Bachelor brothers' unique cars sold at auction

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
The 1970 Dodge Charger, as it was found in the Ratcliff brothers' barn.

By David Melson

Special to the Tribune

For years, two Dodge muscle cars sat undriven in a Marshall County barn, cherished along with several other old cars and collectible tractors by two brothers.

Today, the cars are in the hands of collectors -- and a rare 1968 Super Bee, along with a 1970 Charger, will soon hit the road once more.

Both Dodges were sold at auction on Oct. 31.

"The 1968 Super Bee sold at $30,000 and the 1970 Charger at $8,600," Ben Craig of Craig & Wheeler said. "Both were in original condition, the motors were in both and all the numbers matched. Matching numbers are critical in something like that. It's a very rare occurrence to find two cars collectors consider survivors."

Stan Lawson, a collector from Barbourville, Ky., took home the Super Bee.

"After approximately 30 years in a Tennessee barn, it finally has a new home," Lawson said. "It joins a dozen or so others in my classic car showroom in Kentucky. I bid because it's the real deal. Numbers matching, 383 high performance, dual points distributor, factory four-speed with a positive traction differential. The truest form of American muscle."

The late James and Paul Radcliffe of Cornersville watched dust collect as their cars morphed from old used vehicles to collectors' dreams.

Until recent years, "an old car in a barn" meant zero. Today, so-called "barn finds" -- some literally from barns, others from garages or even back yards -- are prized by auto enthusiasts for their originality and potential.

Some buyers restore the cars to showroom condition. A growing trend is to keep the vehicles largely as found, symbols of America's automotive past.

Both cars can be put into running condition, Craig said.

"We checked the camshafts to see if they would turn. They did," Craig said. "We didn't try to start them. The Super Bee's radiator was out of the vehicle."

The Ratcliffe brothers graduated from Cornersville High School in 1976 and 1977 and lived their entire lives on the family farm.

Both died within hours of each other on Feb. 8, 2014. James was 56 and Paul 54. There were no immediate survivors.

"Paul was outside with the cattle and died," Craig said. "James went to a neighbor's home to get help and was so stressed he died a couple of hours later."

It was likely James' idea to keep the cars, according to Craig.

"James was more of a collector, from guns to knives to the cars," Craig said. "He was a Dodge-Mopar mechanic and worked for Morrison Dodge in Lewisburg at one time. He bought the Super Bee from Mr. Morrison's son Lee, who was in college."

James knew Super Bees would be worth money, Craig said, because few were made, so he put it in the garage.

For Mopar fans, original Super Bees are a dream come true. Especially this one -- untouched, without the large tires, non-original mag wheels, or other modifications made to many "muscle cars" in the 1970s and 1980s before they became collectible.

"It's considered a 'survivor.' It has very little, if any, rust and the original paint job. It's been literally on jacks since 1985," Craig said.

The Super Bee -- Dodge's version of the famed Plymouth Road Runner, which actually shared the same basic Chrysler Corporation "B-body," boasted a 383 Magnum engine with 335 horsepower, a very high number then and now.

The exact number of 383 Super Bees sold is uncertain, but several online sources indicate the total number in the 7,700-7,800 range. A much more expensive 426 Hemi engine rated at 425 horsepower was an option but only 125 were sold, Mopar websites indicate.

The '70 Charger was sold to a buyer from Fayetteville, Craig said.

"It's definitely a collector car," he added.

But it soon will look totally different. The new owner told Craig he plans to repaint the black-over-red Charger bright orange and turn it into a replica of the famed "General Lee" from the "Dukes of Hazzard" television show.

Other less rare but still interesting vehicles sold included a 1976 Charger and rarely-seen 1979 Warlock pickup truck. More than 1,000 people attended the sale from as far away as Florida, Craig said, and they were on the hunt for more than cars.

The Ratcliffe brothers also collected tractors. In fact, a John Deere 4055 tractor, described as "in good shape" by Craig, sold for more than the Super Bee -- $42,500.