The Black Ghost, a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T SE, was a legendary car in the Detroit street racing scene. It was known to spontaneously appear, completely obliterate any competition it came across, then disappear without a trace.
The nickname was very fitting, considering the car’s combo of black paint, black interior, and Gator Grain black vinyl top, although the Challenger never stuck around long enough for anyone to see that interior. It had a mysterious penchant for materializing, winning, and then vanishing.
No one knew how or why the Black Ghost was able to do what it did, with the exception of two men: Godfrey Qualls and his friend Curtis Neal. Qualls, the Challenger’s driver, was a Detroit police officer, which meant the duo had to keep their street racing antics a secret.
He also served in the military, as a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, receiving a Purple Heart after being injured by a grenade in the mid-1960s
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Qualls’ Black Ghost Challenger was special. Not only did he order the car with the R/T and Special Edition (SE) packages and the 426 engine, but he also specified the Super Track Pak, complete with a four-speed manual transmission and floor-mounted Hurst pistol grip, and threw in a Sure-Grip Dana 60 with 4.10 gears.
On the aesthetic side, he optioned the car with hood pins, a houndstooth interior, a “bumble bee” white stripe on the rear, and the car’s standout item — the Gator Grain black vinyl top. Qualls’ car is one of just 23 Hemi four-speed R/T SE Challengers sold in the first model year, and is possibly the only one ever built to this specification. Apparently, the Gator Grain top was actually a mistake made by Dodge, as Quall wanted plain black vinyl, but he decided to keep it anyway.
The Black Ghost quickly gained mythical status as its popularity spread. Soon, everyone was talking about it. People would just pull up next to the car in hopes of racing, only to get beaten every time, after which the Black Ghost would disappear. Most of the time, it was Neal who was riding in the passenger seat with Qualls.
“It was beating everything — Vettes, Chevelle 396, 37 … those were nothing for this car,” he said. “This car was the king of the street in those days.” Neal said the best spot for the drag races was on Stucker Street, which was an industrial area with no houses or cross-streets, so full quarter-mile races could be run where “police didn’t bother you.” Ironic, considering Qualls was a police officer. Neal said it was a good way to keep participants from causing other kinds of trouble.
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Godfrey Qualls’ son, Gregory, apparently didn’t know anything about his father’s street racing until years later, although he was very aware of the car’s existence, with the following anecdote from Gregory as a testament.
“He taped a $100 bill to the dash and told me… ‘When I say go, if you can reach it, it’s yours,’”. Just as Gregory began to reach for the bill, his father hit the gas, and he was immediately pinned back against the seat. “I couldn’t get it… and I was scared. I remember that.”
What Gregory did know was the mystery as to why his father stopped street racing. Godfrey rejoined the military in 1977 where he became a Green Beret, and while he was away, he left the Challenger parked in the garage. Three years later, when he returned home, he wanted to get the car up and running again. Upon asking a friend to look over the car, that friend, Herron, immediately recognized it as the Black Ghost after seeing it and hearing Qualls recall his time with it.
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In 2014, Qualls invited his son over for a beer and told him he wanted to show him something in the garage. Godfrey pulled the cover back on the Challenger, and the two cleaned it together. Gregory said he didn’t know it at the time, but he thinks that it was his father’s way of letting him know he was sick. After overcoming prostate cancer in 2008, it had returned, and had now spread to Godfrey’s bones. In 2015, shortly before the end of his life, Godfrey asked his son to retrieve an envelope from his house and bring it to him. What Gregory had brought him was the car’s papers. Godfrey signed the title away to his son right then and there, urging him not to give it away.
Godfrey Qualls died on Christmas Eve in 2015, and Gregory considers him as his hero. He also vows to heed his father’s words and keep the car in the family, hopefully passing it on to his own son someday.
The story of the Black Ghost is a true all-American one, and the documentary that Hagerty and the Historic Vehicle Association have just produced about it is certainly worth your time. You can watch the whole thing for yourself below.