Origin of the Dodge Charger
During the early-1960s, automakers were exploring new ideas in the personal luxury and specialty car segments. Chrysler, fast to enter the specialty car market, selected their Dodge Division to enter the marketplace with a bigger model to fit between the "pony car" Ford Mustang and the "personal luxury" Ford Thunderbird. The intention was to use the B-body for a sporty car with fastback look while sharing as much of their existing hardware as possible.
The fastback Charger was introduced in mid-season of the 1966 model year "in retaliation to the AMC Marlin, Ford Mustang, and Plymouth Barracuda", but even though based on the existing Coronet, "it was style-wise a complete departure from the Dodge's mainstream cars." The 1965 Rambler Marlin, along with the Dodge Charger that arrived during the 1966 model year, were "the two cars set the standard for radical fastback design in American mid-size automobiles." According to Richard M. Langworth, "because it was an intermediate like the Rambler Marlin, the Charger could have been an aesthetic disaster, but long side windows prevented its sweeping roof from looking too heavy."
Burt Bouwkamp, Chief Engineer for Dodge during the 1960s and one of the men behind the Dodge Charger, related his experience during a speech in July 2004.
- Lynn Townsend was at odds with the Dodge Dealers and wanted to do something to please them. So in 1965 he asked me to come to his office - for the second time. He noted that one of the Dodge Dealer Council requests was for a Barracuda type vehicle. The overall dealer product recommendation theme was the same - we want what Plymouth has. The specific request for a Mustang type vehicle was not as controversial to Lynn. His direction to me was to give them a specialty car but he said 'for God's sake don't make it a derivative of the Barracuda': i.e. don't make it a Barracuda competitor.
- So the 1966 Charger was born.
- "We built a Charger 'idea' car which we displayed at auto shows in 1965 to stimulate market interest in the concept. It was the approved design but we told the press and auto show attendees that it was just an "idea" and that we would build it if they liked it. It was pre-ordained that they would like it."
A "mid-1966 surprise was Dodge's Coronet-based Charger fastback." Sharing its chassis and front-end sheet-metal with the mid-sized Dodge Coronet, the Charger "still looked a lot like a Coronet or AMC’s conceptually similar Rambler Marlin ... [and] substantially more expensive than either. The Charger with a $3,100 base price "was immediately paired up in the automotive press with American Motors' year-old Marlin, another fastback specialty machine that came in at around $2,850" and some called the Charger "a good-looking Marlin."
The Charger's interior was different from all other cars with its back seats that folded down and created a station wagon or camper usefulness. "The Charger didn't begin with the performance/ muscle car image, though you could get a Hemi with it." The Charger evolved into possibly the top Chrysler-made muscle car.
On January 1, 1966, viewers of the Rose Bowl were first introduced to the new "Leader of the Dodge Rebellion", the 1966 Charger. The Charger's debut also followed by a half model year the introduction of a new street version of the 426 cu in (7.0 L) Chrysler Hemi engine. With the Charger, Dodge had a new model to build a performance image to go along with this engine.
Designed by Carl "CAM" Cameron, the Dodge Charger introduced a fastback roofline and a pot-metal "electric shaver" grille. The grille used fully rotating headlights (180 degree) that when opened or closed made the grille look like one-piece unit. Hidden headlamps were a feature not seen on a Chrysler product since the 1942 DeSoto. In the rear of the new Dodge, the fastback design ended over a full-width six-lamp taillight that featured chromed "CHARGER" lettering.
Inside, the standard Charger featured a simulated wood-grain steering wheel, four individual bucket seats with a full length console from front to rear. The rear seats and rear center armrest pad also folded forward while the trunk divider dropped back, which allowed for generous cargo room. Numerous interior features were exclusive to the Charger including door panels, courtesy lights, as well as premium trim and vinyl upholstery. The instrument panel did not use regular bulbs to light the gauges, but rather electroluminescence lit the four chrome-ringed circular dash pods, needles, radio, shifter-position indicator in the console, as well as clock and air conditioning controls if equipped. The dash housed a 0 to 6000 rpm tachometer, a 0 to 150 mph (240 km/h) speedometer, as well as alternator, fuel, and temperature gauges as standard equipment.
