The 1966 to1974 Dodge Chargers were high performance models based on the Chrysler B platform. The 1975 to1978 Chargers were based on the Chrysler Cordoba. This article will focus on the 1966 to 1974 era.
Birth of the Charger
In 1964, when the Pontiac GTO started the American muscle car era with strong sales, the rest of GM's divisions were quick to jump on the muscle car bandwagon. Buick followed with the Gran Sport and even Oldsmobile brought out the 442. Dodge, despite putting out cars that could meet or beat these cars on the street or strip, didn't have a performance image muscle car of their own. Even with available performance engines, the Coronet's styling and image was considered by most to be "conservative."
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 Dodge 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."
The concept car received a positive response, so Dodge put it into production.
1966 Dodge Charger
Carl "CAM'" Cameron would be the exterior designer of Dodge's new flagship vehicle, and on January 1, 1966, viewers of the Rose Bowl were first introduced to the new "Leader of the Dodge Rebellion", the 1966 Dodge Charger. The Charger's introduction coincided with the introduction of the new street version of the 426 Hemi (7.0 Ltr). Finally, Dodge would have the performance image to go along with this performance engine.
As the 1966 Dodge Charger's features would go, the "electric shaver" grille used fully rotating headlights, not seen on a Chrysler product since the 1942 DeSoto, that when opened or closed made the grille look like one-piece. Inside, the Charger used four individual bucket seats with a full length console from front to rear. The rear seats and console pad also folded forward, and the trunk divider dropped back, which allowed for a cargo area seven feet long. Many other things were exclusive to the Charger such as the door panels, courtesy lights and the instrument panel. The instrument panel was especially interesting as regular bulbs weren't used to light the gauges. Instead four electroluminescent dash pods housed the tachometer, speedometer, alternator, fuel and temperature gauges. In the rear the full length taillight read CHARGER.
Under the hood, the Charger meant business. The engine selection was all V8s. A six cylinder engine didn't make the option list until 1968. In 1966 four engines were offered; the base-model 318 in³ (5.2 Ltr) 2-barrel V8, the truck-sourced 361 in³ (5.9 Ltr) 2-barrel, the 383 in³ (6.3 Ltr) 4-barrel, and the new 426 Street Hemi. The majority of 1966 Chargers were ordered with the 325 hp (242 kW) 383. Total production in 1966 came to 37,344 units, which was successful for the mid-year introduction.
The 426 Street Hemi was the first Hemi that the average driver could use on the street. Advertised at 425bhp, it actual put out close to 500bhp when in street tune. The Hemi added $1,000 to the $3,122 base price of the Dodge Charger, resulting in only 468 built out of a 1966 production run of 37,344. Maybe that was because the Hemi came only with a 1 year/12,000 mile warranty instead of the standard 5 year/50,000 mile warranty. Furthermore, that warranty was void if the car was "subjected to any extreme operation like drag racing..
In 1966 Dodge took the Charger into NASCAR in hopes that the fastback would make their car a winner on the high-banks. But the car proved to have rear end lift around corners which made it very slippery on the faster tracks. The lift was because the air actually traveled faster over the top of the car than under it, causing the car to act like a giant airplane wing. Drivers would later claim that "it was like driving on ice." In order to solve this problem Dodge installed in a small lip spoiler on the trunk lid which improved traction at speeds above 150 mph (240 km/h). They also had to make it a dealer-installed option in late 1966 and through 1967 because of NASCAR rules (with small quarter panel extensions in 1967). The 1966 Dodge Charger was the first US production vehicle to have a spoiler. David Pearson, driving a #6 Cotten Owens-prepared Charger, went on to win the NASCAR Grand National championship in 1966 with 14 first-place finishes.
Production Numbers: 37,344
1967 Dodge Charger
Since the Dodge Charger was such a sales success despite its midyear introduction, changes were limited for 1967. Outside, new fender-mounted turn signals were introduced and would serve as the main outside identifier between a 1966 and 1967 Charger. A vinyl roof became available as well. Inside, the full length console was gone, due in part to customer complaints about 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.
As for engine options, the 440 "Magnum" was added and was introduced in1968 as the standard engine in the R/T package. The 440 was Chrysler's biggest engine and it was conservatively rated at 375bhp (280 kW) with a single 4-barrel carburetor. It was cheaper than the Hemi, could keep up with it until about 60 mph, and was easier to tune and race on the street. But for serious racing, the Hemi was still the boss. The 361 cid engine was replaced by a 383 cid engine. The 318 two-barrel engine remained, although it was now a Chrysler LA engine, unlike the 1966 polysphere "poly" design. The 383 4-barrel and the 426 Street Hemi remained as options.
