Alan Johnson, of Johnson’s...
Alan Johnson, of Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop, stands in for owner Seth Wagner, demonstrating the handling prowess of his ’67 Charger.
After an exhausting day of refilling prescriptions, playing bingo, and forgetting where they live, most 72-year-olds are ready to hit the sack before happy hour. Not Seth Wagner. It’s after 9 pm when we call to chat about his car, and he’s still wide awake watching Speed TV. Staying up later than most old folks, however, isn’t what makes him a cool cat. Neither is the fact that he does what he can to stay in shape. You see, the reason why Seth stays fit is because he’s a road racing addict, and he knows that dealing with the rigors of constant g-loads can be taxing for people half his age. “A lot of old people drink too much beer and eat too much turkey, so they can’t even get in and out of their cars. I try to stay in shape so I can spend as much time on the track as possible,” he says. Putting his money where his mouth is, Seth frequently pounds on his Corvette ZR1 and Porsche 911 Turbo through the ultrahigh speed track known as Road America. Nevertheless, he thought it would be so much more fun to do it in a muscle car, and that epiphany has materialized in the form of a Hemi-powered, four-linked, 1967 Dodge Charger built by Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop. See this car up close, and it will be one of the few instances in life where you want to trade places with someone far more elderly than yourself.
The interior looks mostly...
The interior looks mostly stock, but is far more refined. The most noticeable touches are the custom seats and a three-spoke Lecarra steering wheel. There’s far more than meets the eye, however, like a Vintage Air A/C system that’s operated by the stock control knobs, and an Alpine stereo hidden behind a custom aluminum panel in the dash. Tucked inside the center armrest bin is a fire extinguisher, and just about every interior panel has been replaced with custom aluminum pieces to tighten up the gaps and improve fit and finish.
Way before the Hamptons got invaded by elitist Manhattan transplants, it was a blue-collar district of Long Island that Seth called home. As unimaginable as it may be today, it even had a dragstrip—one that Seth spent plenty of time at as a teenager. He bought a Y-block–powered ’56 Ford Crown Victoria when he turned 16, slapped on a McCulloch supercharger, and went racing. A stint in the military and family obligations forced Seth into a temporary retirement from hot rodding, but he never strayed too far from his true passion. “While I was going to school, I started working with my father-in-law, who taught me the art of injection molding. I eventually opened up my own shop in Detroit, and my first big break was getting hired by Ford to make the molds for its cruise control units,” he says. “So while I didn’t have the time to build hot rods, as an OEM supplier I was always involved with the automotive industry in some capacity. Today, we manufacture everything from steering columns to ignition switches to lighting equipment to taillight assemblies for suppliers like Saginaw, TRW, and Valeo. We didn’t take off for China like a lot of other companies, and we’ve kept our business right here in America.”
About 10 years ago, after several decades of building up a successful business with over 300 employees, Seth felt that it was time to take a step back and hand over the daily operations of the company to his son. That meant he had a lot more free time on his hands, opening up the floodgates to get back into the hobby full-bore. He found a ’49 Ford business coupe, and restored it at home. From there, the collection grew rapidly to include an all-steel ’32 Ford roadster, a ’41 Willys truck, and a ’36 Ford three-window coupe. The street rodding crowd isn’t exactly into driving their machinery hard, so Seth started hanging out with some local road racers. “I always like watching vintage road racing, so it didn’t take much for my friends to talk me into going to some open track days,” he says. “I started running laps in my Cadillac CTS-V, and I got hooked. I don’t like drag racing anymore because waiting around all day to make two passes gets old. I want to spend my time on the track improving my driving skills.”