This 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T SE has been known as “The Black Ghost” ever since it was new, when it would prowl the dimly lit streets of Detroit late at night to take part in illegal street races – beating anyone who dared try their luck.
No one at the time knew the identity of the driver and the car became an almost mythical machine. Years later it would come out that he was a former paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division and a Purple Heart recipient. Oh, and he was an active officer in the Detroit Police Department.
Fast Facts – The 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T SE
- Just 23 examples of the 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T SE were ever made with a manual transmission, just a few of those now remain and they’re considered highly collectible.
- The car you see here is one of the survivors, it’s still fitted with its numbers-matching 426 Hemi V8, an A833 4-speed manual transmission, and its paint work and interior are all original.
- Known as “The Black Ghost” this is the 1970 Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T SE that belonged to Godfrey Qualls, a US Army veteran and Detroit police officer who used to take part in unsanctioned night races in the city.
- After Qualls’ death in 2015 the ownership of the car passed to his son Gregory Qualls. The vehicle has never been owned by someone outside of the Qualls family but that’s all about to change as it’s now being offered for public sale for the first time.
Godfrey Qualls And The Black Ghost
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Detroit was still very much Motor City USA and racing, of both the legal and illegal varieties, was wildly popular. Red light drag racing late at night was one way for racers to test their mettle, the key was to stay one step ahead of the law.
Above Video: This full length documentary tells the story of The Black Ghost. It’s exceptionally well done and viewing is highly recommended. Plus it’s free.
Godfrey Qualls was a Detroit local who was drafted into the US Army in 1964. He quickly proved himself to be highly capable, and made his way into the elite 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper. He’s said to have been one of few who could land a parachute jump on his feet without rolling.
Qualls was deployed to the Dominican Republic as part of Operation Powerpack, a move approved personally by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. The 82nd Airborne Division played a critical role in battling against a communist insurgency, it would be during this operation that Qualls was injured in a grenade attack – he would carry shrapnel in his body for the rest of his life.
Due to his meritorious service Qualls was awarded the Purple Heart (officially the Badge of Military Merit), one of the highest honors in the US armed forces that had been established by George Washington back in 1782.
After an honorable discharge from the military Qualls returned home to Detroit and took a job as a police officer, working with the Detroit Police Department in the traffic enforcement division – perhaps ironic given his life long love of fast cars and racing.
Those who remember Qualls note that he wouldn’t write people up for going 5 mph over the limit, he would only pursue more serious offenses – such as speeds of 20 mph or more over. During his 37 years in the police force he only drew his weapon once.
In 1969 he decided to buy himself a new car. He can’t have known it at the time but as he ticked off items on the Dodge dealer’s order sheet he was creating one of the most enduring legends in muscle car history.
Qualls offered himself a 1970 model year Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T SE – it was the first year the car had been on sale.
The Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T SE
In 1969 the Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T SE was released as the pinnacle of the brand new Dodge Challenger line up. The Challenger was developed as a high-end pony car to compete with the likes of the Mercury Cougar and the Pontiac Firebird.
The Challenger was a late entry into the list of competitors for the Ford Mustang, but it would prove to be one of the most significant. The car was styled by Carl Cameron, the same man who had penned the 1966 Dodge Charger, taking some design cues from his earlier 1966 Charger prototype design that hadn’t made it into production.
The Challenger was both wider and longer than most of the other cars in its class, with a focus on luxury and performance. A vast array of engines were offered at the time of release, eight in total, starting with the 198 cubic inch slant-six and going all the way up to the 440 cubic inch V8. The most powerful was the 426 cubic inch Hemi V8.
A slew of options and versions of the Challenger were offered, the most desirable was the Challenger R/T (Road/Track) which could be optioned with the 426 cu in (7.0 liter) Hemi V8 rated at 425 hp at 5,000 rpm and 490 lb ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.
The more luxurious SE specification could be ordered on top of the R/T package but it rarely was due to the cost, the SE package included a vinyl roof with a “SE” medallions on the pillars, a smaller rear window, bucket seats with leather and vinyl upholstery, an overhead interior console that contained three warning lights for door ajar, low fuel, and seatbelts.
For the introductory 1970 model year the R/T package and the SE package combined with the 4-speed manual gearbox was the ultimate specification for the car, though just 23 people would order it like this nationwide. One of them was a decorated veteran living in Detroit named Godfrey Qualls.
The Black Ghost Hemi Challenger R/T SE
That Hemi Challenger R/T SE would be delivered to Qualls in Detroit in 1969. Due to his work with the traffic enforcement division of the Detroit Police Department he obviously needed to keep a low profile. The car was garaged and very well looked after, and the mileage accumulated relatively slowly.
Every now and then Qualls would head out in the car late at night, taking part in red light drag races, invariably winning them thanks in no small part to the 425 hp Hemi V8 he had under the hood, he would then disappear into the night.
The car was never seen otherwise, it didn’t attend shows or events, and rumors abounded as to who the mysterious owner was. In 1976 Qualls parked the car in his garage and then for reasons unknown he never took it out again.
The car disappeared but the legend of its existence lived on and decades later after Qualls’ death in 2015 it was brought out of the garage once again – this time by his son Gregory Qualls. As news of the car’s resurrection began to circulate people began to realize what the car actually was, and the excitement became a national news story.
The Black Ghost had been found.
The car is now running well and thankfully Gregory Qualls has opted to keep it completely original – no new paint, no engine rebuild, no reupholstered interior. After much should searching he’s opted to offer the car for sale, and it’s now due to roll across the block with Mecum in May of this year.
If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here. There’s no price guide, though that may be because it would be almost impossible to accurately value the car until the hammer falls on the day.
Images courtesy of Mecum and the Godfrey Qualls Estate
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