Story by Benjamin Greene
Originally published by Dupont Registry: http://www.dupontregistry.com/AUTOS/BLOG/post/2011/12/01/where-did-the-new-dodge-challenger-yellow-jacket-get-its-name.aspx
Dodge has unveiled a new package for the 2012 Challenger 392 called the “Yellow Jacket.” Its name may be instantly paired with the other Dodge designation that comes from both the muscle-car era and the Hymenoptera order: the Super Bee. But the two share few similarities, making the history of the Challenger Yellow Jacket more intriguing.
The Yellow Jacket name comes from a classic Challenger that was only briefly shown on the show circuit. It was a special honey-gold color concept car that made its rounds in 1970. Chrysler was testing the waters to see if a people would be interested in a Corvette competitor, so it designed a two-seat targa-style show car formed from the first 1970 E-body Hemi Challenger Convertible. The Yellow Jacket featured all the amenities including a Hemi engine, four-speed transmission, leather, power windows and door locks, side pipes, power rear glass, and even a power rear wing. It also included styling elements that would influence future Challengers including a grille that would later debut on the ’71 Challenger and rear lamps later used on the ‘72–‘74 cars. The public’s reaction must not have been sufficient or the cost to produce would have been too much because the idea was scrapped after a year on the show circuit.
A young Steven Juliano was particularly struck by the “Corvette Killer” when he first saw it at the New York Auto Show in 1970, and again, when it reappeared in Diamante form in 1971. The difference between the Yellow Jacket and the Diamante were pretty minor, but its new name and color did end the Yellow Jacket’s run. The Diamante featured a new aerodynamic nose with pop-up headlamps, new intakes on the hood, and a Diamond Dust color. The car was such a success that Chrysler kept it on as a normal show car until 1975.
Juliano would see the car again at an Indy car show in the 80s, but it wasn’t until the 90s that he got the chance to own his previous object of lust. Juliano, by then an avid collector of rare one-off Chrysler cars, met the then-owner in Chicago, but unfortunately, the car was not for sale. As the future centerpiece of his collection, Juliano did not give up, and consistently called the car's owner until it was agreed Juliano could purchase the car for $250,000. It was in near-original condition when Juliano obtained it, except for a fresh orange paint job that was applied by Chrysler later in the car’s career. Juliano is a purist that despises reproductions, but his only choice was to repaint the Diamante to its original pearl white paint. Juliano insists that everything else is original from the hoses to the air in the tires, and with only 670 miles on the odometer (only two of which are from Juliano), we have no reason to doubt it.
Today, it sits under a blanket in Juliano’s garage in Southern California, which looks like a showroom for rare Dodge and Plymouth cars and is covered in dealership signs and other Dodge and Plymouth memorabilia from the 60s and 70s. He has spent much of his life scouring dealerships like, as he calls it, a “real-life American picker,” referring to a television show called American Pickers, in which two hosts search out, find, and restore antiques and other relics. The only difference between Juliano and the television show's hosts is that Juliano is bringing together these items with no intention of publicly displaying or selling. He says he has been offered as much as two-million dollars for the Diamante, but in the end, he knows that money would just go towards another car, and at that point, he would only want his Diamante back.
The only thing that appears to be missing from Juliano’s garage is a new Challenger. His resistance to reproduction items has kept him from looking at the current car, but with Yellow Jacket package coming out in December, Juliano no longer sees it as a choice.