Chris Vitale, of St. Clair Shores, sits in his 1979 Dodge Magnum and shows the factory-installed citizens band radio.

Chris Vitale, of St. Clair Shores, sits in his 1979 Dodge Magnum and shows the factory-installed citizens band radio.

Photos by Patricia O’Blenes


Behind the Wheel: Car buff knows how to Dodge ’em

By: Maria Allard | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 14, 2020

 Chris Vitale’s collection of interesting Dodge vehicles includes, from left, a 2000 two-door Ramcharger, a 1979 Magnum and a 1973 Camper Special pickup truck.

Chris Vitale’s collection of interesting Dodge vehicles includes, from left, a 2000 two-door Ramcharger, a 1979 Magnum and a 1973 Camper Special pickup truck.

 Chris Vitale’s 1979 Magnum is a staple at many car shows and cruises.

Chris Vitale’s 1979 Magnum is a staple at many car shows and cruises.

 Chris Vitale’s daughter, Angela Vitale, sits in the third-row seat of the 2000 Dodge Ramcharger, which was only produced and sold in Mexico.

Chris Vitale’s daughter, Angela Vitale, sits in the third-row seat of the 2000 Dodge Ramcharger, which was only produced and sold in Mexico.

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No matter which Dodge model Chris Vitale drives, he is consistently at the right speed.

“I’ve always been a Chrysler guy,” said Vitale, who’s employed with the car company and currently owns three Dodge-made, two-door vehicles: a 1979 Magnum, a 2000 Ramcharger and a 1973 Camper Special pickup truck. “They all kind of serve a different purpose.”

The St. Clair Shores resident drives all three around town, mostly the Magnum and Ramcharger. With its original Spinnaker White paint job, the Magnum is one of many attractions in the annual St. Clair Shores Memorial Day parade. The vehicle, which Vitale purchased from Craigslist about seven years ago, also receives plenty of attention when out on the road.

“The car was only made for two years,” said Vitale, a member of the St. Clair Shores City Council. “It was a little bit of luxury, a little bit sporty, but not a muscle car. They didn’t sell great.”

But Vitale remembers, as a young boy, when the Magnum first came out. 

“It kind of takes me back to being a kid when my grandpa and dad used to work on cars,” he said. “My wife likes to drive the Magnum. She’ll put on big ’70s sunglasses and her hair will be blowing. It looks like something out of the ’70s.”

One night he and a friend, who owns a silver Magnum, parked their prize possessions in front of the outdoor patio at El Charro restaurant in Fraser. While enjoying their meals, the pair noticed plenty of people checking out their Dodges during the evening. Over the years, Vitale also has displayed the Magnum in plenty of car shows, and it has hit the pavement in many car cruises. Sometimes it’s more about the camaraderie than it is the shiny chrome and hydraulics.

“It’s not all about the cars. It’s more about the fellowship of car people. I think it’s a little bit of an escape,” Vitale said. “There’s a little rivalry between GM and Ford guys. We all root for different teams, but we all play the same sport. Cars now are a commodity. They used to have such a personality.” 

The Ramcharger has an interesting background. According to Vitale, Dodge came out with the model in 1974.

“It sold pretty well, but the market for two-door SUVs was dead by the beginning of the 1990s,” he said. “However, in Mexico they were still very popular. From 1999 to 2001 the SUV was made in Mexico but not in the U.S. I would say there are 25 to 30 that have been imported to the U.S. Mine is the only one in Michigan.”

Because of that, a police officer had to verify the vehicle identification number, because at the time, the car was not in Michigan’s Secretary of State system. The vehicle has since been added, according to Vitale. 

Vitale purchased the Ramcharger when it went up for sale in Los Angeles five years ago. The SUV is definitely a conversation starter, and car buffs out there understand the truck’s background. Sometimes, when at a red light, “People will pull out their cellphones and take pictures.” It also features manufacturing stickers written in Spanish.

The orange and white Camper Special has been in Vitale’s possession for 20 years. One spot it is sure to be every year is the St. Clair Shores Waterfront Environmental Committee’s Lake St. Clair Clean Up. Vitale uses it to deliver tools and bring trash and seaweed to dump sites. 

“It’s just a simple, good work truck,” Vitale said. “It gets a lot of looks.”

Do you own a vehicle that has an interesting history? Contact Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586) 498-1045, and you could be featured in an upcoming edition of Behind the Wheel. View all our Behind the Wheel stories at candgnews.com/behindthewheel, sponsored by B&B Collision of Royal Oak. 

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