Despite the Chargers' NASCAR racing success of 1966, sales slipped by half. In 1967 only 15,788 Chargers were sold. The Chargers faced competition from the Trans-Am Series, the Ford Mustang and the just introduced Chevrolet Camaro. Dodge decided that a major redesign was in order, rather than a minor face-lift.
Production Numbers: 15,788
1968 Dodge Charger
It was clear after the sales drop of the 1967 Dodge Charger that a restyle was in order. Dodge was going to restyle their entire B-body lineup for 1968 and decided that it was time to separate the Coronet and Charger models even further. What designer Richard Sias came up with was a double-diamond design that would later be referred to as coke bottle styling. From the side profile the curves around the front fenders and rear quarter panels look almost like a Coke bottle. 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-length hidden headlight grille, but the fully rotating electric headlights had been replaced by a simple vacuum operated cover, similar to the Camaro RS. The full length taillights were gone as well. Instead, dual Corvette-inspired taillights were added. Dual scallops were added to the doors and hood to help accent the new swoopy lines and there was a minimal use of chrome. Inside, the interior shared almost nothing with its first generation brothers. The four bucket seats were gone; the console remained the same as the '67. The tachometer was now optional instead of standard, the trunk and grille medallions were gone, the carpeting in the trunk area was gone, replaced by a vinyl mat, the rear seats did not fold forward and the space-age looking electroluminescent gauges disappeared in favor of a more conventional looking design.
In order to further boost the Charger's muscle car image, a new high-performance package was added, the R/T. This stood for "Road/Track" and would be the high performance badge that would establish Dodge's performance image. Only the high performance cars were allowed to use the R/T badge. The R/T came standard with the previous year's 440 "Magnum" and the 426 Hemi was optional. The standard engine was the 318 2bbl the rest of the engine lineup (383-2, 383-4) remained unchanged.
In 1968 Chrysler Corporation unveiled a new ad campaign featuring a Bee with an engine on its back. These cars were 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. They also could be deleted at no cost. These changes and the new Charger body style proved to be very popular with the public and resulted in a six-fold increase in sales from 1967. Out of the 92,590 Chargers produced for 1968, 17,665 had the R/T package with its standard 440 Magnum engine and "Scat Pack" bumblebee stripes on the rear end. Only a scant 475 came with the all mighty Hemi. The Hemi was strengthened for 1968 with a slightly longer-duration cam, new valve springs, and revisions which reduced oil consumption. It was still under-rated at 425bhp and still remained the engine of choice for serious drag racers.
A famous Dodge Charger was the four-speed, triple-black 1968 Charger R/T used in the movie Bullitt. The chase scene between Steve McQueen's fastback Mustang GT and the hit men’s Charger R/T is popularly regarded as one of the greatest car chase scenes ever filmed. During filming of the scene, the Charger proved to be extremely durable. When performing the various jumps over the hills in San Francisco, the Mustang GT encountered several suspension problems, while the suspension of the Chargers used supposedly never failed once. A similar 1968 Charger R/T was seen in the Blade films.
Production Numbers: 17,665
1969 Dodge Charger
In 1969 not much was changed for the popular Charger. 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 packaged 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 as well, and it would prove to be a very rare option (only 260 sold). The bumble bee stripes returned as well, but were changed slightly. Instead of four stripes it now featured one huge stripe framed by two smaller stripes. In the middle of the stripe an R/T cutout was placed. If the stripe was deleted, then a metal R/T emblem was placed where the R/T cutout was. Total production dropped slightly to around 85,680 units. But in 1969 Dodge had its eye on NASCAR and in order to compete it would have to create two of the most rare and desirable of all Chargers: Charger 500, and the Charger Daytona.
The television series The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985) featured a 1969 Dodge Charger that was named The General Lee, often noted as being the most recognizable car in the world. "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 doors were 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's Land". The muscle car performed spectacular jumps in almost every episode, and the show's popularity produced a surge of interest in the car. The show itself purchased hundreds of Chargers for stunts, as they generally destroyed at least one car per episode. (Real Chargers stopped being used for jumps at the end of the show's sixth season, and were begrudgingly replaced with miniatures.)
