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The Dodge Charger first appeared as a show car in 1964; from 1965 to 1967, sleek, low production Chargers based on the Dodge Coronet were sold, with limited success. [Details and photos]
Thanks, Jamie Kittrell and Ron Hansen, for your work on this section.
The success of the 1968 Dodge Charger can almost certainly be placed on its styling, after dismal sales of the otherwise similar 1967 cars. The new “Coke bottle” look made the Charger one of the best-looking muscle cars in the US, with many considering it the best-looking performance car of the 1960s.
Dodge general manager Robert B. McCurry called the second-generation Charger a full-sized sports car, praising its “jet-age aerodynamic styling.” A radical departure from the 1966 Charger, the new one continued its performance image. The company wrote that the “wedge-form” shifted emphasis to the rear wheels, with a forward thrusting look from there. The curved sides and gauges canted to the dirver were said to be an the aircraft cockpit theme.
The 117 inch wheelbase Charger had a longer, lower hood line, a small integrated spoiler at the end of the rear deck, concealed headlights, an integrated bumper with vertical bumper guards, simulated wastegates in the hood and body sides, a large quick-fill gas cap located aft on the quarter panel, and bumper mounted parking lights to resemble rallye lights.
The revised interior had vinyl-wrapped front bucket seats, with an optional center cushion/console, a “rallye clock,” and map pockets.
For safety, the new glove-box door was hinged at the top instead of the bottom (so it couldn’t fall onto your knees) and window crank knobs were made of a yielding soft plastic. The top of the front seat back had a metal structure covered in energy-absorbing foam, and the dash was padded for leg and knee protection. Ashtrays were recessed, and the power windows had a safety lockout (to stop kids from playing with them) and couldn’t be used unless the ignition was on. Options now included front head restraints, front center lap belts (for cars without the console), shoulder belts for front and rear outboard passengers, a padded steering wheel, and a rear window defogger.
The standard engine in the Charger was the 318 cubic inch V-8, but many opted for the 383 two-barrel V8, the 426 Hemi, and the 440 Magnum. The new-for-1968 Charger R/T package was like the more conventionally styled Coronet R/T, which shared the same platform; it had a 440 Magnum, heavy duty suspension and brakes, and a choice of the Torqueflite 727 three-speed automatic (or an optional four-speed manual), with rear bumblebee stripes that buyers could opt out of getting.
Dodge wrote, “This is no dream car. It’s a real ‘take-me-home-and-let’s stir-things-up-a-bit’ automobile.”
The 1968 Charger came in a choice of six interior and 17 exterior colors. In 1968, three out of every four Chargers sold were equipped with a vinyl top.
1968 Charger sales were far higher than expected; product planners assumed they would sell 20,000 to 35,000, but built 96,000. Hemi sales went up to 467, still quite small (the option cost over a quarter as much as the car), but better than the prior year. To meet the increased sales production at the Hammtramack, Michigan plant was tripled and a Charger production line was added at St. Louis, Missouri. The Charger accounted for 16% of Dodge car sales in 1968, and ran 460% higher than in 1967.
The Charger was a runaway success, by Dodge standards.
For the next two years, Dodge was torn between the usual annual styling changes and not wanting to mess with a good thing; they made minor changes to the grille as a compromise. The 1968 has a chrome bumper under the grille, the 1969 has a chrome center divider in the grille, and the 1970 has a rectangular chrome bumper around the grille.
Mopaully wrote that MoPar Muscle listed the following 1969 production figures for specialty Chargers:
The Charger was left virtually untouched, and only had a center grille divider, recessed taillights, and the white reverse lights moved to below the rear bumper.
The Dodge Charger 500 could have been named after the number made — 500 — by Creative Industries (from standard Chargers), solely to meet NASCAR sales rules. They used a Coronet grille and a flush, more-slanted rear window to eliminate aerodynamic problems that hurt it in races with Ford’s lower-power but more slippery racing models. The same year saw the Charger Daytona, with its massive rear spoiler and aero nose; no other car could match it for top speed (setting a record of 200 mph), with its standard 440 and optional Hemi. Its looks were not appreciated in 1969.
The slant six was added to the range, unaccountably; only about 500 were sold.
The 1969 Dodge Charger buyers got new seat tilt adjusters and improved door lock buttons, brake adjusters, and warning buzzers. The new grille used six functional air vents, with a “dual intake” look, while the rear sported side-to-side tail-lights, replacing the smaller round units.
All buyers got a grippy “rallye” suspension with high spring rates and a sway bar; the R/T and 500 came with heavy duty torsion bars, shocks, rear springs, and sway bars. Buyers could pony up for front disc brakes, cruise control, a tachometer, rear window defogger, and a stereo tape player.
The optional Special Edition group (Charger, Charger R/T) added leather bucket seats, a wood-grain steering wheel, different instrument panel inserts, bright-trimmed pedals, deep-dish wheel covers, and a light group including fender-mounted turn signals.
1969 Charger press kit
1969 Charger press kit
Vinyl top choices now included tan, green, black, and white. Power was provided by a standard engine 318 cubic inch V8 (with an optional slant six, which apparently was included on five hundred cars). The optional 383 came with either two or four barrel carburetors. The Charger R/T, which was good for just over a fifth of all 1968 Charger sales, came with the 440 Magnum (375 horespower), but buyers could splash out for the very expensive, very potent 425-horsepower 426 Hemi.
