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A most improbable find: a 1973 Challenger in eastern Lebanon

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos by the author.

[Editor’s Note: While we’ve had the opportunity to peruse the car culture in Lebanon before, today’s story, “Needle in a Haystack,” from Mr. Kibinian, is the first account we’ve heard regarding a muscle car barn find in the country. We’re eager to see how his restoration of the car turns out.]

Since a very young age, I have found cars to be absolutely fascinating! I still recall my very first purchase of Hemmings Motor News magazine, in 1981, from a small newspaper kiosk in Southern California. Ever since then, I was hooked on anything related to Classic/Muscle cars and restorations. Although I didn’t pursue it professionally, throughout the years I got more and more intrigued by Classics/Muscle cars. When I had to move to Beirut, Lebanon, I purchased several Muscle and Classic cars to ship them with me. I currently still live in Lebanon, as I have taken charge of the family construction business. In the meantime I manage to look out for Classic and Muscle cars, which seem to be either long gone, crushed, or heavily modified. Although the importation of such cars from the USA is easily attainable in the market, the challenge remains in finding cars that reflect its actual period of production.

As the owner of several Pontiac GTOs and Trans Am’s, I am always on the lookout for the purchase or the trading of such automobiles. For the past twenty years I got across many opportunities that were in vain, as some were worthless wreckages while others we valued at exorbitantly high prices.

One day I received a call from a friend about the sale of an original unmolested 1971/72 Dodge Challenger, with an uncertain model year. The car belonged to a friend’s brother-in-law, whose wife was apparently not interested in the old relic and preferred to have the cash in hand rather than having it invested in a car! After some enquiry I was assured that the story was true and factual. To my surprise it was located in the Bekaa Valley region near Baalbek, otherwise known as the hot bed of conflicts and turmoil. I agreed reluctantly to go and see the car with my friend. I must admit I was quite anxious and ambivalent about what to expect throughout this journey.

Nevertheless we decided to hit the road the next Saturday to see the car at this location, which was supposed to be an hour and a half drive away. When we finally reached Baalbek, my friend’s friend told us that the car was a bit further away, in a village called Nabi Othman which would require another 40 minutes drive and bring us almost to the Lebanese/ Syrian border!! At this stage I could not go back, it was too late! I knew that my friend’s friend was waiting for us and it just wasn’t fair for anyone, given the circumstances. Finally we reached our destination and met our host who told us to follow him to his brother-in-law’s house. We arrived to a small villa in the middle of nowhere with no sign of a car nor a garage. That didn’t sound right, yet I went along against my gut feeling skeptically. Once in, we were greeted by a gentleman who offered us Lebanese coffee and some sweets. He explained to us that the car belonged originally to his brother who moved to Jordan and left the car behind since 1985.

After exchanging some pleasantries, he finally told us that it was time to see the car. That’s when my energy was restored. So we headed to the outside parking area where our cars were parked. All the while I was wondering where on earth could the car or the garage possibly be? We walked a few meters to go down into a narrow staircase that leads to an underground basement of a 1000sqm surface area, accessible from another side road! …

The mystery was getting more intense. To my surprise there were two cars there, one a 1973-Challenger with Rally package and another one, a vintage MG! I was shocked to see such treasurable beauties in an unsuspecting location in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by agricultural equipment and fertilizers. Although the car was neglected it was still in perfect original condition. I bargained my way and agreed on a price with one important condition, namely that the seller delivers the car to Beirut city.

As agreed, a week later he delivered the car, which indicated only 98,000 original Kilometers! Once I drove it, it fired up right away and I went for a ride with it around the block few times, as if this was my way of doing the introductions to give us the opportunity to get to know one another! After all, nothing else but the splendor of this vehicle could have dragged me to the other side of the country, literally!

I am currently in the process of restoring it. The car is amazing as it still has the original 340 CID engine, four-speed transmission, differential, carburetor etc. I even found a piece of the build sheet under the front seat, every original piece remained intact the way it came out of the factory except for the addition of an aftermarket AC and sports steering wheel. I must say this is rare! In hindsight I wonder if this was pure luck, given the circumstances. Every vintage car has its story. Some are predictable, others are interesting and some are just full of suspense. This is MY story and it has just begun!

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