The Wellborn Musclecar Museum – Mopar Mecca
Posted on December 6, 2010
The Wellborn Musclecar Museum – Mopar Mecca
Nov.22 Wellborn Muscle Car Museum, Alexander City, Ala.. – Stop #8
Tim’s admiration for the Dodge Charger began in 1967 when his father bought a Butterscotch Charger 440 R/T. “Dad wanted a HEMI, but he opted for the 440 instead and added air conditioning to appease my mother,” Tim said during the recent HEMI Highway Tour stop at the Alabama museum.
Two years later, Tim accompanied his father to the local Dodge dealership to check out the 1970 Dodge Charger. Once they got a look at a brochure for the soon-to-come 1971 model, the decision was made to hold out for a few months. Tim’s father got his finally HEMI under the hood of another Dodge Charger – this time a 1971 Charger in Tawny Gold. Tim still has it.
“I love this car,” he said. “I used to clean it, wax it and sit in it dreaming of having one of my own someday.”
“Someday” came a few years later when Tim got his Dodge Charger in the form of a 1973 Charger SE with the 318 engine because, he said, “My dad said a 16-year-old had no business driving a car with a 426 HEMI.”
Perhaps it started as a case of wanting the one thing you can’t have, but from a love that started back in 1967 grew an unparalleled adoration for the Charger, specifically the 1971 models featuring the legendary 426 HEMI powerplant. Since then, Tim and his wife Pam have amassed an awe-inspiring collection upwards of 70 vintage Mopars of various makes and models, 23 of which are 1971 Dodge HEMI Chargers.
Let’s put that into perspective: in 1971 Dodge made 63 Charger R/T models featuring the infamously “Banned from NASCAR” 426 c.i. HEMI engine – Wellborn has 23 of them. That’s more than one third.
If that doesn’t impress you, perhaps this will –
In 1970, when Tim was just a boy, he watched Bobby Isaac pilot the #71 K & K Insurance Dodge Charger Daytona to a new closed course lap record of 201.104 MPH at Talladega Superspeedway. Today, not only does Tim sit on the Talladega Motorsports Hall of Fame Board, but he now owns that very car. THE car that set 28 world speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and inspired 19-year-old Tim to paint his first “Wing Car” in a scheme echoing its own, is now his, though he has been benevolent enough to lend it out to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Speaking of Tim’s first “Wing Car,” it was a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona equipped with the 440 engine. Because Tim had always coveted the legendary 426 HEMI, one of the first orders of business was to outfit this Daytona with the street version of the engine powering Isaac’s car. Tim sold his first Daytona in 1984, but in a twist of fate, he was able to locate it and repurchase it in 2007 – virtually untouched and (almost unbelievably) with only 312 additional miles in the 23 years since the day he had last owned it. “I literally got back a time capsule.” said Tim.
How ‘bout now? Well, it doesn’t end there.
Tim owns the first HEMI Charger ever built. This Charger is a Tor-Red beauty that just came out of restoration a week before our visit. It was the pilot car for 1971.
Tim also owns the last HEMI Charger ever built. It’s a yellow 1971 model, the only one known to exist in yellow.
Additionally, Tim owns fantastic examples of everything in between.
“What I love about Mopars of the musclecar era is all of the options and unique color combinations available to the buyer,” he said. “No two were alike! You could choose to go with hide-away headlights or regular headlights, a spoiler or no spoiler, hood pins, vinyl tops, one or two side mirrors, the list was virtually endless! And all of the colors available, both interior and exterior really gave you the freedom to make your car completely different from the next guy’s.”
So what does one do with a collection that the Walter P. Chrysler Museum itself would envy? Rather than let these relics sit and gather dust in a garage, Tim and Pam decided to share them with you!
In a small town about an hour south of Birmingham, Alabama, what was once a Chevrolet – Cadillac dealership has been converted to a museum – the Wellborn Musclecar Museum to be exact. Disguised as a Dodge, Chrysler, Plymouth showroom frozen in 1971, Mopars from the height of the musclecar era in every color of the High-Impact rainbow fill the place. Each one has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and is accompanied by its own build sheet and 1970s era showroom stickers touting the car’s most desirable attributes. Vintage signage covers every square inch of wall and ceiling space, and there is an entire parts department filled with thousands of original Mopar parts, still boxed and wrapped. Everything from a High-Impact touch-up kit and Superbird headlight decal to pistons, body panels and other parts are organized and cataloged.
