It was the summer of 1967. Music was in the air at Monterey Pop, and lots of things were new – the first Super Bowl, the television show Sesame Street, and Rolling Stone magazine all debuted that year. On the streets of Detroit, Dodge prepared to unveil one of the most iconic designs of the muscle car era, the 1968 Charger.
Prior to 1968, the Charger had been an attempt at restyling the Coronet with wedge-shaped body panels and a fastback roofline. It worked; David Pearson won the Grand National title with one the year it arrived on the scene, 1966. The car was marketed as a sports model, available with Hemi power if desired, four bucket seats, and a futuristic dash layout. However, the stylist team had other ideas for Charger when it returned in 1968; indeed, with Detroit’s muscle car fire burning brightly, 1967 Charger sales fell to just over 15,000 units. What showed out that summer to replace the first-generation Charger indeed ‘far out,’ as they might of said on the well-remembered Smothers Brothers show.
A survivor 1968 Hemi Charger graphically displays why it was a popular car; less than 500 Hemi R/T Chargers were sold in 1968, making it quite rare today. However, the redesigned body sold 96,000 examples total that year. Photo by John Stunkard, car owned by Steve Fox
The hard refined lines of the Coronet origins were replaced by a double-diamond ‘Coke bottle’ design, swelling slightly outward from the front wheel openings and again at the rear. Styling insets were laid into the body and door panels, adding ‘speed’ cues to the sheet metal itself. The covered headlight motif that had identified the first-gen models, though the grille, was now deeply inset into the front end styling. Round taillight and side marker lights finished off the look, which was augmented by a flip-top racing-inspired gas cap on the driver’s side rear quarter panel and a rear window that fell steeply down to recess into the fastback.
Did it work? How about 96,000 units sold, a 460% increase in sales? How about appearing on the cover of magazines like Look? The factory reworked minor styling cues during the next two years, but the basic street design remained the same. For NASCAR racing, the inset grille and rear window that styling had used to such great success proved to be problematic at speeds over 170 mph, so the factory released two special models, the Charger 500 in late 1968 and the radical high-wing Daytona the following summer, to alleviate those issue and return to the winner’s circle. The desire to create a more aerodynamic basic package meant a completely redesigned package for 1971, but when people think ‘Charger’ from a historical standpoint, the design flying in the movie Bullitt, jumping in the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, and crashing in the more recent film The Fast and the Furious is what comes to mind.
The Dukes of Hazzard was one of several shows that used the 1968-1970 Charger design. However, the inset grille and rear window mounting proved problematic at speed. This is during the Labor Day Mopar Thunder weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
A change came in late 1968 for the 1969 Daytona 500; named Charger 500 for the number of production examples needed to be legal in racing. The Charger 500 was modified with a flush grille and flush back window. However, the Fords were still a little faster so…
…they released an even more radical version in the early summer of 1969 called the Charger Daytona. It has a pointed nose and high deck wing with wide upright pylons. The height of the wing was determined by the need to open the deck lid. After running for a season, NASCAR required them to run a small 305” engine. Despite the lack of cubic inches, a small-block powered Daytona was in the running to win the 1971 Daytona 500 until it got tangled up in a multi-car piled up midway during the race.
It is now 2011, and for this year, Dodge has taken a page from the past with the newest Charger. Indeed, perhaps its best testimony came from noted Charger collector Tim Wellborn of Alabama. When the model arrived at his muscle car museum in Alexander City as part of the redletterdodge.com tour, he was pretty succinct on his assessment of the rework design.
“The best thing was that these cars, the Charger especially, looks right at home with the classics; it’s finally a Charger that looks like a Charger,” Wellborn remarked.
Later, after driving it as part of a road test we did for Amos Auto Enthusiast magazine, he went even further in his accolades. “All I can say is – it’s a Charger! I’m all about the styling, because the first thing anybody does is look at your car. With the right color and stripes, this one will get attention coming and going.”
At the Wellborn Muscle car Museum, a vintage Charger Daytona advertisement is on a display billboard. The new Charger has been redesigned to take in some of the styling cues that helped make the second-generation Charger a classic. Note the body indentations.
What impressed Wellborn and the others who have seen it as an entire package. The ‘speed’ styling cues that defined the body and hood lines in 1968-1970 have returned in 21st century form on this car, which remains in a four-door format for practicality in the present age. A new taillight treatment using LED lighting harkens back to the 1970 models, while the front end design retains a notable connection to the present styling cues Dodge has refined over the past decade. One thing that did not return was the notchback roof line, which should let the guys who go really really fast at places like Daytona and Talladega, breath a little easier in traffic.
Here is the LED taillight design, which harkens back to the 1969-70 design.
Beauty is more than skin-deep. The car has set new standards for interior layout and comfort, as well as similar real-world improvements in suspension and braking. Power comes from the most recent incarnation of the 5.7L HEMI engine in the R/T version. Even the economy minded will appreciate the horsepower increase that has arrived with the Pentastar V6, which can deliver 27 mpg on the highway.
Styling has been a hallmark of the Charger during its most legendary appearances in the Dodge line-up. The people who desire a two door model now have Challenger choices; for the midsize car buyer, the latest version of Charger is indeed ‘Days of Future Passed.’