Engine selections consisted of only V8s, though a straight-six engine became standard by 1968. 1966 transmissions included a three-speed steering-column mounted manual with the base engine, a console mounted four-speed manual, or three-speed automatic. In 1966, four engines were offered: the base-model 318 cu in (5.2 L) 2-barrel, the 361 cu in (5.9 L) 2-barrel, the 383 cu in (6.3 L) 4-barrel, and the new 426 Street Hemi. Only 468 Chargers were built with the 426.
Total production in 1966 came to 37,344 units for the mid-model year introduction.
In 1966, Dodge took the Charger into NASCAR in hopes that the fastback would make their car a winner on the high-banks. However the car proved difficult to handle on the faster tracks because its body generated lift. Drivers would later claim that "it was like driving on ice." To solve this problem Dodge installed a small lip spoiler on the trunk lid that improved traction at speeds above 150 mph (240 km/h). This was made a dealer-installed option in late-1966 and in 1967 because of NASCAR rules (with small quarter panel extensions in 1967). The 1966 Charger was the first U.S. production vehicle to offer a spoiler. David Pearson, driving a #6 Cotton Owens-prepared Charger, went on to win the NASCAR Grand National championship in 1966 with 14 first-place finishes.
The 1967 model year Charger received minor changes. Outside, new fender-mounted turn signals were introduced and this would serve as the main external identifier between a 1966 and 1967 Charger. A vinyl roof became available. Inside, the full length console was eliminated to satisfy customer complaints about the difficulty for entry and exit from the back seats. It was replaced with a regular sized console. Bucket seats were standard, but a folding armrest/seat and column shifter was an option allowing three people to sit up front.
The 440 "Magnum" was added and the 361 cu in (5.9 L) V8 was replaced by a 383 cu in (6.3 L) engine. The 440 was rated at 375 bhp (280 kW) with a single 4-barrel carburetor. The 318 two-barrel "LA" Chrysler LA engine was now the base engine with wedge-shaped combustion chambers, unlike the previous 1966 polyspherical (or "poly") design, it was rated at 230 bhp (170 kW). The 383 4-barrel rated at 325 bhp (242 kW) and the 426 Street Hemi rated at 425 bhp (317 kW) remained as options. A mere 27 Chargers were built with the 426 engine.
Sales of the 1967 Chargers dropped to half of the previous introductory half-year with a total of 15,788 units. According to automotive historian Patrick Foster, both the AMC Marlin and the very similar looking first generation Dodge Charger "flopped on the market as sporty car buyers were showing their preference for compact pony cars."
The entire B-body lineup for the 1968 model year was redesigned and the Charger was further differentiated from the Dodge Coronet models. Designer Richard Sias developed a double-diamond coke bottle profile with curves around the front fenders and rear quarter panels. Front and rear end sheet metal was designed by Harvey J. Winn. The rear end featured a "kick up" spoiler appearance, inspired by Group 7 racing vehicles. On the roof, a "flying buttress" was added to give the rear window area a look similar to that of the 1966-67 Pontiac GTO. The Charger retained its full-width hidden headlight grille, but a vacuum operated cover replaced the electric motor rotating headlights. The previous full-width taillights were replaced with dual circular units at the direction of Styling Vice President, Elwood P. Engel. Dual scallops were added to the doors and hood.
Inside, the interior was new with a conventional fixed rear seat replacing the folding bucket seat design. The conventional trunk area included a vinyl mat, rather than the previous model's carpeted cargo area. The center console in the front remained, but there was no center armrest. The tachometer was now optional instead of standard and the electroluminescent gauges disappeared in favor of a conventional design.
The standard engine was the 318 cu in (5.2 L) 2-bbl V8, until it was replaced in mid-year with a 225 cu in (3.7 L) slant-six. The 383-2 and 383-4 remained unchanged. A new high-performance package was added, the R/T ("Road/Track" with no 'and' between Road and Track). The R/T came standard with the previous year's 440 "Magnum" and the 426 Hemi was optional.
