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by David Zatz
In 1966, Dodge was trying to build up a reputation for excitement and power, moving from its traditional place as the car between Plymouth and Chrysler in size and luxury - a relatively small niche. The lineup went from the smallest car the corporation made, the Dart, all the way up to the big C-body Polara and Monaco. Each carline included a number of models and variants; styling was more mainstream than in years past. The ads proclaimed the “Dodge Rebellion,” though Dodge had little to rebel against — its position was most definitely favored at Chrysler, with Plymouths and Chryslers being badged as Dodges to that division’s tastes. Chrysler also issued numerous historical documents, including histories (through 1966) of each brand’s most memorable cars by year.
We have a list of specifications and features by vehicle at the end, after sales.
1966 continued and expanded on Dodge’s incredible proliferation of engines, with two slant sixes (170 and 225 cubic inches), the 273 LA V8, the 318 A-series V8, 361 and 383 V8, and the 440 engines as well as the first appearance of the 426 Hemi, available in Hemi and Street Hemi form. In standard trim, the Hemi had a 12:1 compression ratio, 425 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, and twin four-barrel carburetors with solid lifters. In Street Hemi trim, the compression ratio was dropped to a more manageable 10.25:1 and a milder cam was used, but the horsepower rating was the same. The 383 was available in two-barrel (regular gas) and four-barrel (premium) form; the 273 had a high-performance variant adding 55 horsepower via a higher compression ratio and four-barrel (rather than two-barrel) carburetor. Carter ruled the carburetor roost, with other brands only on the 225 (Holley single-barrel) and 318 (Stromberg two-barrel).
The 1966 Dodge Polara was nearly identical to the Monaco on the outside, with the most noticeable difference being the rear tail-lights: both had the same openings, but Monaco got full tail-lights (extending to the trunk area) while in the Polara, the tail-lights were confined to the body and the trunk lid got metallic fills instead. A modern buyer could be easily forgiven for mixing them up. Interior were siimilar, with a standard 383 again (economy minded buyers could get a special Polara 318, with the smaller A-series engine in place of the big, thirsty B engine). A vinyl interior was optional in hardtops and the sedan, standard in the wagon and convertible; chrome was still much in evidence but not quite as prevalent as in the Monaco, and the standard seat was a bench, rather than buckets (buckets were available as an option). A Polara 500 was available, with standard front buckets. The automatic transmission had a console-mounted shifter.
Completely restyled for 1966 and fully under the control of stylist Elwood Engle, the Coronet was available with engines from the slant six to the 440. Standard on all but four-door sedans was an all vinyl interior with chrome trim; bodies included a two door and four door sedan, as well as a two door hardtop, convertible, and wagon. Styling was clearly related to the Monaco/Polara in back, but the grille treatment was more Chrysler-like. The Coronet 500 included bucket seats, deep-pile carpeting, a center console, and a standard V8 (the 273 was standard, but the 318, 361, and four-barrel 383 were also offered). The automatic had a console shifter; a four-on-the-floor manual was available with the 361 and 383. A huge number of Coronets were sold - more than two for one of any other car sold by Dodge, and, if you include the Charger model, more than half of all Dodges sold in 1966 (without the Charger, it was almost half).
For 1966, performance buyers could get a Hemi-powered Coronet, with a full 425 horsepower on tap; thanks partly to the high price (which would be addressed in 1967 by making the 375 hp 440 available in the new Coronet R/T), fewer than 800 Hemi Coronets were sold, despite rather high sales of the 273 and 318 V8 models. There weren't any external indications of Hemi power, other than fender emblems; GM did far better with much more noticeable changes, which included new model names.
The Coronet was sold in Mexico, manufacturered by Automex (which was affiliated with Chrysler) to comply with a new 60% local-content rule, which demanded that the engine, transmission, and rear axle all be made in Mexico. All Chrysler vehicles sold in Mexico in 1966 therefore had the slant six as the only engine, since that was the only engine built in Mexico by Automex at the time. The only model was called the Coronet 440. About 26,000 vehicles were made by Automex in 1966, including the more popular Valiants and trucks.
The Charger was introduced in 1966 as an offshoot of the Coronet, with the same chassis but completely different bodywork and a unique, sporty instrument panel. Priced well above the Coronet, the Charger found little acceptance compared with other Dodges, not even matching the Monaco in its first year. It would carry on for on more year in the same body, with sales in 1967 plummeting further to half its 1966 sales, before a dramatic restyling that brought sales to roughly triple their 1966 level and added a legendary nameplate to Chrysler Corporation’s short supply of well-known monikers.
The Charger body had a fastback roofline and a front clip with hidden headlight doors. A round Charger crest was featured in the center of the convex grille, and the Charger name was spelled in block letters across the full length of the single, full-width tail-light. The rear bucket seats - unusual at the time - folded forward individually - also unusual even for cars with bucket seats. The instrument panel was unique to the Charger (unlike the current Charger), featuring four large, round pods directly in front of the driver (like the new Charger). Both sticks and automatics got a floor shifter in a full-length console between the front seats.
The Charger came standard with a sturdy 318 V-8 (not the LA version that would show up in 1967, but the A version), producing 230 hp (gross; about 170 net?) at 4,400 rpm. The 2bbl 361 and 4bbl 383 (325 hp) were also options; the Hemi came in mid-year. The 318 Charger came standard with a 3 speed manual, and the bigger engines came with either a 4 speed manual (with Sure-Grip differential) or the Torqueflite automatic.
The 1966 Dodge Charger was introduced on New Year’s Day, 1966, and didn’t appear in early literature.
The lowest priced Dodge was the Dart, now featuring V8 power from a 273 cubic inch engine as well as the 170 or 225 cubic inch slant-six. Three models were available, the Dart (170), 270, and GT, each with different options. The grille had a clear Coronet influence, while the tail was unique among the Dodges. The 270 was the most popular series, followed by the base model, wagon, and, trailing, the GT; only about 10,000 GT V8 models were made (along with fewer than 9,000 GT sixes). Outside of the GT, the sixes easily outsold the V8s, but the V8 was unquestionably popular. Just one year away was the first “muscle Dart” with the big 383 cubic inch engine shoe-horned under the hood, very good for straight-line acceleration but not so good for cornering.
The relatively low-cost Dart didn’t catch on as well as the Valiant or Coronet, though it no doubt did much to lose Dodge’s prestige as a near-luxury brand and hastened the then-inconceivable shutdown of Plymouth.
Two Dodge Sportsman vans were available in 1966, the Custom and standard Sportsman models. They were the only wagons in their class with V8 power, a full 174 horsepower; the standard engine was the 101 horse 170 slant-six, with an optional 140-horse 225 slant-six. They had easily removable second and third row bench seats, and could be customized into campers. An auxiliary rear heater was optional.
Dodge had a decent enough year in 1966, with a total sales of 532,026; it maintained its position in seventh place. Plymouth remained the leader at Chrysler Corporation, with 687,514 sales, a comfortable lead, but Dodge registered about double the sales of Chrysler (with its restricted, big-luxury-car range of Newport, 300, and New Yorker.) The vans sold well, too, but we don't have figures for those.
(1) Replaced by remote-control mirror and 3-spoke wheel in Monaco 500
(1) Polara 500 also.
(1) 361 V8, 383 V8 only. (2) N.A. with 361 V8 with 4-speed manual transmission. (3) Hardtops, convertibles only. (4) Hardtops, sedans only. (5) Station wagons only. (6) 2-seat wagons only. (8) Std., Coronet 500 only. (9) Coronet 440, 500 only.
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