Auctions

The ‘Black Ghost’ was an untouchable Detroit street racer – and it was driven by a cop

by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
10 January 2023 3 min read
The ‘Black Ghost’ was an untouchable Detroit street racer – and it was driven by a cop
Photo: HVA/Preston Rose

It reads like a comic strip. Godfrey Qualls was a Detroit traffic cop by day and a street racer by night. A Purple Heart-awarded military veteran with a 1970 Dodge Challenger they nicknamed the ‘Black Ghost’. If you caught sight of his Challenger, it would be the taillights disappearing into the darkness.

Qualls, who completed 300 parachute jumps while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, ordered the Hemi Challenger R/T SE new at Raynal Brothers Dodge in Detroit, taking delivery on December 5, 1969. ‘Fully loaded’ doesn’t begin to describe the list of options fitted to the car; the commission-hungry sales guy would have enjoyed the happiest of Christmases in 1969.

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Dean Herron, a Mopar collector and expert, said Qualls was “one of the smartest guys who ever ordered a Hemi car.” It’s a ‘triple black’ car, meaning the body, roof and wheels were finished in black, with Qualls adding a bumble bee stripe to the rear end.

For a period in the early 1970s, Godfrey Qualls and the ‘Black Ghost’ dominated street racing in Detroit, but as a serving motorcycle patrolman, Qualls had to keep a low profile for fear of losing his job. Nobody stood a chance on the famed Woodward Avenue and Telegraph Road – public main roads between Detroit and Pontiac, that would see drivers arrive for a ‘shake, fries and a spot of clandestine street racing, in the ’50s and ’60s – as the Challenger and its unknown driver trounced all-comers. With another hapless muscle car dispatched, the ‘Black Ghost’ would vanish into the night, disappearing for weeks or months at a time.

In 1975, with numerous victories to its name and mythical status secured, the car disappeared again, only this time it wouldn’t return. Tales of the Hemi hero were passed down to a new generation of Mopar fans, but officer Godfrey Qualls remained tight-lipped about his escapades. The car was feared lost, only to re-emerge in 2014, when Godfrey invited his son Gregory to his garage in Detroit.

Black Ghost Detroit
Photo: Mecum Auctions

Gregory knew the car was there; in an interview he explained how the house would shake whenever his father started the engine. What Gregory didn’t appreciate was car’s legendary status and its reputation in Challenger circles. All would become clear when Godfrey passed away in 2015 after he had signed ownership of the ‘Black Ghost’ over to his son.

“Don’t give my f***ing car away,” Godfrey told Gregory as he passed him the ownership papers. The Mopar community alerted Gregory to his father’s street racing past, which is when he began researching the car’s history. Eight years after Godfrey’s passing, the ‘Black Ghost’ is headlining the Dana Mecum’s 36th Original Spring Classic, where it’s likely to fetch a seven-figure sum.

Hagerty valuation specialist John Wiley says: “Unrestored, culturally iconic muscle cars such as the 1968 Bullitt Mustang sell for well over seven figures, and it’s not unreasonable to expect the ‘Black Ghost’ might do the same.”

Black Ghost
Photo: Mecum Auctions

Mecum vice president of consignments Frank Mecum adds: “When you have the combination of a Purple Heart-awarded military veteran and a unique ’70s Challenger with the mythical street racing of a clandestine Detroit cop, the muscle car, drag racing and Mopar enthusiasts take notice.”

Even in isolation, the specification of this Challenger would make it one of the auction stars of 2023, but its backstory adds an extra layer of provenance. Nobody could catch it in the 1970s, but you’ll be able to place a bid at auction in May.

In the meantime, set aside 39 minutes of your day to watch this video on Godfrey Qualls and his remarkable Dodge Challenger. You’ll be glad you did.

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Comments

  • Pierre Noir says:

    “Don’t give my f***ing car away”

    and

    “it’s likely to fetch a seven-figure sum”.

    Just about sums up the world we live in today, smh.

  • Gary Cremer says:

    Great story on the Black Ghost. Enjoyed the video.
    Not sure what Pierre means??
    Hope the car stays well preserved & not restored.

  • Not pierre says:

    *Just about sums up the world we live in today, smh.*

    This comment sums up the world we live in. Haters hating, trying to appear philosophical about a car and what people are willing to pay for it…..

  • Phillip Blake says:

    This car is bone stock. Nice car and a one off because of the vinyl top I believe. A 13 second car on a good day. Not the stuff legends are made of.

  • Douglas W Lynch says:

    Back then we all were running 13 seconds cars. Gotta look at the era.

  • Douglas W Lynch says:

    Retired cop here. The whole street racer by night/cop by day is not as outlandish as some seem to think. I street raced under certain conditions, I know other coppers that did the same. We had a code, had to be a deserted street, no passengers allowed, and if the other driver looked like he had just taken Daddy’s car out for the night, we walked away. My friend was recognized once when he pulled a young driver over for reckless driving. Long story short, he was able to explain to this young driver the difference between doing it smart and doing it stupid. The kid has respect for my friend and we saw his at the races later. And, it wasn’t exactly top secret that we were cops, just gotta remember this was in the days before social media and a video studio in everyone’s pockets.

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