In 1968, Chrysler Corporation began an ad campaign featuring a cartoon bee with an engine on its back featuring models called the "Scat Pack". The Coronet R/T, Super Bee, Dart GTS, and Charger R/T received bumble-bee stripes (two thin stripes framing two thick stripes). The stripes were standard on the R/Ts and came in red, white, or black, but could be deleted at no extra cost.
The 1968 model year Charger sales increased to 96,100, including over 17,000 Charger R/Ts.
There were two different 383 engines available for the 1969 model year: 2-barrel and 4-barrel. The 2-barrel was rated at 290 hp. The four barrel engine was rated at 330 hp and was identified by the "pie tin" on the air cleaner as "383 / FOUR BARREL". The 330-hp engine was unique to the Charger model in 1969. While this engine was available with an un-silenced air cleaner option, it differed internally from the 335-hp 383 "Magnum". In 1969 the B-series engines were all painted Chrysler Engine Turquoise with the exception of the 383 four speed, 440 Magnum, These engines were painted Chrysler High-Performance Orange. Differing from the 426 Hemi which was painted Street Hemi Orange. The 335-hp 383 Magnum engines were also painted Chrysler High-Performance Orange. The 383 Magnum motor was used in Road Runners and Super Bees, but did not appear in a Charger body until 1971. Differences between the 330-hp 383 4-barrel and 335-hp 383 magnum were mostly internal. Both versions used the Carter AVS carb and the larger exhaust manifolds from the 440 Magnum engines, but the Magnum had a windage tray in the oil pan, a different camshaft profile, and different valve springs.
The 1969 model year brought few modifications. Exterior changes included a new grille with a center divider and new longitudinal taillights both designed by Harvey J. Winn. A new trim line called the Special Edition (SE) was added. This could be available by itself or together with the R/T, thus making an R/T-SE. The SE added leather inserts to the front seats only, chrome rocker moldings, a wood grain steering wheel, and wood grain inserts on the instrument panel. A sunroof was added to the option list, but was ordered on only 260 Chargers. The bumble bee stripes returned as well, but were changed slightly. Instead of four stripes, it now consisted of a wide stripe framed by two smaller stripes. In the middle of the stripe, an R/T cutout was placed. If the stripe was deleted, a metal R/T emblem was placed where the R/T cutout was. Total production was around 89,199 units.
The television series The Dukes of Hazzard (1979–1985) featured a 1969 Dodge Charger that was named The General Lee. "The General" sported the Confederate battle flag painted on the roof and the words "GENERAL LEE" over each door. The windows were always open, as the actors would do a window slide; this do to an accident which would not permit a door to be opened. Contrary to belief; the doors were never welded shut. The number "01" is painted on both doors. Also, when the horn button was pressed, it played the first 12 notes from the de facto Confederate States anthem "Dixie". The car performed spectacular jumps in almost every episode, and the show's popularity produced consumer interest in the car.
In 1968, the NASCAR inspired Charger R/T failed to beat the Ford cars (the Ford Torino Talladega and the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II) on the high-banks oval-tracks. Wind tunnel tests showed the tunneled rear window caused lift and the gaping mouth induced drag. As a result, Dodge made the rear window flush with the rest of the roof and put a 1968 Coronet grille in the front.
The original Charger 500 prototype was a 1968 Charger R/T with a 426 Hemi and automatic transmission. The prototype was painted in B5 Blue with a white stripe, as well as a white interior. The Charger 500 was one of three models introduced in September 1968. Standard engine was the 440 Magnum, but factory literature claims the 426 Hemi was standard. The Charger 500 had the Torqueflite standard and the same equipment standard as the R/T.
A total of 500 Charger 500s were made, of which only 67 had the 426 Hemi engine; 27 with a 4-speed and 40 with an automatic transmission.
Dodge was not satisfied with the results of the Charger 500. The car was not enough to beat the other aerocars on the NASCAR circuit. After months of research and development, including at the aftermarket shop, Creative Industries, the Dodge Charger Daytona was introduced on April 13, 1969. It quickly received over 1,000 orders.
