By Mike O'Donnell
During the auto show season of 1965 the Charger was first shown as the "Charger II" to the public. It was a fast-back roof line body, with four bucket seats, full-width grille, retractable headlights, and wall-to-wall tail lamps. By midyear of 1966 the production Dodge Charger was released looking very much like the original show car. The base engine was the "wide block" 318, with the 361, 383 and 426 Hemi engines optional. While close scrutiny revealed the Charger's Coronet "roots", its distinctive styling and unique features such as the electroluminescent instrument panel and resulted in a very warm reception by both the automotive press (Equipped with the Hemi, it was CARS magazine's "Performance Car of The Year").
The Charger naturally found it's way to the NASCAR circuit and drag races,
but handling was problematic on the high speed ovals due to rear end "lift"
(partly solved by a small rear "spoiler") and it was a bit heavy for the dragstrip even with the Hemi. Production for 1966 was 37,344 which is pretty good for a midyear introduction.
1967 brought few styling changes to the Charger, due largely in part to its
midyear introduction. Externally, the Charger got fender mounted turn
signals, and the optional "Magnum 500" road wheels were the most obvious. On
the inside, the rear seats were a more conventional "bench" type, and a bench
seat could be ordered for the front seat. There were quite a few mechanical
changes, however. The "poly" 318 was replaced with the new "LA" series 318
(which still lives today in Dodge trucks), the 361 was dropped, the 426 Hemi soldiered on, and the 440 "Magnum" made its debut under the hood. Even with all the goodies, sales fell with a resounding THUD to a mere 15,788.
|2nd GENERATION CHARGER
The sleek body style of the 1968-1970 Chargers came about almost by accident.
In 1964, Dodge hired Richard Sias away from General Motors. One of the
sketches he showed during his interview was of a sports car with a
"double-diamond" shape. Styling studio Manager Charlie Mitchell was so
impressed by this drawing that he arranged for Sias to do a 1/10 scale model. Sias worked on this during his lunch time and during evenings while he was designing bumper & trim designs for the new Dart. He was transferred to the
B body late in 1964 to work on the 1968-1970 B-bodies, and brought his small model along with him. Mitchell and Frank Ruff, supervisor of the B-body
effort had been paying attention to the models development, and they asked
him if he thought the concept would work on one of the Dodge bodies. Sias
felt that it would work well on the B bodies, and he was told to choose a
team of modelers and given a full-size skeleton to do a clay "study", which
was kept out of sight. Trim was kept to a minimum to enhance the "clean"
look of the car. The flip-top gas cap was nearly a victim of this
"cleansing", but was saved by none other than Vice President of Styling
Elwood Engle. According to Sias, the gas cap had been around for quite a
while in numerous locations. Sias had been trying to get rid of it, but one
day Engle walked in and "plunked it down right where it is today". Ruff
convinced Sias to leave it there to keep Engle from meddling further in the
design. Oh what a wise decision that would soon prove to be! As the "study"
was nearing it's completion, Bill Brownlie, head of Dodge Styling, ordered the model destroyed just before he left on a trip to Europe.
The reasons for his order are unknown to this day - maybe the designers and
engineers were spending too much time on this "study" and too little time on
the production design issues surrounding the new Coronet. Brownlie exploded
when he returned to find the car still there, but no sooner had he started
his tirade than Elwood Engle (remember the gas cap?) walked in and told him
"that's what a real car should look like". The "study" was given a reprieve, and it's destruction was not carried out. Shortly thereafter, in mid-1965 the final designs for the 68 Coronet were submitted for approval. As the marketing and management folks stood looking at the Coronet, the question was
raised how (or even if!) the new design could support a "fastback" Charger???? As everyone stood there fumbling about, Charlie Mitchell rolled back the partitions that had concealed the study. Everyone was quite surprised, since it had been a fairly well-kept secret. Management liked the car, after engineering and manufacturing verified that it was feasible to produce, it was given the final approval. It's interesting that Bill "I do NOT wanna see this car when I get back' Brownlie became one of the Charger's biggest supporters!
|FROM SHOWROOM TO TRACK CHARGER
The 1968 Charger arrived in showrooms late in 1967 with 2 models - the "base"
Charger, which was available with either the 318 or 383 V8's, and the
new-for-1968 R/T model which occupied the top spot in Dodge's new "scat pack"
line of performance cars. The R/T model came standard with the 375 HP 440
Magnum, and the 426 Hemi was available for those wanting the ultimate in
performance. The interiors continued to be very well appointed, fitting the
Charger's upscale image. Sales went way up to 74,886, with 17,548 R/T's. As
sleek as they looked, the new Chargers were having problems on the speedway -
the recessed grille and rear window trapped LOTS of air, and slowed the cars
down. The Bowtie & blue-oval boys were eating Dodge's lunch on the racetrack! This was quite embarrassing since the Dodge boys had boasted about how slippery their new body was because they had spent so much time doing wind tunnel testing. What were they to do!
