MCG... The Last Great Independent American Muscle Car Magazine
Call it fate, divine intervention, karma, or just plain, dumb luck, it always amazes me that when you roll out of bed every morning, a simple hesitation of just a minute could mean the difference between being in the wrong place at the wrong time or scoring the big jackpot. Like crossing an intersection just as an eighteen-wheeler blows through a red light - one minute’s difference and everything would be just fine. Fate can also put you in the right place at the right time. Just as it did with the unlikely alignment of circumstances it took to bring MCG to life.
By the time I was eleven, there was no doubt I had ink and gasoline in my veins. After a failed attempt at age eight to publish a neighborhood newspaper (I only sold one copy), I resorted back to child’s play, tearing up the neighborhood in a go-cart that I decked out in a custom General Lee paint scheme. Despite watching Bo and Luke’s Charger religiously every week, I really had no idea of what a Mopar was. At fourteen, the dominating thoughts in my head were those of my first car, which I could legally own and drive at age fifteen in Louisiana. My top choices in those days for a hot rod were a V-8 Vega, followed by an early SS El Camino. Or perhaps a new Toyota pickup that I could low ride? Fortunately, all of those cars were way out of my budget . . . but what wasn’t, was an old 1972 Charger. I believe the asking price was $900, but my dad talked the old guy down to $600 and, unknown to anyone at the time, the stage was set for Mopar Collector’s Guide.
My first car was a B5 Blue 318 powered no-frills Charger that I was pretty lucky to even get out of the seller’s driveway. Despite being a very solid rust-free piece, it had seen its share of mishaps; the motor was tired, the tranny leaked, the front end was worn out, and the interior was shot - but that was okay with me. With my allowance of twelve bucks a week, mail order catalogs, and ideas I got from the pages of Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Super Stock magazines, I had plans for my new ride. The motor was soon yanked and rebuilt. With a Skil saw, a drill, and a hole cutter, I put the Charger on a diet (like Landy would’ve done), removing way too much metal to even keep the car structurally sound! A snorkel scoop went on the hood like the Pro Stock cars of the day wore. Headers and a pair of Thrush mufflers made sure everyone knew I was coming for blocks around. For eye candy, I found a set of Keystone Klassics with big 50s on the back off of an old Maverick for cheap. One of the front wheels had obviously hammered a curb, but that was nothing a five pound hammer couldn’t fix. A pair of Hi-Jacker air shocks hiked the rear over the big meats and gave me the perfect stance I was looking for. A thin coat of hot rod grey primer competed the look. Oh yeah, it was a much simpler time back then! You didn’t need stuff like stainless exhaust hangers, or the correct # whatever - sheet metal screws and bailing wire were a perfect fix for almost everything.
My time with the Charger was short lived, within two years, I found a ‘71 Challenger body and swapped all of the running gear out of the Charger into it. The simple fact remains though, that Charger put me on the Mopar fast track and on a collision course for starting MCG.
Around the time I graduated from high school in 1985, I enrolled at LSU, and while driving my Challenger, I met up with two other Mopar owners; Jeff Conrad, who had a ‘71 Super Bee, and David Huet, who had a ‘71 Demon. Together, we formed Baton Rouge’s first serious Mopar club, The LA Connection, which quickly grew to about sixty members. Two of those members were John Ellis and Randy Holden; the two other essential components to MCG. I met John through a friend when he began a restoration on a Challenger for his wife to use as a daily driver. I was supplying him with the parts to convert his mundane Challenger into a gleaming orange R/T clone that would later appear on the March 1992 cover of MCG. John and I began taking weekend trips across southern Louisiana and Mississippi to buy Mopars and find parts. While on the way back from looking for a winged car just outside of New Orleans, the idea of a classified magazine just for Mopars was hatched. There was a Corvette and Mustang trader mag at the time, but nothing specifically for Mopars. With no internet back then, Hemmings Motor News was the only source for finding Mopar cars and parts. So, we thought, “why not a Mopar collector’s guide?” Knowing absolutely nothing about publishing, we began exploring what it would take to publish a magazine. As with many things, timing is everything, and desktop publishing had just hit the mainstream. Toward the end of 1987, John and I pooled together about $500 apiece and formed MCG with the purchase of a computer and Pagemaker publishing software. When we bought the computer, we literally didn’t know how to turn it on! We gave ourselves a deadline of January 1988 for the first magazine, and we went to work studying the manuals and thrashing out the first issue. Randy Holden joined us about six months later, initially selling ads for MCG, and his unique writing style elevated MCG from just a classified rag to the full-scale article rich magazine everyone knows and loves today.