Chrysler made many attempts at improving the aerodynamics of the 500 by adding noses rumored to be up to 23 in (580 mm) long. The Charger Daytona finally received an 18 in (460 mm) nose. The full size Charger Daytona was tested with an 18 in (460 mm) nose at the Lockheed-Martin Georgia facility. The test was a success and the project was greenlighted. The nose piece was only part of the innovation. The Charger Daytona also received a 23 in (580 mm) tall wing in rear. This wing was bolted through the rear quarter panels and into the rear subframe. Although proven to be less effective than shorter wing designs, the engineer responsible for the development of the wing, John Pointer, chose the tall design so the wing would be in "clean air" to help increase the car's overall speed. That the tall wing prevents interference with operation of the trunk lid can be considered a fortunate coincidence. The tall wing also helped out in another unintended way, by giving the car directional stability due to its deeply splinted sides.
The Charger Daytona engineering model was tested on the Chelsea, Michigan Chrysler Proving Grounds on July 20, 1969. Driven by Charlie Glotzbach and Buddy Baker, it was clocked at 205 mph (330 km/h) with a small 4-bbl. carb. The Charger Daytona's nose made 1,200 pounds of downforce and the wing made 600 pounds of downforce. The Dodge styling department wanted to make changes to the Charger Daytona as soon as they saw it, but was told by Bob McCurry to back off; he wanted function over finesse.
The Charger Daytona introduced to the public had a fiberglass nose without real headlamps and a wing without streamlined fairings. The media and public loved the car, but were mystified by the reverse scoops on the front fenders. The PR representatives claimed it was for tire clearance. Actually, they reduced drag 3%.
The Charger Daytona came standard with the 440 Magnum Engine with 375 hp (280 kW) and 480 lb·ft (650 N·m) of torque, A727 Torqueflite Automatic Transmission, and a 3.23 489 Case 8 3/4 Chrysler Differential. Optional was the 426 Hemi with 425 hp (317 kW) and 490 lb·ft (660 N·m). The 426 Hemi was also available with the no cost option of the A833 4-Speed Manual. Only 503 Charger Daytonas were built, 433 were 440 Magnum 139 4-Speed and 294 Torqueflite; 70 were 426 Hemi power, 22 4-Speed and 48 Torqueflite.
In the end, the Daytona was brought down by the decision to make the 1970 Plymouth Superbird the only Chrysler winged car for the model year. While Daytonas were raced through the 1970 season, only one Daytona was raced until 1971 (in the 1971 Daytona 500) when NASCAR decreed that engine displacement of wing cars would be limited to 305 cu in (5.0 L). That particular car, driven by Dick Brooks finished in seventh place.
The Charger was changed slightly for the 1970 model year. This would be the last year of the 2nd generation Charger and featured a large wraparound chrome bumper and the grille was no longer divided in the middle. New electric headlight doors replaced the old vacuum style. The taillights were similar to those used in 69, but 500 and R/T models came with a new more attractive taillight panel. On the R/T, new rear-facing scoops with the R/T logo were mounted on the front doors, over the door scallops. A new 440 or HEMI hood cutout made the option list for this year only.
Dodge painted the hood scallop inserts black and put the silver engine callouts on top. New "High Impact" colors were given names, such as Top Banana, Panther Pink, Sublime, Burnt Orange, Go Mango and Plum Crazy (sometimes nicknamed "Statutory Grape"). The 500 returned for another year, but as a regular production Charger.
Interior changes included new high-back bucket seats, the door panels were also revised and the map pockets were now optional instead of standard. The ignition was moved from the dash to the steering column (as with all Chrysler products this year), and the glove box was now hinged at the bottom instead of the top as in 1968-69. The SE "Special Edition" trim option added luxury features and was available in as the 500 SE and R/T SE models. The all new pistol grip shifter was introduced, along with a bench seat, a first for the Charger since its debut.
