The early Dodge Charger muscle cars
Earliest Dodge Chargers
The first Dodge Charger was the 1964 show car, based on the Polara and fitted with a 426 Wedge engine. Jim Rodebaugh created a convincing replica (though in silver rather than the concept’s ruby red), with a 413 V8 dressed to look like the 426 Wedge, shown below.
There was also a 1965 Dart produced with the “Charger 273” name. 180 were made at the factory, and 300 kits were available to be dealer-installed. It was based on a Dart GT hardtop or convertible; all were yellow with a black top and interior, with the 273, 13X6 Cragar mag wheels, and Charger emblems. Lewis wrote that it had glass-pack mufflers for a nice roar, Cragar wheels, and Charger emblems for the engine bay.
1966 to 1967 Dodge Chargers
According to Diran Yazejian, “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. 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.”
Burton Bouwkamp wrote: “The Chrysler turbines had reached the point where production would be practical, and the decision to make a special, limited-production turbine car with different styling was reached. Tom Golec, supervisor of car development, said that low-volume tooling for a 500-vehicle production run had already been ordered, and a no-slip clutch unit was developed (but not used because of its cost). The project was cancelled, and the special body became the Charger (but with a different grille).”
He later added, in 2015,
Our Dodge and Plymouth dealers worried more about each other than they worried about Ford and GM. That was extremely frustrating to Lynn Townsend (CEO), whose market plan was for Plymouth to compete with Ford and Chevy and Dodge to compete with Pontiac and Mercury.
Dodge Dealers never bought this plan and in 1965 the Dodge National Dealer Council met with Lynn to make their point. I was there. After the Dealers made their presentation, Lynn told them that if they didn’t like the Dodge franchise to go get one that they did like. Then he got up and walked out of the meeting!
A few weeks later Lynn called me to his office and told me that as a peace offering he had to do something for the Dodge dealers. He told me to give them a specialty car but he said, “For God’s sake, don’t do a car that competes with Barracuda!”
Out of that direction came the 1966 Dodge Charger – which was really a fast-back Coronet coupe with a unique grille. For 1968, with more time and more money, we did a unique skin on Charger and we ended the 1968 model year with more Charger orders than we could build.
The unique dashboard featured high-clarity backlighting at night, and a large tachometer sitting among the other instruments, rather than down in the console — where a clock sat. The standard engine was a 230 hp 318 V8 (roughly 150 hp, net), with an optional 265 hp 361, 325 hp 383, and 425 hp Hemi. Transmissions were the three-on-the-tree (318 only), four-on-the-floor, and three-speed automatic.
Jamie Kittrell wrote:
The rear bucket seats - unusual at the time - folded forward individually - also unusual. The instrument panel was actually unique to the Charger (unlike the current Magnum/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, then still new and producing 230 hp (gross; about 170 net?) at 4,400 rpm. The 2-barrel 361 and 4-barrel 383 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, and it didn’t take long for the 1967 model to replace it. For 1967, the V8 lost 55 pounds of weight without any disadvantage; the 361 was replaced by a mild two-barrel 383; and the 440 Magnum became available with 375 hp. Trim was upgraded, with new chromed, fender-mounted turn signals, and, inside, a new center section in front and optional split seats. The Charger had all the Coronet 500 luxury features, and both years had fold-flat rear seats, for 7 feet of cargo area, as well as a tachometer and full instrumentation. Other options included a heavy duty suspension with stabilizer bar, towing package, and big 11 inch front disc brakes.
1966 1970 Wheelbase 117 117 Length 203.6 208.5 Width 75.8 76.6 Weight 3,600 lb Wheels 14” 14”
Standard features included concealed headlamps and turn signals, backup lights, center console, lighting package, front and rear bucket seats, carpeting (in the trunk and cabin), security panel (to cover the trunk contents), lap belts for four people, self-adjusting brakes, front sway bar, internal hood release handle, tachometer, oil pressure gauge, and tinted rear window.
Options included air conditioning, remote controlled rear-view mirrors, electric windows, trunk light, and other common items. The powertrain warranty was good for 5 years or 50,000 miles, provided stringent maintenance rules were followed; and it didn't apply to the Hemi cars.
The Charger did very well on the NASCAR circuit, winning the manufacturer's championship, but sales were poor, with only 37,344 1966 Chargers sold, a mere 468 with the 426 Hemi engine (which sold for about 1/3 of the car's base price!). In its second year, a mere 15,000 were sold, including 118 Hemis.
In 11 years of racing, the Dodge Charger — running in close to stock form — won 124 NASCAR Cup races and took three drivers to five championships. Richard Petty won three of his seven titles behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger, according to Dodge.
“Charger is a luxury car that is nimble enough and quick enough and challenging enough to make you glad you can't afford a chauffeur.”