In 1969, in order to help Dodge battle Ford/Mercury in NASCAR, two special Chargers were built. The regular production Dodge Charger wasn't aerodynamic enough to compete with the Ford Torino/Mercury Cyclone. The first year for the Charger 500 was1969. This car looked like a standard Charger, except that the rear buttress was filled in, and a flush-mounted 1968 Coronet grille was used with exposed headlights. The rear bumble bee stripes would also have a "500" cutout which would help to identify this new Charger. These changes would help the car aerodynamically. Only 503 copies were built to abide with NASCAR rules hence the name "Charger 500". The only engine choices were the standard 440 Magnum or the 426 Hemi. Only 67 Charger 500s were built with the Hemi. Despite all of the new changes, Ford/Mercury continued to beat the Chargers. Dodge did not stand idly by. They went back into the wind tunnel and unleashed a new Dodge Charger that changed everything.
NASCAR in 1969 stipulated that any car raced in their series had to be available for sale and must build a minimum of five hundred for the general public. Since the Charger 500 was not fast enough, Dodge went back into the wind tunnel and created one of the most outrageous and most sought after Dodge Chargers, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona.
The Daytona used a pointed nose piece that added 18 inches (457 mm) into the front of the car. This gave the car the down-force that the engineers were looking for, but the rear end still tended to lift at speed. To solve this, they mounted a large wing over the trunk lid which would give the Charger Daytona and its sister car, the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, the nickname of "wing cars". The wing was 23 inches (584 mm) tall so that the trunk could be opened without hitting the bottom of the wing (Some dealers had to remove them in order to sell the cars). Fenders and a hood from the upcoming 1970 Charger were used on the Daytona. Rear facing scoops were added to the front fenders, above the tires, which added an aerodynamic advantage. It was widely believed at the time that they were only used to help with tire rub in hard corners. In fact, they relieved the high pressure that would build up in the fender well at high speed.
Only 503 Dodge Charger Daytonas were built with either 440 Magnum or 426 Hemi power. All Daytonas wore red, black, or white bumble stripes that bore the name "Daytona" in the middle of the stripe. The wings were painted the same color as the stripes. Priced at $4,000, Weighing almost 300 pounds more than regular Chargers with the same engines, the Daytona's were hampered on the street but they could top out at over 150 mph on the track and it was completely street legal. This was considered by many to be the height of the performance mania.
The "wing cars" would prove to be so fast and dominating that NASCAR effectively outlawed them for the 1971 season, as a new regulation was introduced that restricted all "aero" cars to a maximum engine displacement of 5.0 Ltr (305 in³), down from the previous 7.0 Ltr (426 in³).
Production Numbers: 20,057
1970 Dodge Charger
In 1970 the Dodge Charger changed slightly again. This would be the last and rarest year of the 2nd generation Charger and it now featured a large chrome loop front bumper and the grille was no longer divided in the middle. New electric headlight doors replaced the old vacuum style. Side markers were now actual lights. 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.
In order to achieve the desired look, 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 now it was just a regular production Charger unlike the limited production NASCAR Charger of 1969.
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" option added high end luxury to a full on muscle car with its leather upholstery and for the first time, there was an available electric sliding sunroof. It was made available 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 - it slotted between the 440 Magnum and the Hemi. The 440 Six Pack traded in the 440's 4 barrel carburetor for 3 Holley two barrels, increasing the horsepower from 375 bhp to 390 bhp (291 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 and was notorious for beating the Hemi on the street. The Hemi was also improved, with the addition of hydraulic lifters, instead of solid tappets.
Despite this hot new engine, production slipped again to 46,576 but most of this was due to the brand new E-body Dodge Challenger and the high insurance rates of the time. Only 10,337 R/Ts were sold in 1970. Of these a mere 116 were 440 Six Packs and only 42 were Hemis.
In the 1970 Nascar season it was the 1970 Charger that tallied up more wins (10) than any other car including the notorious 69 Dodge Charger Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds, giving Bobby Isaac the Grand National Championship. Lower sales, higher performance and more options has made the '70 Charger the most collectible of the 2nd generation Dodge Chargers.