A new engine option made the Charger's list for the first time, the 440 Six Pack. With three two-barrel carburetors and a rating of 390 hp (290 kW), it was one of the most exotic setups since the cross-ram Max Wedge engines of the early 1960s. The Six Pack was previously used on the mid-year 1969 Dodge Super Bee and Plymouth Road Runner. Despite this new engine, production slipped again to 46,576 mainly due to the new E-body Dodge Challenger pony car, as well as rapidly increasing automobile insurance rates. In the 1970 NASCAR season, the 1970 Charger had ten wins, more than any other car, including the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds, thus giving Bobby Isaac the Grand National Championship.
The 1971 model year introduced a new third generation Charger that was characterized by a new split grille and more rounded "fuselage" bodystyle. The interiors were like those of the E-body and were now shared by the Plymouth B-body, the Plymouth Satellite Sebring and Road Runner. The hidden headlights were now optional. A rear spoiler and a "Ramcharger" hood were new options. This hood featured a pop-up scoop mounted above the air cleaner controlled by a vacuum switch under the dash. On Plymouth Road Runners it was called the "Air Grabber" hood, and it was previously used on the Coronet R/T and Super Bee.
Dodge also merged its Coronet and Charger lines. From 1971, all four-door B-bodies were badged as Coronets and all two-door B-bodies as Chargers. Thus for one year only, the Charger Super Bee became part of the Charger lineup. From 1971 to 1974, Charger models used the Coronet's VIN prefix of "W".
The Dodge Super Bee made the move from the Coronet line to the Charger line for 1971 only, after which this model was discontinued. Several other models were carried over from 1970, including the 500, R/T, and SE. Sales of the R/T declined due in part to higher insurance costs. A total of 63 Hemi versions were built, and 2,659 were built with other engines that year. Increasing insurance rates, combined with higher gasoline prices, reduced sales of most muscle cars and 1971 was the last year of availability for the 426 Hemi "Elephant engine" in any car. The 1971 model year was also the last for the 440 Six-Pack engine, which could still be mated to a Hurst 4-speed transmission, as well as the automatic. In the Super Bee's final year, the 340 became a $44 option over the standard, low-compression 383 .
The "Hi-Impact" colors were discontinued after the 1971 model year; with a 1971-only "Citron Yella".
The 1972 Charger introduced a new "Rallye" option to replace the R/T version. The SE was differentiated from other 1972 Chargers by a unique formal roof treatment and hidden headlights. The 383 engine was replaced with a lower compression 4-barrel 400, while the 440 engine were still available, rated at net 280 hp (209 kW; 284 PS) rating instead of the previous 350 hp (261 kW; 355 PS) gross values. The ratings went down as the net horsepower measure was more realistic. Also beginning in 1972, all engines featured hardened valve seats to permit the use of regular leaded or unleaded gasoline rather than leaded premium fuel as in past years due to tighter emissions regulations. Though the 440+6 (designating a triple 2-barrel carb setup and 310 bhp (231 kW; 314 PS) was listed in the early 1972 sales literature, it was found in the August 1971 testing that this engine would not meet the new and more stringent 1972 emissions laws, although some early Dodge literature (August 1971 press) stated that this engine was available for 1972, and a few (six is the accepted number) factory installed six-pack Chargers were built, the engine was dropped out of production by September 1971. The low-compression 4-barrel 440 Magnum 280 hp (209 kW; 284 PS) with a 4-barrel carburetor then became the top engine, and the optional Pistol-Grip 4-speed Hurst manual shifter could be coupled to the 340, 400, and 440 Magnum engines. The Ramcharger hood scoop was discontinued, as well as elimination of optional lower geared performance rear axle ratios and extra heavy duty suspensions. It was also the final year for the Dana 60 differential, and was available only in combination with the 440/4 speed, heavy duty suspension, and the 3.54:1 rear axle ratio.
The only remaining "Hi-Impact" color choices were "Hemi Orange" (EV2) and "Top Banana" (FY1), the latter was available under different names through 1974.
