Department of the Interior to permanently archive significant historic vehicles within the Library of Congress. So far, 26 vehicles have been selected and documented, with the full list available on the HVA website.

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

1 COMMENT

  1. That Duesenberg is just a stunning automobile. I have never seen that model before. It has a modern lowered look and no running boards just that step on either side.

    The Hemi Cuda story is also so wonderful to hear about and how the car was cared for, put away, and brought back to life with honors. I also liked his dad’s style on only running it occasionally and then beat up the competition with that great car. One of my all time favorite vehicles.

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