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Stateside Podcast: Detroit's Black Ghost rides again

The Black Ghost
Courtesy of Gregory Qualls
The Black Ghost

Growing up, Gregory Qualls had no idea that his father, Godfrey Qualls, was a street racing legend. Rather, Gregory knew him as a good father and neighbor — the kind of guy who would give up the shirt off his back for someone in need of one. He was also an officer with the Detroit Police Department.

It wasn’t until much later, after his father passed away in 2015, that Gregory found out that the black Dodge HEMI Challenger that sat in their garage covered in horse blankets was something of an urban myth among the city’s muscle car community. It was known as the Black Ghost – a mysterious car that would show up occasionally in Detroit’s 1970s street racing scene, win, then disappear just as quickly.

“My dad never told me about racing,” Gregory said. “But I understood why… [Y]ou try to protect your family and he didn't want me to get into the big car racing.”

There’s another reason aside from the danger of racing. Street racing is illegal and Godfrey was a cop. If people found out, it could have cost him his job.

After his father passed, Gregory fixed up the Black Ghost and began driving it himself — mostly for everyday trips with his family around the neighborhood.

“We would go up to the ice cream shop and get some ice cream,” Gregory said. “Me and my son would drive around the block doing 20, 30 miles an hour just to enjoy the car… I always felt [my father’s] presence with me whenever I drove the car.”

He’s also taken the Black Ghost to car conventions. In fact, it was at his first car convention where he first learned about his dad’s street racing past.

“People would come up to me and tell me, yeah, I remember this car. Your dad used to race this car. And that's how I found out and I was in shock,” Gregory said. “[T]hey were just as amazed because they thought that the car didn't really exist. They just thought it was [an] urban legend.”

In 2020, the Black Ghost was inducted into the National Historic Vehicle Register in the Library of Congress. Gregory is taking the car on one final tour of conventions across the country. Then he will put the car up for auction.

The decision to sell the Black Ghost is bittersweet for Gregory. He’ll be sorry to see it go, but he said the money the car sells for will open up new opportunities for his family. It’s something Gregory's’ father talked to him about before he passed.

“He told me…if you ever need to sell the car, he said, don't give my car away. So my dad knew it was valuable. He understood that. He wanted to make sure that I knew that it was just as valuable.”

While there will only ever be one Black Ghost, Dodge is paying tribute to Godfrey Qualls iconic machine in its final line of Challengers before retiring the line.

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.