For the 1973 model year, Chargers received new sheet metal (though at first glance only the rear roof "C-Pillars" looked different) and were in fact longer, wider, and slightly taller than the 1971-72 cars. Also new were vertically slatted taillights and new grilles. Hidden headlights were dropped, even as an option. The 318 was still standard, with the 340 (available only on the Rallye), 360 (2-barrel only), 400 (low power 2-barrel/single exhaust and high performance 4-barrel/dual exhaust) and 440 remaining as options. The SE models had a new roof treatment that had a "triple opera window" surrounded by a canopy-style vinyl roof. All other models had a new quarter window treatment, discontinuing its AMC Gremlin-style window in favor of a more conventional design. Total sales this year were around 108,000 units, the highest ever for the 1971-74 Charger generation, though more than 60 percent of the cars had the non-high performance engines. The 1973 Chargers, and all Chrysler products, were equipped with 5 mph bumpers, front and rear.
The 1974 model year saw only minor changes that included new color choices, a softer grain pattern on interior surfaces, and a slight increase in the size of the rubber bumper tips. The 340 option was dropped and the 360 4-bbl replaced the 340 as the small block performance engine. All other engine options remained the same. Several performance rear end ratios, including a 3.23 "Sure Grip" rear end were still available. A four speed transmission was still an option except with the 440 engine. Emphasis now turned to luxury instead of performance with higher sales for the SE model. The Charger, was no longer considered a performance model as it turned into a personal luxury car. The muscle car era came to a close, and the 1974 Dodge Charger would be the final year. The 1974 also came with a 360 cu in (5.9 L) 2-bbl V8, with a K in the fifth symbol in the vehicle identification number.
The 1971-74 Chargers were campaigned in NASCAR, with Buddy Baker, Bobby Isaac, Dave Marcis, and Richard Petty scoring several wins. Richard Petty won 25 races with this body style between 1972 and 1977 as NASCAR allowed the Chargers to run a few years longer than normal, as Chrysler did not have anything else to replace it. A 1974 bodied Charger driven by Neil Bonnett scored Dodge's last NASCAR victory (until 2001) at the December 1977 Los Angeles Times 500. Richard Petty has proclaimed this body style as his favorite car that he ran during his career.
The 1975 model year had the Dodge Charger and Chrysler Cordoba share the same new body based on the B platform. The Chrysler Cordoba had replaced the Plymouth Satellite Sebring. The Charger SE (Special Edition) was the only model offered. It came with a wide variety engines from the 318 cu in (5.2 L) "LA" series small block V8 to the 400 cu in (6.6 L) big block V8. The standard engine was the 360 cu in (5.9 L) small block. Sales in 1975 amounted to 30,812. Because of the extreme squareness of the bodystyle, NASCAR teams were forced to rely on the previous years (1974) sheetmetal for race-spec cars. In order for Dodge to be represented, NASCAR allowed the 1974 sheetmetal to be used until January 1978, when the new Dodge Magnum was ready for race use. In 1976 a Dodge Charger was one of two NASCAR stock cars to compete in the 24hrs at LeMans, having been modified with head-lamps, tail-lamps and windshield wipers. It was driven by Herschel and Doug McGriff and sponsored by Olympia Beer, earning the nickname "Oly Express".
The 1976 model year Charger range was expanded to four models; base, Charger Sport (formerly the Dodge Coronet 2-door model, which appeared for just the previous model year only), Charger SE and the Charger Daytona. The base and Sport models used a different body than the SE and Daytona, and were essentially a re-badging of what had been the 1975 Dodge Coronet 2-door models — and available with a 225 cu in (3.7 L) Slant Six, which was not offered on the SE and Daytona. The Charger Daytona was introduced as an appearance package with either the 360 or 400 engine. Sales increased slightly to 65,900 units in 1976.
In 1977, the Charger Sport (which dated back to the former Dodge Coronet 2-door model, which had appeared for just the 1975 model year only) and the base Charger were dropped as this body style became part of the newly named B-body Monaco line, and only the Charger SE and Charger Daytona were offered. Sales dropped to 36,204.
In 1978, its final year as a B-Body, only 2,735 Chargers were produced. The Magnum replaced the Charger as Dodge's B-body personal luxury car this year, and the small number of Chargers produced were likely an effort to use up leftover 1977 bodies and parts.