The first Charger built by Dodge was in 1964 when they put together an “idea” car based on the Dodge Polara with a 426 Cubic Inch Wedge engine. They showed it at the 1965 car shows to gauge the public’s reaction and if they liked it Dodge would build it. They did build a Charger which even quite different from the show car still caused quite a stir.
The 1966 Charger that Dodge ended up building was with a body that had been designed for a turbine car whose project had been cancelled. The only change was a different grill. The Mustang and Barracuda fastbacks was already popular so Dodge put a fastback on the Charger but it didn’t prove all that popular.
The 1966 Dodge Charger, “Leader Of The Dodge Rebellion”, was unveiled to the viewer of the Rose Bowl on New Years Day January 1, 1966. Coincidently this was the first year the Hemi was available in the street version. All of us car nuts hit the Dodge showrooms to see the new Charger and especially the Hemi. Many of the other lookers were also buyers as sales were very good at 37,344 units.
Because the sales mantra at that time was “Win on Sunday Sell on Monday”, Dodge was anxious to get the Charger on the track and thought the fastback would do well on the NASCAR racing circuit. The power was there but they had a design flaw that caused the car to skate around at high speed. By putting a spoiler on the rear they were able to stabilize it enough for the Charger to win the Manufacturers Championship that year.
In 1967 the Charger fell on relatively hard times even though they won the NASCAR championship the year before. The car was almost identical to the 1966 but sales fell to 15,788. Due to the competition from Ford Mustang and the new Chevy Camaro, Dodge decided to restyle the entire B-body lineup for 1968.
The 2nd generation 1968 Dodge Charger was called by many to be the most beautiful of all the muscle cars. They were truly impressive with a completely new shape featuring a design by Richard Sias that was known as the double diamond and later called coke bottle styling. The rear end had a “kick up” spoiler and dual Corvette type taillights. The headlights had the covered headlights similar to the Camaro RS.
The interior was almost completely new with only the console remaining from the 1967 model. The tachometer was now optional, the trunk had vinyl instead of carpet and gauges got a more conventional looking design. The standard Charger came with a 318 CI and had the 383 CI as an option along with the 440 CI wedge motor and the great 426 CI Hemi.
The big change was the decision to make the Chargers muscle car image even brighter. To do this a new high performance package called the R/T was added. The R/T stood for Road/Track and would be a badge that would establish Dodge’s high performance image. The high performance cars were the only ones allowed to use the R/T badge. The standard engine for the R/T was the 440 “Magnum” with the 426 Hemi being an option.
To further enhance the performance image, Chrysler Corporation came out with a new ad campaign featuring a group of cars whose symbol was a bee with an engine on its back.. The cars that made up this group were called the “Scat Pack” and included the Coronet R/T, Super Bee, Dart GTS and Charger R/T which all got bumble-bee stripes.
The new Charger body style along with the other changes proved to be very popular with the public and helped sell 96,100 Chargers, of which 17,000 were the Charger R/Ts. I’m sure a few sales were made because of the greatest movie car chase ever filmed which featured a 4-speed black 1968 Charger R/T chasing Steve McQueen’s fastback Mustang GT all over the San Francisco in the movie, “Bullitt”. The “Blade” films also included a 1968 Charger R/T.
The Charger R/T proved its durability as it had no suspension problems from all the jumps while the Mustang had several suspension problems. Unfortunately the Charger didn’t prove itself very durable in the sales department as the 1968 sales were the high water mark and then declined every year after that as the other manufacturers came up with more desirable cars. The final 2 nails in the Charger and other muscle car’s coffin were the insurance companies and oil crisis in 1971 that essentially killed off the muscle car.
While the information in this article can be found in many other places my main sources were the Allpro website for Chrysler product fans and the Muscle Car Club, a website for muscle cars of all types
Muscle Car Club-http://www.musclecarclub.com/musclecars/dodge-charger/dodge-charger-history.shtml