Created from Company Competition
Greg Rager - May 12, 2014 10:45 AM
Two years after the Cuda, Dodge answered with the Charger.Brad Bowling
The first generation wasn't an unqualified success, but the car can bring a good price on today's market.Brad Bowling
Internal competition between Chrysler Corp.’s two junior brands, Dodge and Plymouth, was an ever-present aggravation. Given some of the great vehicles it produced, it also proved to be a huge asset.
The compact Valiant made its appearance as the decade of the ’60s dawned. The car would be badged as a Plymouth for 1961. Simple deductive reasoning should make it apparent why, also for 1961, Dodge got its version of the hot new upstart, dubbed Lancer.
For 1963, the Lancer name was dropped, and Dodge’s compact was now known as Dart. And for nearly two decades, Valiant and Dart would be in competition with one another, as well as with the compacts from other manufacturers.
For 1964, Plymouth would introduce a new car, based on the Valiant platform. The all-new and exclusive-to-Plymouth Barracuda not only beat Ford’s Mustang to market by roughly two weeks, it also debuted as a sexy fastback, something Mustang didn’t offer until a year later. Dodge, however, did not receive an equivalent car to market. But when Dodge’s proprietary car finally arrived on the scene, it would take the automotive world by storm.
The 1966 Dodge Charger came to market somewhat by accident, or, at the very least, the eye-catching styling was more a coincidence of timing than part of a master plan. Dodge had intended to bring a new car to market in order to showcase the Chrysler turbine engine in a limited-production status. Toward that end, Dodge hired a young designer, who also happened to be a car nut, by the name of Bill Brownlie as its director of design.
Partnered with Burt Bouwkamp, Dodge’s new product planning manager, the two decided on a car larger than the Barracuda, yet still a fastback. Drawing upon the highly successful Dodge Coronet, Brownlie suggested the new Dodge model be Coronet-based, with a fastback roof grafted on. When the plan to put the turbine engine into limited production was shelved, development of the unique showcase body was too far along to cancel.
To differentiate the as-yet-unnamed car from its Coronet base, a new grille was added up front with Dodge’s first-ever use of hidden headlights and full-width taillights. The fastback roof profile was pulled directly from the 1963 Charger II show car. Special attention was given to the new car’s luxurious interior, with four bucket seats and a full-length console highlighting the passenger compartment. Automatic and four-speed gear selectors were floor-mounted, with only the three-speed manual shift lever mounted on the column.
The rear seat backs folded forward, like the Barracuda, which offered a 4x7.5 foot virtually flat load floor — nearly perfect for a ’60s-era surfboard. A carpeted security panel could be used to separate the trunk and passenger compartment if needed. The Coronet’s rectangular speedometer and instrument cluster were replaced by a pod design featuring full instrumentation across four circular housings, including a 150-mph speedometer and a 6,000-rpm tachometer — all as standard equipment, as was the three-spoke woodgrained steering wheel. New electroluminescent lighting bathed the gauges in a soft, evenly diffused, non-glare illumination. Introduced on New Year’s Day, 1966, the new car would be known simply as Charger.
With only two exceptions, the ’66 Charger was available with every engine Chrysler Corporation had to offer. The stout Slant Six was not available (a blessing in such a high-profile car), and the 440 “RB” engine was still reserved for more-expensive Monacos, Polaras and Chryslers. The standard engine for Charger was the bread-and-butter 230hp/318ci polyspherical V-8, and was the only engine available with a column-shifted three-speed manual. Next up was the 265hp two-barrel 361ci “B” engine, followed by the four-barrel 383ci “B” engine at 325 hp. At the top of the heap was the King Kong of engines, the 425hp, dual Carter AFB four-barrel, 426ci Hemi. External engine identification was somewhat easy as both 318- and 361-equipped Chargers had “V8” badging on the front fenders with “383 Four Barrel” and “426 Hemi” badging for the big boys.
As beautiful and appealing as the 1966 Charger was, it failed to meet sales expectations. Aside from the 426 Hemi engine, Charger sold in nearly identical quantity with both the base and high-performance V-8 engine options (see below) with automatic transmissions far outselling manuals. In reality, neither the car nor Chrysler/Dodge marketing seemed to know what Charger was to be.
Different advertising for the car pointed out different attributes. Where one ad stressed performance — another would emphasize luxury. It wouldn’t be until 1968, and the introduction of the new body style and the availability of the hot R/T model, that Charger’s perceived niche moved from personal sport luxury car to true performance car. The 1967 Charger, with precious few minor changes, and the addition of the 440 “RB” Magnum V-8, literally tanked in terms of production and sales numbers.
As has been the case many times in the automotive world, the 1966-’67 Charger may very well have been the perfect car for a market that didn’t exist during its lifecycle. It certainly offered something for everyone at a reasonable price ($3,122 base in 1966) for everything that came with it. As time has passed, the collector-car market has embraced the first-generation Charger. But unlike some other specialty cars of the era, an original Charger remains an affordable investment, and a car that still turns heads today, just as it did almost 50 years ago.
1966 Charger Production
318 two-barrel V-8 - 12,514 (Three-speed manual 779, Three-speed automatic 11,735)
361 two-barrel V-8 - 5,898 (Four-speed manual 468, Three-speed automatic 5,430)
383 four-barrel V-8 - 12,328 (Four-speed manual 2,809, Three-speed automatic 9,519
426 Hemi V-8 - 468 (Four-speed manual 250, Three-speed automatic 218)