At first, Arnold Welch said he didn’t realize what he found when buying his 1968 Dodge Charger R/T as a restoration project in Tuscon, Ariz.
Welch had been eying the Charger since 1982. The owner wouldn’t sell. It took about 20 years before he landed the car.
As Welch began restoring the Mopar classic, he noticed several holes under the interior carpet and in the trunk, and other peculiarities about the Charger’s body. He also found remnants of yellow paint deep below the upper layers of paint.
Intrigued, Welch started some research. He ran the California tag that came with the car. The plate came back as registered property of Warner Brothers — though from a truck.
After completing six months of research, Welch determined he had bought one of two Mopars originally purchased by stunt driver Bill Hickman from Glendale Dodge in Southern California for the car-chase classic, “Bullitt”.
Welch said the holes he found in the trunk and interior matched those made by cameras mounted to shoot the movie’s classic car chase, and the manufacturer’s date of production fell in line with the dates of “Bullitt” production.
The yellow paint turned out to be the original color of the car. Welch said the film crew had to paint the car black for the movie because the crew couldn’t find one painted black from a dealership. Although records confirming Warner Brothers’ ownership of the car had been destroyed, the production company told Welch that he had enough information to indicate that it indeed was the “Bullitt” camera-car Charger.
“They told me to enjoy restoring it,” Welch said.
He said once he confirmed the history of his now fully-restored, jet-black Charger, Mopar Collectors Guide magazine ran a feature of the find in February 2009.
Welch then received a special invite to a Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) car show in Las Vegas to be among the five most famous Mopars in the manufacturer’s history, which included Richard Petty’s 1972 stock car, and a Dukes of Hazard’s “General Lee”.
Welch said he was also invited to a special Steve McQueen car show in Chino Hills, Calif., where McQueen spent part of his youth.
“I turned down a half-million dollars twice,” Welch said. “I was offered that before the car was even restored.”
He said after the filming of “Bullitt,” his Charger was taken back to the dealership and re-sold to the public after being repainted yellow.
“Whatever was left from the movie was brought back to the dealer,” he said. “Other people could have bought this car and never known the difference.”
Last week, Welch had been in Vandalia, where he grew up, visiting his family: Mother Rosealind, and the late Clarence Welch, father; Randy Lewis, uncle; and Brad, and Scott Welch, brothers.