Production Numbers: 10,337
1971 Dodge Charger
In 1971, the all-new third generation Dodge Charger debuted, this body style would last until 1974. It was completely restyled with a new split grille and more rounded "fuselage" body style. The interiors now looked more like those of the E-body and were now shared by the Plymouth B-body. Hidden headlights were no longer standard, they were now optional. A rear spoiler and a "Ramcharger" hood made the option lists for the first time. A special scoop was mounted in the hood, directly above the air cleaner. If the driver wanted to draw clean air directly into the carburetor, he pulled a small lever under the dash and the scoop popped up. The Plymouth Roadrunner used this device and called it the "air grabber hood". This device had been used on the Coronet R/T and Super Bees, but this was the first time it was used on the Dodge Charger.
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. This change would add the one-year-only Charger Super Bee to the Charger stable.
The Dodge Super Bee made the move from the Coronet line to the Charger line for 1971 only, then the model was discontinued. Several other models were carried over from 1970, including the 500, R/T and SE versions. The R/T version was particularly bold with its standard blackout hood, simulated body side air extractors, Rallye wheels, tape stripes, and optional front and rear spoilers. A full range of bold colors were also available from "Green Go" to "Citron Yella." but the R/T's popularity was on the downslide thanks to higher insurance costs. Only 63 Hemi versions were built, and 2,659 were built with other engines that year.
1971 was the beginning of the end of the muscle car era. Rapidly rising insurance rates, combined with higher gasoline prices, reduced sales of muscle cars in general and 1971 was the last year of availability for the 426 Hemi "Elephant Engine" in any car. Rather than see the Hemi strangled by emissions standards, Chrysler decided to retire it when it was still on top.
1971 also saw the end of the high-performance 440 Six-Pack engine, although some Dodge literature stated that this engine was available for 1972, it was pulled at the last minute. However, a few factory installed six-pack Chargers and Road Runners were built very early in the production run.
1972 to 1974 Dodge Charger
The 1972 Dodge Charger bowed with a new "Rallye" option to replace the former R/T version. The SE model now had a more formal roof appearance than the others had. The 440 engines were still available, but now had to use the net horsepower rating instead of the gross horsepower rating. This would cause their horsepower ratings to go down substantially, although the net horsepower rating was actually more realistic. Also beginning in 1972, all engines featured lowered compression ratios to permit the use of regular leaded or unleaded gasoline rather than leaded premium fuel as in past years due to increasing tighter emissions regulations.
With the Hemi gone a low-compression 440 Six Pack with a 4 barrel carburetor became the engine of choice.. Its output dropped from 385bhp gross to 330bhp net. The regular 4 bbl 440 dropped from 370bhp gross to 280bhp net. The 383 was unable to meet the new emissions requirements and was dropped. A new 400 V8 which offered 255bhp net took its place. The use of the pistol-grip 4-speed Hurst shifter was limited to engines of 400 cubic inches.
The 1973 Dodge Chargers sported new vertically slatted taillights and a new nose (and no more hidden headlights, even as an option). The 318 was still standard, with the 340 (available only on the Rallye), 360, 400 and 440 remaining as options. The SE models had a new roof treatment that had "triple opera window" treatment surrounded by a canopy-style vinyl roof. The optional Rallye package added loud side stripes, a pinned-down hood with power bulge, anti-sway bars front and rear, fat tires with raised white lettering, and special instrumentation. All other models had a new quarter window treatment, ditching its AMC Gremlin-style window in favor of a more conventional design. Sales this year were around 108,000 units, the highest ever for the 1971-74 Charger generation.
1974 was a virtual rerun of 1973 Dodge Charger. Minor changes included all new color choices, a softer grain pattern on interior surfaces, and a slight increase in the size of the rubber bumper tips (brought on by ever-changing federal front and rear impact regulations). The biggest news was that the Rallye option was dropped and the 360 4bbl replaced the 340 as the small block performance engine. All other engine options remained the same with the 275bhp being the engine of choice. Several performance rear end ratios, including a 3.23 limited slip rear end were still available. A four speed transmission was still an option except with the 440 engine. Emphasis in these years turned to luxury instead of performance, hence the high sales figures for the SE model, but one could still equip a Charger with respectable performance options if one were so inclined and turn in decent performance figures for the day. The Dodge Charger, however, was no longer considered a performance car, and was gradually turned into personal luxury car, because all manufacturers "saw the handwriting on the wall." The muscle car era came to a close, and the 1975 Dodge Charger would be the final nail in the coffin. Although the Charger name would grace several future Chrysler models, none would ever match those of the muscle car era.