Styling the Classic Dodge Chargers

1964-67 Dodge Chargers1968-701975-78Modern Dodge Charger • Inside story of the Dodge ChargerSidelight Story

“There's an old adage in this business; a good design has many designers, a bad one has none.” — Diran Yazejian

Diran Yazejian wrote,

The 1966 (1/2) Charger got its start with Lee Iacocca and the 1964 1/2 Mustang. Plymouth Division Sales needed a quick answer to that and approved the Valiant fastback, Barracuda, which, by comparison, was mildly successful.

1966 dodge charger

Now, Dodge Division Sales did a Dart GT for '65 but it didn't fill the bill. What they wanted was a mid-size specialty car so Dodge Studio (principally, the late Carl Cameron), using the all new '66 Coronet, changed only the roof, quarters, deck lid and grille to come up with a very competitive specialty car for 1966 1/2. After the die models were complete, parts were made and used to make an extended body show car which was shown before the production car, and it led the public to think it was designed first.

For 1968, the Dodge Charger was redesigned, with results that would punch up sales and instantly turn the car into a classic, remembered and shown for decades afterwards. Diran credited Richard Sias with the “Coke bottle” side profile, giving Charger its attractive double diamond shape and scalloped doors. Sias was the principle designer of the 1968 Charger; he was 26 when he created the 1/10 scale model that led to the Charger’s final shape, just two years before the design was locked down.

1968 dodge charger

Diran Yazejian continued,

The 1968 Charger was an anomoly. (The late) Bill Brownlie, Dodge Studio Executive Designer, wanted an evolutionary design from the ’66 — a fastback. Meanwhile, off in a corner of the Dodge Studio, Richard Sias, was making a 1/10th scale “speed form” clay model. It was “aircrafty” and had the double diamond shapes built into its form, but it wasn't a fastback.

It was such an exciting shape that Chuck Mitchell, Chief Designer, wondered if it could be morphed into a B body size car. Since the program hadn't yet started, a full size clay model was started while hidden behind two 20’ black boards. Frank Ruff, B Body Car Line Manager, with his experience and Richard Sias' vision, directed the clay modelers to what soon looked like the ’68 Charger.

Everybody knew it was a winner. While still behind the boards, it was informally shown to Bob McCurry, Dodge Division VP. He approved it on the spot, it was moved out onto a regular platform in the studio, finalized and refined, and released to Engineering. So, there never was a traditional design program as such, the anomoly. The “sail panels” made it look fastback enough to satisfy Brownlie.

Along the way, during the grille and lamp cycle, Product Planning wanted to cancel the concealed headlamps to save money. It was mocked up both ways with a huge mirror at the centerline so they could be seen both ways. Bob McCurry walked in, looked at both sides, said two words, “Keep ’em,” and left.

The only thing I designed on the car was the taillamps. Based on the ’66 1/2 and ’67 Charger sales, 20,000 ’68s were scheduled — and 96,000 were actually built.

The restyling continued inside, but what caught customers’ and collectors’ eyes was the exterior look.

In the WPC News (of the Chrysler Products Restorers Club), Diran continued,

Louvers were added to the front door surface to give clearance to the lower hinge, an interference condition missed early on. [My] tail lamps departed from the evolution of the horizontal theme set by the preceding ’66 and ’67 Chargers by going to dual round, set in a rectangular field. The unobtrsuive back up lamps were virtually unseen, until lit. ... Harvey Winn restated his Coronet bumble bee stripe on the rear of the Charger R/T, which began a family identifier of performance Dodges.”

Evolution: the 1969 Dodge Charger

Diran Yazejian wrote:

Attached are the actual sketches selected and used to model the front and rear changes for the 1969 Charger. The original '68 Charger taillamp sketch was done on a brown paper towel (lots of tooth for drawing with dry markers). I probably put it somewhere safe where it wouldn't get lost.” He also sketched the 1969 grille and tail lamps.

1969 Charger front sketch from 1967

... This is a photo of my body side as approved at the theme selection. Obviously the direction was to retain the '68 image but please notice my front “diamond” was inside the rear “diamond” in the front door to help achieve the “outrigger” fender look. At this point I was transferred to A & E body to work for Carl Cameron, and about three weeks later Carl was transferred to Interiors, and I was promoted to his position.

1969 Charger rear sketch

Frank Ruff continued tuning and improving all surfaces, and they really needed tuning including the front bumper, to what was released. The only change he made that I disagreed with; he flushed-up the C pillar to be more like Sias’ 1/10 scale model and lost the “shelf” that I had, the thing that really “makes” the ’68-70 so much better and one of things people today love about that car. Anyway, I'll yield the front bumper and its improvements to Frank.

1969 Dodge Charger photos

Jeff [Godshall] agreed that the ’70 Coronet front end was Diran Yazejian’s and wrote about it in his Collectible Automobile article about the ’68 to ’70 Coronets. He says he had nothing to do with the ’69 Charger front bumper. I think that goes to Frank as well.  The late Ric Carell did a lot on the '70 Charger as well as the “Snoopy” stripe on the '71 and more.

[Regarding the 1971 Charger side design:] It was mine, from a yellow sketch that clearly showed the outrigger front fender and door shape. The sketch disappeared later, Elwood had a way of taking sketches off the wall and running off with them. Carl ended up with Herlitz's large purple side view about 3'x 4' of the ’70 ’Cuda that he “gave back” to John at his retirement party in the Chrysler Museum, so sometimes people do strange things, but I never saw my sketch again. I don't remember Bruce [Hatch] having a body side in clay in that program but I'm not sure about that. Bruce got laid-off, I think, I later received a letter from him asking me for a letter of reference to be an industrial design professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign.

1971 clay body side

Automotive historian, writer, and former Chrysler designer Jeffrey Godshall added:

Speaking of Charger taillights, I did the rear lamp treatment on the 1970 Charger. The '70 Charger had a first-time loop bumper up front, so I tried to emulate that concept at the rear by designing a ‘loop bezel’ that ran the width of the rear panel and united the '69 taillights within this loop, the elongated treatment outlined by a slim bright molding. The car-wide loop molding was horizontal across the top while the lower horizontal molding ‘bumped up’ in the middle.

The 1970 loop-molding treatment was the ‘purest’ rear end treatment of the 1968-69-70 Chargers and tastefully mimicked the loop bumper up front. Looking at a photo of a '70 Charger, its still looks good.

Harvey J. Winn wrote, “I was at summer camp when you did the 68 ‘Corvette’ lights that Elwood [Engle] wanted. My original sketch had dual exhaust ports where the license plate is currently. The plate was above the bumper. Also, I remember having a battle with [Bill] Brownlie about the spoiler. He changed his mind after seeing the Mako Shark at the New York Auto Show. While we're discussing this, what is your memory about how the body side design was ‘sold’ to El? ... I was a rebel back then and battled with Bill about a lot of things.”

The end of the story was unfortunate; while the car was a triumph, giving Chrysler a major image boost while selling nearly five times as many cars as predicted, Richard Sias received little praise or recognition from Bill Brownlie (who, according to Diran, said that “a one-design designer is not enough.”) Sias later resigned and worked with a design house in Spokane; he owned three 1968 Chargers at once, making one into a convertible. Harvey Winn left shortly afterwards as well, for a design firm, before ending up at Ford and then in advertising. Bill Brownlie stayed on until 1980, when he joined Creative Industries. Diran Yazejian (who provided these biographical notes) reamined at Chrysler, as did Chuck Mitchell and Frank Ruff.

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