So, here we are twenty years later with the largest Mopar magazine in the world - who’d a thunk it? With no publishing connections, no money, and no idea of how to put out a magazine, how could we fail? The odds of MCG staying in business for twenty years, let alone becoming dominant in the market, were so astronomical, I can’t help but think there had to be some sort of divine intervention at work. We were all just too naive to know we weren’t qualified to make MCG a success, and thanks to our readers and advertisers’ support, it somehow worked!
The two biggest contributing factors to the birth of MCG can be traced directly back to two cars - my 1972 Charger and John’s Challenger. Without the chance purchase of my first car being a Mopar, I might be the editor of some rag like Hot Rod. If it wasn’t for John’s Challenger, we would’ve never met and formed the partnership that MCG evolved from. Working on the MCG Rock Stars and Muscle Cars Cruise from Phoenix to Vegas earlier this year, I phoned a car dealer friend of mine who was living in the Phoenix area. During our conversation, he mentioned he was bringing a 1972 Charger to the Mopars At The Strip auction. The car was a B5 Blue 400 powered four-speed. Needless to say, when I rolled into Vegas, this car was first on my list to check out. Sure enough, it was every bit as nice as he said it would be. Paul Wilson, who was with me the first time I saw it, whipped out one of Galen’s White Books and said they only built two-hundred-forty-eight 400 4-speed ‘72 Chargers! The really cool thing about this car was, it wasn’t the sportier Rallye Charger with bulge hood and gilled doors. Rather, it was just a Charger loaded with performance options. The way it was equipped, I’m sure it’s the only B5 Blue one around. Matching to the fender tag and broadcast sheet are chrome rear tips, Road Wheels, front and rear sway bars, a Tuff wheel, covered headlights, air, and between the two buckets, a short Pistol Grip. Sliding into the driver’s seat, the familiar smell of cheap vinyl brought me way back to the first time I sat in my Charger. Popping the trunk revealed the original spare, and a closer look revealed the car was still wearing its original ‘72 plates. You just don’t find many cars like this anymore.
About that time, it hit me - MCG was fast approaching its twentieth year, and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to put back on the road the two cars that were most significant to the start of MCG? My original Charger is long gone (it was junked) but I knew in my heart that I would never find another Charger to better pay homage to my original than this one. There was only one problem . . . this car was going up for auction and I wasn’t even a registered bidder, nor did I have the money available to take this one home. I talked to the seller and basically laid it on the line, if it didn’t sell at auction, please give me first shot at it. Karma paid off for me that day and the Charger is now tucked away tightly in my garage.
The Evolution of MCG
A) Mopar Collector’s Guide literally evolved out of The LA Connection club newsletter. The LA Connection was a Mopar club originally started by Rob Wolf. John Ellis and Randy Holden were both members of the club.
B) The first issue of MCG was January 1988 and was a tabloid size newspaper of sorts. All the other Mopar mags were bimonthly, but because of our classified ad content, we had no choice but to publish monthly, making MCG the first monthly Mopar magazine. Legendary Interiors was MCG’s first display advertiser, followed shortly thereafter by Year One, paving the way for the onslaught of advertisers to come and fueling its rapid growth.