Outside of the “showroom” portion of the Museum is a collection of Mopar memorabilia that is just as impressive as the collection of vehicles. Rarities like the uniform Richard Brickhouse wore in September 1969 when he won the inaugural Talladega 500 race in a Dodge Charger Daytona sit alongside display cases filled with dealership giveaways, race collectibles and other invaluable treasures and trinkets from the era when, “What Won on Sunday Sold on Monday.” Even the obscure, like a ladies’ Dodge Scat Pack Mini Tickler designed to be coquettishly clipped to the hem of your mini-skirt, has a place in the collection.
The Wellborn Muscle Car Museum also houses one of the eight remaining original 426 HEMI cutaways. Fully functional, these cutaways traveled the auto show circuit giving consumers an idea of the internal workings of the mighty engine and a better understanding of where the HEMI moniker came from.
But back to the cars. The Museum is home to an unbelievable list of significant vehicles, any one of which a true Mopar enthusiast would surely give their wrench arm to own.
For example, in 1971 Dodge made 22 HEMI Superbees. Two of them, HEMI Charger numbers 2617 and 2618, sit in the Museum surrounded by equally impressive company, each with its own unique story as to what makes it so special, and how it came to reside in the Museum.
Three of the 30 Chargers ever made with a sunroof are there. One, sticker priced at $6,380, holds the titles of the only original HEMI Charger R/T ever to feature a sunroof, the most expensive 1971 Dodge Charger and the second most expensive Mopar of the era. Naturally, it sits next to the most expensive Mopar of the era, a 1971 Bahama Yellow Plymouth HEMI GTX coming in at a once whopping $6,592. Also, featuring a sunroof (a rare and expensive commodity in 1971) this HEMI GTX cost more than a new Cadillac Coupe De Ville at the time.
Tim has the Butterscotch 1971 Dodge Charger Superbee Motor Trend test car complete with the article it was featured in, and Motor Trend’s original evaluation form.
Tim also owns the actual HEMI Orange car featured in Dodge’s print media advertisements for the 1971 Charger.
Although Tim’s collection is heavy on the classic Mopars of the 1960s and 1970s, it wouldn’t be complete without something on the newer end of the product lineup. Tim has one of the first 6,400 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8s. When he saw the 2011 SRT8 392 Inaugural Edition, with its looks (Deep Water Blue with Stone White stripes would match his Viper GTS Coupe beautifully), performance enhancements and collectability, he remarked that he may have to add one to the collection.
As for the 2011 Charger, Tim had this to say, “It’s finally a Charger! I just wasn’t in love with the last one, but this one … I like all of the styling cues echoing back to the late 60s and early 70s models. I just may have to get one now, but I’m holding out hope for an SRT8 model!”
The Wellborn Museum is also home to some vehicles that are priceless to Tim, like the Jamaica Blue 1970 Charger R/T that he drove Pam around in when they dated, and his father’s first HEMI Charger, mentioned earlier in this article.
There are more than a few touching stories to be heard about the vehicles on display in the Wellborn Musclecar Museum, but perhaps the most touching recalls a time when the entire collection was threatened. Much like everyone at one time or another, Tim and Pam experienced a tough time in the 1990s and were forced to sell several of their prized vehicles to keep their cabinet-making company afloat. What’s so amazing about this is that over time, they have been able to get each and get every car but one back, and Tim is confident that the last elusive car will make its way back home to the Museum eventually.
All of the vehicles in the collection are driven regularly, and if you’re lucky enough to catch Tim zipping out of the Museum in one, he just may offer to take you for a spin!
When asked which car is his favorite, Tim gives the most diplomatic answer one could – “Whichever one I’m driving!”
Tim and Pam Wellborn would love for you to visit the Wellborn Musclecar Museum. A more hospitable couple doesn’t exist and they’ll welcome you with open arms. To you they extend this invitation: “Here at the Wellborn Musclecar Museum, we’re preserving the American musclecar history. We invite you to visit, let us take you back in time and put a smile on your face.”
Merriam-Webster defines Mecca as “a place regarded as a center for a specified group, activity, or interest.” And so, by definition, The Wellborn Musclecar Museum is Mopar Mecca. Make your pilgrimage soon.