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Bonzi’s Bee: A 50th Birthday Present
Written By: Stephanie Laska, Photography By: Sarah Stange
Usually, when one’s wife turns 50 years old, a traditional gift may consist of a beautiful piece of jewelry and flowers or a day at the spa. Dave Charron of Webster, South Dakota, decided to take a more unconventional route when purchasing a gift for his wife, Bonnie, for her birthday. He decided to buy his wife a 1970 Dodge Super Bee, the American muscle car that was originally produced for only four years between 1968 through 1971.
A 1970 Dodge Super Bee captured Dave’s attention when a friend told him about it.
“It was sitting at the airport in Sioux Falls for who knows how long, but we do know the guy who had it before us bought it in 1974. He drove it, and eventually put it away to restore it, but over the years he lost interest and decided to sell it,” Dave said.
According to Dave, “The car was ugly, dented and rusty and was painted an awful, root beer brown. Then, I found out that the original color was a rare orange with an orange interior, and the car sounded like something Bonnie would like for her 50th birthday.” Orange happens to be Bonnie’s favorite color.
Many people may not have seen the value of a classic car like this due to the poor condition it was in, but Bonnie did not view it this way; she envisioned the Super Bee’s potential.
“I was a little surprised because it was in terrible shape with dents in the doors, and the color was an ugly brown. It took vision to see what it was going to be like when it was finished. We did a lot research after we got the vehicle, so we knew it would be beautiful when it was done,” Bonnie explained.
Because the car was in terrible shape, it would take another three years for Bonnie to see her birthday present finished and ready to drive, but it was worth the wait.
Dave and Bonnie heard about The Body Shop in Bradley, South Dakota, by word of mouth and decided to take their project to Eric Caulfield, The Body Shop’s owner. Caulfield worked hard to restore the Bee as the restoration required the car to be cut in half, not once, but twice. The car has an estimated 400-500 hours of welding work. Caulfield had to separate the firewall and the front of the car. Additionally, he removed the back-quarter panels, inner and outer fenders, and trunk floors. The firewall, the floor, and the frame walls were replaced and almost all other parts of the car were replaced or restored. New old stock and reproductions of the original parts were used.
“Normally, to restore these cars, people use 1970 Super Bird parts, because the Super Bee parts are hard to come by,” Caulfield explained.
Although much of the Super Bee was completely re-done, the car does boast an original roof, power bulge hood, radiator, and the factory AC.
One of the most impressive facts about this car is that it is an all numbers matching car. The body, motor transmission, rear end, and original casting number and vin number are the same.
“You don’t see that very often in an older Super Bee,” Caulfield shared.
Once the muscle car was put back together, it was repainted with the color “Go Mango Orange.” Even the bottom of the car received a coat of paint in the original, Dodge style. The interior includes a burnt orange vinyl to match the paint. Most people select a black interior, so the burnt orange interior adds to the uniqueness of the car, Caulfield explained. The Bee has a speed bench seat, an AM/FM radio, and rally gauges. The new front and rear Goodyear Polyglas tires have a normal rally rim.
Under the hood, the Super Bee carries a 383 Magnum. Stock models produce 335 horsepower at 5,200 RPM, but this engine puts out a bit more than the original engines. Additionally, it has a four-speed transmission with a Hurst pistol grip shifter.
“It’s a uni-body, so if you dent a side, it could be a bigger project than other cars might be. It’s a show car, so we don’t put too many miles on it, but it’s fun to drive because it’s a clutch. It’s quite a challenge to do a car like this, but Eric and everyone working on the car did such a nice job. It turned out beautifully,” said Bonnie.
“There is nothing we didn’t do. At one time during the process, the only thing holding the car together was a roof. At that moment, when we looked at the car, we thought, ‘oh, boy – do we keep going?’ But we plowed through it,” added Dave.
And the Charrons are glad they did.
“One of the most rewarding parts of working with Eric, besides the restoration itself, is that Eric takes the car to shows for us,” Dave explained.
Bonzi, Bonnie’s nickname, is proudly displayed on the license plate. When the car isn’t entered in a show, the Charrons enjoy taking “BONZISB” for Sunday afternoon drives.
Bonzi’s Bee has won awards at Midwest Mopars in the Park in Farmington, Minnesota, and at Kool Deadwood Nights in Deadwood, South Dakota.