C) Wanting to take MCG to the newsstand, but not knowing what to expect sales wise, a deal was struck with Roland Osborne (publisher of Chrysler Power magazine) to take MCG’s content and wrap it in a “More Power” cover and use his newsstand distributor network to put the MCG on the newsstands as a test market. That data made it possible to secure bank loans to launch MCG on the newsstands ourselves.
D) MCG’s first newsstand issue, December 1990, was the beginning of the MCG you recognize today.
MCG Genesis Charger
Despite how original the car is, in order to be a true tribute to the Charger that started it all, I was going to have to tick off a few purists. Because this is a numbers car with paper work back to the original window sticker, I would be somewhat limited as to what I could do with the car. With a rare piece like this, it’s essential not to hurt its factory integrity. This Genesis Charger (as we’ll call this project) will start by preserving the matching number motor and transmission for posterity in my garage. With the value placed on matching number motors these days, I’m surprised everyone doesn’t yank their matching motor in place of a sacrificial slug to play with. The MCG Genesis Charger will be a throwback of sorts compared to the modern muscle car trends of today. I’m going to build a big inch stroker low block with cast iron heads, because nobody ran aluminum back then. Vintage valve covers, intake, and either a big old Thermoquad or Competition Carter carb will sit on top. There will be no skinny sidewall tire shod 20" wheels on this one - 15" Keystones with white letter tires. Watch for traction bars, an old Sun tach, and a bolt-in Lakewood roll bar. You get the picture - a circa late 1970's ride.
Gathering dust in the back of our warehouse is John’s Challenger - the very one from the formation of the company. This is truly “MCG 1.” And for this car, money’s no object, because it’s not mine (ha ha). John’s given me an open checkbook to build the coolest ‘71 I could conjure up. While it will beckon back to the RTS cars of Dodge’s early show circuit days, MCG 1 will showcase the best of the best available from MCG advertisers today. It will have a full tube front end, House of Kolor Tangelo paint, and the trickest stroker Hemi John Arruzza has ever built. The motor’s a big inch Hemi roller with a siamesed block. This beast is guaranteed to hurt anyone who tries to test it! You’ll be able to follow the build of both of these conceptually opposed project cars through the magazine this year, so stay tuned and watch them come to life . . . I guarantee, you’ll get some ideas for your car.
This special issue isn’t, as you might expect, designed to reflect back on all the cool stuff we’ve done over the last twenty years - our twenty-fifth anniversary supplemental issue will take care of that. It will recap the coolest Mopars that we’ve covered over the years and will turn our early legendary black and white features into never-before-seen color layouts. Instead, this issue is to celebrate what all of you have achieved and the future of MCG. MCG has evolved from a simple newsletter, certainly by hard work from everybody behind the scenes, but most of all because of the Mopar readers and the advertisers who wanted something more entertaining and more informative than the corporate sanitized mags can offer. You’ve supported us with your subscriptions and advertising dollars, and we’re very aware and appreciative of that. The big magazine houses knock on our door about once a year with briefcases full of money, but that’s not what it’s about. Unlike everyone else, all we publish is this Mopar mag. You guys are more family to us than customers, so we hold the wolves at bay. Mopar Collector’s Guide is proud to stand alone as the last great independent American muscle car magazine. Being independent certainly makes the business climate harder to operate in, but it allows us to be brutally honest about who’s screwing who, remain politically incorrect, and delve off into thought-provoking editorials that the other guys’ legal departments wouldn’t let them touch with a ten-foot poll.
So what’s next you ask? With your help, the sky’s the limit. Keep subscribing and signing up your friends, and we’ll keep adding more pages, more Mopar, more fun in the form of cruises, concerts, and parties like our Playboy Mansion show.
Over the past year, we’ve been working on an internet-based newsstand and supporting software that will allow you to read all of your favorite magazines online, page-by-page, just like they are printed, on your own computer. Imagine, whatever subject you’re interested in, just typing it up and being able to purchase magazines and read them instantly! So, as you can see, we’re nowhere near ready to reflect yet - we’re not done growing.