These were the everyday engines were the engines people ordered if economy outweighed performance... they all took regular fuel, had a single snorkel air cleaner, and a single tailpipe.
These were the engines for performance buyers. All had dual tailpipes and took premium fuel. The 340, 440 Six-Pack, and 426 Hemi had unsilenced air cleaners; the 383 and 440 Magnum had dual-snorkel air cleaners.
The Charger’s wheelbase remained at 117 inches, overall length was 208 inches, width 76.6 inches, and height 53.2 inches.
The Dodge Charger Daytona, mentioned earlier, was built specifically for stock car races; it was a major effort to take back the NASCAR limelight from Ford, and, along with the Charger 500, it worked. The Daytona was about 20% more aerodynamically efficient than the 500, but it also had far better downforce on the wheels at high speeds. Dodge built 505 Charger Daytonas, just a few more than NASCAR required. The standard engine was the 440 cubic inch V-8, with an optional Hemi.
At the Daytona’s first outing at Talladega, Alabama, piloted by Richard Brickhouse, the Daytona won handily. The Charger also won at the Daytona 500, driven by Bobby Isaac. Dodge won 22 Grand National races that season, but failed to nab the NASCAR manufacturers’ trophy.
Thanks to Jamie Kittrell (Mr. C-Body) and Richard Bowman of the Walter P. Chrysler Club)
For 1970, the Charger received only minor changes. The Charger 500 was dropped, no longer needed for racing with the Daytona making speed; as happened all too often, the performance name was converted to a trim level, with a standard 318 V8, sitting between Charger and Charger R/T.
The Charger grew one inch longer. The SE package was still available, with the optional bucket seats. Oddly, unlike other Chrysler intermediates, the Charger had 14-inch, not 15-inch, wheels standard.
In 1970, a Dodge Charger Daytona made history at Talladega Speedway when Buddy Baker became the first driver to be clocked at more than 200
mph for a lap on a closed course. That speed record was held for a good
number of years.
The 1970 Charger had a new front bumper which completely encircled the grille, and new full-width tail lights, along with the required ignition switch buzzer. The R/T got simulated scoops on the door, and a longitudal stripe instead of the bumblebee stripes.
Engine options continued unchanged. The Charger R/T’s base 440 (375 gross hp, 480 lb-ft) used a single Carter four-barrel carb and the same cam timing as the Hemi (268° intake duration and 284° exhaust duration).
Total Charger production for 1970 was 49,768 cars, of which a surprising 10,337 were Charger R/Ts. Still a big seller compared with the 1966-67 Chargers, sales fell to a bit over half of what they had been in 1968, and were less than half of 1969’s gangbuster performance. (Burton Bouwkamp wrote: “The Charger sales nosedive in 1970 was caused by the introduction of the
Challenger. The Dodge merchandising focus on the new Challenger reduced the marketing and merchandising efforts on the 1970 Charger.”)
The standard Charger came with the 225 slant-six or 318 V8, with a three-on-the-tree manual, vinyl bench seat, deep-pile carpet, three-spoke steering wheel with a separate horn ring, self-adjusting brakes, fiberglass belted tires, heavy duty suspension (front torsion bars, front sway bar, rear leaf springs), rear bumper guards, concealed headlights, and quick-fill gas cap. The parking brake was foot activated.
The Charger 500 added bucket seats, a clock, and wheel-lip mouldings. The R/T made the clock optional while adding the 440 V8 with four-barrel carb and dual exhaust; automatic transmission (generally faster in racing); heavy duty drum brakes; F70 14 inch wheels with white sidewall tires; the R/T handling package; simulated walnut instrument panel; three-speed wipers; and a stripe.
The Charger SE, a creature-comforts luxury package, had leather and vinyl front bucket seats, fake walnut steering wheel and instrument panel, pedal dress-up, lighting group, deep-dish wheel covers, and vinyl map pockets.
Options included air conditioning, cruise, front center cushion with fold-down armrest (for bucket seats), headlight time delay, luggage rack, sunroof, left remote control mirror, right side mirror, rear seat speaker, a variety of radios (an optional stereo had an 8-track player and three speakers, all in the instrument panel), rear shoulder belts, rear window defogger, six-way manually adjustable driver's bucket seat, three-speed wipers, tinted glass, hood insulation, and power brakes, steering, and windows. There were also numerous appearance options.
The only way to get a manual transmission with the R/T was to get a four-barrel V8 with the four-speed manual tarnsmission and Hurst shifter. A floor-mounted three-speed stick was sold with the 383 four-barrel. There were options for a Sure-Grip limited-slip differential, tachometer, front power disc brakes, heavy-duty drums, trailer towing package, axle packages, and XHD Rallye (R/T) suspension.
Go on to the 1971-74 Dodge Chargers
The early success of the American Dodge Charger caught the attention of international product planners. While the Charger was far too large and thirsty for export, the Charger look could be adapted to the humble Valiant, hideaway headlights and all. Production was fairly low, but many Chargers still remain in South America.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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