1969 was the pinnacle of the Charger's history. The basic body style
continued with a "split" grille and new tail lights being the most notable
changes. The Charger started becoming even more luxurious with the
introduction of the "SE" or Special Edition package. This added a woodgrain
dash, leather trimmed seats, woodgrain steering wheel, pedal dress up and the
light package. On the performance front, the R/T continued on. In order to address the aerodynamic problems, the dodge boys went to the wind tunnel and
came up with the Charger 500, so named
because NASCAR rules required them to
build 500 copies in order for it to be "legal" for NASCAR racing. They
replaced the recessed grille with it's hidden headlights with a flush-mounted
grille with exposed headlights (lifted from the '68 Coronet) and replaced
the, installed "tunneled" rear window with a flush-mounted one fitted to a
special "plug" created to fill the tunnel. And special air deflectors were
installed over the "A" pillars to direct air along side the car at high speeds. These modifications helped, but the blue oval boys had been in the wind tunnel too, and the Charger was STILL lagging behind!
|THE DAYTONA CHARGER
Not to be out done, the Dodge boys went back to the wind tunnel and came up
with what many consider to be the ultimate Charger, the Charger Daytona.
Starting with the Charger 500's basic modifications, they replaced the flush
grille with a pointed nose cone and added a 2 foot tall wing on the back!
The wind-tunnel homework paid off, as the Charger Daytona was the first
production car (in NASCAR trim) to break 200 MPH. Due to its late-season
introduction and driver boycotts, the Daytona's racing success was not as
great as it could have been. Sales for 1969 continued to be strong, with a
total of 69,142 Chargers and 20,057 Charger R/T's (including 392 500's and
503 Daytonas) sold.
|THE '70's -- NEW DECADE
1970 saw a few minor styling tweaks to the Charger. The nose now sported a
"loop" bumper, and the interior now had high-back bucket seats. R/T models
received simulated scoops on the doors, and the now-famous "bumblebee" stripe
could be replaced with a longitudinal pin stripe for those who wanted a
little less flash . The luxury oriented SE package was offered again in
1970. The "high impact" colors also made their debut this year - Chargers
could be had in such eye-popping shades as "Top Banana", Hemi Orange", "Plum
Crazy", "SubLime" and "Panther Pink" to name a few. The 440 "six pack" was
now available in the R/T as the "mid level" engine option between the base
440 Magnum and the 426 Hemi. There were now 3 Charger models to choose from.
The "base" Charger for those who wanted a Charger but were on a budget, the
Charger 500, which was not the NASCAR terror of 1969, but really the
equivalent of the "base" model of the previous year. The R/T continued as
the top performance model. Sales took a big hit with only 39,431 Chargers &
500's and 10,337 R/T's being sold.
|3rd GENERATION CHARGER
1971 saw the Charger completely restyled. The Charger received a graceful new body that looked much larger than it's predecessor, even thought it was on a wheelbase 2 inches shorter and was 3 inches shorter overall. For the first time, hidden headlights were no longer standard on the Charger line (except on the SE models). The Charger was now consolidated into the Coronet line, all 2 door Coronets were now Chargers. This is also seen in the VIN
numbers of the 71-74 Chargers - previously, Charger VIN numbers began with "X", but starting in 1971 they began with "W". Dodge is to be commended for not renaming the Coronet sedans Chargers! With the demise of the 2-door Coronet, the Super Bee was moved over to the Charger line for what was to be it's final year of production. Buyers could choose from the base Charger, the uplevel "500" model, the "budget performance" Super Bee (carried over from the now-defunct Coronet 2-door line) R/T model, or the luxury-oriented SE model. For those choosing one of the performance models, 1971 was a very good year. The 383 Magnum, 440 Magnum, 440 Six Pack and 426 Hemi continued to be
offered, along with an unsurpassed selection of stripes, front and rear spoilers, "power bulge" hoods, and the wild vacuum-operated pop-up Ramcharger fresh air induction system, and the chrome exhaust tips now resembled
flame-thrower nozzles with their orange accents. On the inside, 4 speeds retained the legendary Hurst Pistol Grip shifters, and the console automatics were equipped with the slap stick shifters from the E-bodies. The newly
styled Charger was well received by the press, and once again the Charger was awarded CARS magazine's "Performance Car of the Year". Unfortunately, the buying public did not stampede the dealerships buying the restyled Charger,
and sales continued to sag. Only 4144 Super Bees, 10,306 Charger 500's, 14,641 SE's, 41,564 Hardtop, 471 Coupe and 2,659 Charger R/T's were sold in 1971.
