GHR has had readers from Australia ever since it first came online in 2018. But Luke Arena’s beautiful 1969 Dodge Charger R/T is the first Aussie hot rod to be featured on the site. With a 440 big block and lots of good hot rodding, we couldn’t ask for a better representative.
I reached out to Luke via Instagram (his account is appropriately named @69rtcharger). Luke is a big fan of Chargers. He’s owned several, is working on another, and runs the Dodge Charger Owners of Australia Facebook page.
Before we get into the details of his R/T, I think you’ll enjoy reading what he told me about his “Charger hobby”.
“Like most kids in the 80’s, seeing the bright orange Dodge Charger fly across your TV screen was enough to leave a lasting impression.
My brother and Dad were Ford / Pontiac gearheads, but when I was old enough to get a job at 14 years old, I started saving for a Gen 2 Dodge Charger.
Growing up here in Melbourne, Australia, as you would expect, it was hard to locate a 68-70 B-body Dodge. In late 2002, at 17, I bought a local “Old Car Trader” and found a USA car importer called Joe’s Golden Gasoline in Adelaide.
I lied to my Mum and bought a plane ticket. I flew there and saw an X1 ‘69 R/T, an X2 ‘70 Charger 500, and a X1 ‘70 Challenger SE – all in various states of repair.
The yellow / black ‘70 500 caught my eye. It had a warm 383, 727 console with 3.23 Sure Grip rear end. It had its share of Bondo, but it was a Pasadena, California car its whole life and was relatively dry. I bought it and had it shipped to Melbourne.
I did a lot of reading (Internet info was limited at the time), stripped the car, and bought new interior and body panels from YearOne. A local body shop performed the work and I had it painted… you guessed it… Orange
A new 440 replaced the 383 and all the mechanical components were freshened up and replaced.
So at 21, I had a restored 1970 Charger 500 and I drove it every chance I could.
I stumbled on more American Mopars at that time, a ‘69 383 4-speed Super Bee, B5 paint with Black guts and a black top which needed full restoration, and a dry, original paint, ‘69 Charger SE 318 project with a console automatic, F8 green with a black interior.
My then girlfriend (now my beautiful wife) bought our first house around this time.
The “cheap” restoration on the ‘70 was starting to bother me – rust had started breaking out on it, So, around 2007, I sold the Super Bee and the ‘69 SE, and bare metaled the ‘70 500. I converted it to an A833 pistol grip 4-speed with a console and had a good shop go to town on the body and paint. It was painted FC7, Plumb Crazy purple, and it was beautiful.
I reassembled the car, and it was fantastic.
Then around 2010, a local Mopar importer / restoration shop called Elko Performance was selling a ‘69 R/T unfinished project car. It was a 440 Magnum car, Y4 Gold paint, tan interior, black top, black Bumble Bee, front and rear boosted drum brakes, non-AC car.
I had been to the shop many times prior for assistance with my other projects and they were great to deal with.
From what I could see, the car had spent most of its life in Kansas and its final 15 years in the Henderson / Las Vegas area before landing in Melbourne.
It had a minimal interior, but a numbers matching engine block and 727 sitting in the bay, and a recent respray in its factory colour.
The goal was to restore the car myself as much as possible and drive this thing everywhere, as the purple car was the “special” one that didn’t get driven as much as it should.“
And that’s exactly what Luke did.
The numbers matching 440 was rebuilt at a local shop. The block was cleaned, decked, line honed, and bored 30 thousands over. It was a Magnum motor, and Luke kept the forged rods and crank. SRP forged pistons produce an 11.1 compression ratio. The heads are 440 Source “Stealth” heads and have been extensively ported. An Xr292HR-10 Comp Cams hydraulic roller cam activates Comp 1.5 roller rockers.
The Intake is a Mopar M1. Luke recently went from an 850 Demon carb to a Holley Sniper EFI with a Tanks Inc. gas tank. He loves the change.
“The Sniper is awesome,” he reports. “I’m really happy with its performance and reliability so far.”
A set of TTI headers with 2” primaries and a 2.5” Flowmaster system take care of the exhaust.
Luke updated the ignition with an MSD 6Al and Billet Dizzy distributor. A 28” Race Radiators aluminium radiator has twin electric fans that kick in at 180 degrees.
The Torqueflite and the 8¾” rear end were also rebuilt. The rear has 3.55 gears on a Sure Grip differential and Yukon billet axles.
Luke has added Hotchkiss chassis connectors, front and rear sway bars, and KYB shocks to the Dodge. It has power steering and power brakes, now with discs in the front and 11” finned drums on the rear. Luke is planning on upgrading to Wilwood disc brakes in the future.
American Racing AR215 wheels grace all four corners, 20 x 8 in front and 20 x 10 in the rear, wearing 235/35/20 and 275/40/20 tyres respectively.
Luke rebuilt the Dodge’s instrument cluster and installed Autometer gauges. “I rebuild clusters for friends who need it done,” he told me. “I have done a few now and am pretty good at it.”
Additional interior work includes new seat covers from Legendary Auto Interiors, and new carpet, and Dynamat insulation throughout. There’s also a hidden stereo MP3 player for some good sounds.
The Charger looks stunning.
Luke recently had the car resprayed with the factory gold and had a new vinyl top installed. He also restored the grille and made several other changes including new glass and weather stripping. All the body trim has been repaired and polished. New AMD bumpers finish off the exterior.
Luke has met, and continues to meet, his goals for the Charger. “We drive this car a lot,” he said. “My two boys love it.”
Fortunately, he’s got plenty of opportunities to do that with frequent trips to car shows. “Hot rodding is huge in Australia,” Luke said,”for both American and Australian cars.”
He’s been hot rodding since he was 17 years old, and Luke isn’t done yet. In 2018 he found a shell of a 1968 Charger at the Felon Performance shop on the Gold Coast, Queensland. Luke bought it and had it shipped to Melbourne. After conversing with some local Mopar guys, he will be restoring it as a ‘69 Daytona clone, using a Janak Daytona kit, and some AMD sheet metal. He’s already got a 440, an A833 4-speed, and a 4.11 Detroit locker for it, but he’s also considering installing more modern running gear.
I’m always fascinated how popular hot rodding is around the world, but maybe I shouldn’t be. When I asked Luke how he became such a fan of classic Dodge Chargers, his answer was the same that many Americans would probably give me.
“It’s in the blood,” he said.
Photos courtesy of Luke Arena and Kustom Pix Phototgraphy
You can follow Luke on Instagram via @69rtcharger
Click here for more photos of his R/T