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‘Charger Tribute’

TV show overhauls classic car to honor Sycamore family’s loss

SYCAMORE – For nearly 15 years, the Riccardi family’s 1970 Dodge Charger RT sat in their garage, covered in a thick layer of dust.

Beneath that dust were memories of Frank Riccardi Jr., known by family and friends as Frankie.

Twenty-three-year-old Frankie was murdered in a rural Kirkland field on Oct. 7, 2005, leaving behind the car that he had dreamed of fixing.

Frank Riccardi Sr., Frankie’s father, had started looking for a 1969 Dodge Charger in 1976 or 1977, but then “prices started going up and I had kids.”

“In 1998 or 1999, I found this car online out in Colorado,” Frank Sr. said. “I watched the price go down four times until it was $4,500. By Easter 1999, I said ‘yes,’ I’d go and get it. So I loaded up the car with Frankie, my buddy, Jim, and his son, Jimmy, and we drove to get it. When it started, I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ ”

Through the years, Frank and Frankie worked on the car together as a father-son project. The 1970 Dodge Charger RT, with numbers matching, originally was black. Frankie and his brother, Joey, worked on the car years ago as part of their auto collision class through Kishwaukee College, doing some bodywork and painting it a bright shade of “intense blue.”

Just as the family started working on the car’s engine, Frankie was killed. For the next 15 years, the car sat in the family’s garage.

Frank Sr. said it was a common occurrence for people to stop by the house and ask about the car. A man stopped by twice with a check trying to buy it.

“People were always stopping by to look at the car,” he said. “It was even featured in Barn Finds and Hot Rod Magazine. But I could never get rid of the car. I hated to see it sitting there, but it means everything to me. It was a project Frankie and I worked on together. He really liked cars, that’s something we shared. And this was his car, he drove it to school. I bought it for him and Joey.”

Family friend and neighbor Bill Rogers thought about submitting the car to the TV show, “Garage Squad,” even taking photos of the car in hopes of sending them to the show. A short time later, Suzi Riccardi, Frankie’s mom and Frank Sr.’s wife, asked Rogers if he knew anything about the show because she had submitted the car to the program.

“I’ve been watching ‘Garage Squad’ for years and wanted to submit the car,” Rogers said. “When I was thinking of submitting it, that Friday, Suzi told us she sent it in.”

After Suzi Riccardi nominated the car in February or early March of this year, a producer came to look at the car and to make inventory lists.

“We didn’t know if they’d take on the car, if they would do it,” Suzi said. “But they came back in July, and filmed the show in two weeks.”

The “Garage Squad” episode, “A Charger Tribute,” season 5, episode 8, aired Oct. 17 on Velocity.áThe episode’s tagline was “This father-son project took a tragic turn to become a father-only project; the Garage Squad tackles this ’70 Charger as a tribute car to the entire family.”

The show detailed the rebuilding of the car with as many new parts as possible. Changes to the car include new bumpers, tires, wheels, engine, grills, starter, exhaust, vinyl roof top, a complete fuel system with a tank, pump and fuel injection, insulation on the floor, the entire interior and some electrical wiring.

One special touch added to the car were decals affixed to the two rear quarter windows. The decal, featuring the letter F and a heart, honors Frankie’s memory. Many of Frankie’s family and friends have a similar tattoo.

Between 75 and 100 people attended the car’s reveal on July 25, which was the Wednesday before Sycamore’s Turning Back Time Weekend, allowing it to be showcased at the classic car show.

“Having the car running again was like a dream come true,” Frank Sr. said. “When it started up that first time, it brought back every memory. The sound, the smell, everything.”

Rogers and the Riccardi family said the cast and crew of “Garage Squad” were “beyond amazing to work with.” While filming for the show, they invited the Riccardi family over to their tent for meals and even took the family’s dog for a walk. Filming became a family event, with Frankie’s younger brother, Tony, his wife, Sally, and their 1-year-old son, Milo, stopping by.

“Everyone from ‘Garage Squad’ was unbelievable, they’re the best people we’ve ever met,” Suzi Riccardi said. “We even heard from them after the show. They asked how we’re doing and if we’d need them to stop by and check on the car. The people on the show knew how much it meant to us, how much it meant for them to help. They did it as a memorial, a tribute to Frankie.”

Since the show, Rogers, an instructor of automotive technology at Kishwaukee Education Consortium, has been using the car to teach his students. Next semester, Rogers and his students will add finishing touches to the car including a wheel alignment and maintaining the car’s steering and suspension.

“We’re excited to have the car back up and running. We’re going to take it everywhere we can to show off the great work done by ‘Garage Squad’ and KEC,” Joey Riccardi said. “Any time I can drive it, I will. It sat in the garage for 15 years. It’s time to let people see it.”

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