1972 was a dark year in Charger history. Charger buyers could choose from a
base coupe with fixed rear windows, the mid-level hardtop, or the top line
luxury SE model. The R/T and Super Bee models were canceled replaced by the
"Rallye package" which was basically a paint-n-tape option. To add insult to
injury, the standard engine in the rallye package was the 318, quite a far
cry from the previous years 440 Magnum power in the R/T or the 383 Magnum in
the Super Bee. The high-performance 440 continued as an option for Rallye
and SE's, but was no longer referred to as a 440 Magnum. Tightening
emissions (as well as the change from "gross" to "net" horsepower ratings)
reduced the horsepower considerably, and adversely affected driveability as
well. The 440 Six pack and 426 Hemi engine options fell victim to the
ever-tightening noose of emission controls, although very few (one source
claims 6) Chargers did sneak out the door with the 440 Six Pack hiding under
the hood. Sales improved with 7,803 coupes, 45,361 hardtops, and 22,430 SE's
finding buyers in 1972.
The Charger received a mild facelift in 1973, and for the first time since
it's introduction in 1966, hidden headlights were not available on any
Charger model. The rear quarter window was larger, and the lower body line
was now continuous, giving the car a "softer" look. The suspension was
redesigned to provide a softer, quieter ride at the expense of handling.
The emphasis was now clearly on luxury rather than performance. Emissions
regulations continued to lessen the performance of all engines. Model lineup
for 1973 remained the same - base coupe, mid-level hardtop or luxury oriented
SE. The rallye was once again available, and this year the Rallye had wide,
multicolored stripes running down the flanks. Buyers choosing the Rallye
package or the SE model could still get the big 440. Sales of the Charger
set a new record, with 11,995 coupes, 45,415 hardtops and a whopping 61,908
Since 1974 was the last year for the body style, the Charger received very
few updates. The updates consisted of new, larger bumper guards to comply
with federal bumper standards, integrated lap/shoulder belts and
seatbelt/starter interlock (again courtesy of mandates from Uncle Sam)
windshield washers mounted on the wiper arm, and a new hood that eliminated
cowl vents. Engines continued to be strangled by emissions, and the 440 was
down to 275 net horsepower. Production figures for 1974 were 8,876 coupes,
29,101 hardtops, and 36,399 hardtops.
|IS IT OVER?
The Charger continued from 1975 until 1978 as a copy of the Chrysler Cordoba. Almost all traces of the Chargers once-proud performance image were gone, save for a tape-n-paint Daytona package. As for the "new" Charger
show/concept car, is ia a Charger? It is front engine/rear drive and powered by a V8 like the Chargers of old. But is the horsepower there? The two extra gears are nice on the highway, but a Charger does NOT have 4 doors, or does it? The "new" Charger began life as a 2-door with the full-width grille and hidden headlights similar to the 68-70 models and even a bumble bee stripe on the rear! The decision to re-style the car as a 4 door was made because the "under 30" crowd is comfortable with 4 doors because they are more familiar with them. Not sure about that, I never own a 4 door yet! And I don't think the under 30's crowd will be buying that car, the over 30's (like me) who MISS the stylish 2 doors will! And look at what the under-30's are driving - ground-scraping, earsplitting (from the stereo, NOT the motors!) Preludes, Accords, etc. - and most of them are 2 doors! It does have a hint of "Charger" in the car, the scoops on the doors, and the exhaust tips that vaguely resemble the ones on the 71-74's. The updated tuff-wheel and pistol grip shifter try to compete with their forebearers. Is the Charger coming back?
By John Bober
The Charger NAME is back in 2006. They did a big bate and switch from the 1999 Dodge Charger R/T concept or maybe it was a sell out. I know “Concept” is an idea, but this was a total change. About the only thing similar is that it still has 4 doors.
Chrysler said they don’t want to build “retro” like some others. Yet they use one of the biggest Muscle Car name and slogans “Charger Fever” and personality (Richard Petty). They even have ads with a ‘71 Charger. What’s not retro about that?
They wanted to pull out a name from the past. When you think of Charger, you think of power and style. You think if racing legends Buddy Baker and Richard Petty. The Charger was feared.
This new Charger does have some impressive power with the optional 340-horsepower HEMI® engine. Large 18-inch rear-wheel-drive. But this is a luxury car, competing with the Cadillac and BMW. It’s just a rip off 300 with a “retro” name.
I could see in ’74 that the Charger was going more towards the “luxury” market with the SE/Brougham. It was still a sports car with some comforts. Then in ’75 it was all luxury and no style, again a rip off of the “Cordoba”. So why did they not market it with Ricardo Montabalm and rich Corinthian leather?
I hope that the new Charger will change and morph as did the ‘66 with fast back style to the 2nd or 3rd generations.
||All new midsize fastback model with up to 426 Hemi engine option
||Introduction of all new 440 engine
||New Charger 500 and Daytona versions
||New SE version
||New redesign and Super Bee version. Last year for Hemi and 440 Six Pack engines, and R/T's
**Only Year as a Charger & Super Bee
||A new 400 replaced the 383
||Last performance Charger