Last year, we applauded Plymouth for building what we thought was the best looking Detroit car of 1967, the Barracuda. A remarkable feat, considering the Chrysler Corporation’s odd, unstable styling history which, since the Airflow, has been marked by committee-styled cars which, aside from lacking integrity of design, have oscillated between being far out to the point of vulgarity and being timid to the point of sterility—a seemingly endless series of over-compensations for each preceding year. With this background, we were pleasantly surprised by the ‘67 Barracuda, but quite prepared to wait years before Chrysler came up with a worthy successor. We conjured a picture of designers and stylists lying about their studios, spent, from their Barracuda effort, and barely able to create so much as a new bumper for 1968.
Imagine, therefore, our surprise—again pleasant—when we saw Dodge’s new Charger. Working with Chrysler Corporation’s 117-in. wheelbase “B” series body/chassis, the designers that we’d imagined were worn out have not only achieved far more than a face-lift, they have easily surpassed the mark of excellence set less than a year ago.
The only 1968 car which comes close to challenging the new Charger for styling accolades is the new Corvette, which is remarkably similar to the Charger, particularly when viewed from the rear quarter. But, we give the honors to the Charger for several reasons. First, the Corvette, being a smaller car in both seating capacity and wheelbase, has a much easier time attaining the desired sporty image. Second, Dodge stylists have shown that they can create a car in the current idiom with originality, combining just the right amount of tasteful conformity with that novelty and freshness which attracts attention. Originality takes guts in Dodge’s position as the smaller division of the number three automaker, but the Charger’s aerodynamic wedge theme is not only distinctly new but it is very like the new breed of wind-tunnel tested sports/racing cars which are just now making their debut in the 1967 Can-Am series. Third, while the Charger is a vast improvement over its predecessor, the 1968 Corvette is anticlimactic after the Mako Shark show cars which preceded it.
Chrysler Corporation, then, is flat-out in the automobile business again. The Marlin‑like Charger of the past (really a Coronet with a hastily added fastback roof), and the similarly makeshift Barracuda were grim reminders of the Corporation’s close call with financial disaster in the early Sixties. But the belt-tightening policies of Lynn Townsend—Chrysler’s chief executive since 1961, and more recently Board Chairman—combined with his intense efforts to improve and increase the Corporation’s manufacturing facilities seem to be paying off. The 1967 Barracuda and the new Charger, each with its own distinctive sheet metal now, are evidence of Chrysler’s increasing strength and ability to meet both the financial and creative challenge of the specialty car age.
Specialty cars are conceived from a significantly different planning philosophy than that of the bread-and-butter cars which Detroit used to build exclusively. Bread-and-butter cars are built with the primary intention of offending no potential buyer, rendering the cars largely featureless and unexciting. Specialty cars, on the other hand, are built to please specific groups of customers. We like the more positive philosophy behind the specialty car, and the Charger is chock-full of features with obvious appeal for the performance-minded enthusiast.
The aerodynamic appearance of the Charger (it’s as aerodynamically slippery as it looks, according to Chrysler’s engineers) is accented by a rear spoiler combined with a truncated rear end for a Kamm effect—a design approach which has become almost mandatory in modern racing cars. The Charger takes on the nose-down appearance common to both NASCAR and NHRA, and the bulging rear fenders should accommodate the racing tires used in both drag and stock car racing with a minimum of rework. The greenhouse, following the sharply curved side-glass, slants steeply towards the center of the car, very reminiscent of Le Mans Ferraris, particularly when viewed from the rear. A tunnel-type backlight is used instead of a pure fastback (a styling feature fast going out of fashion from over-use). The smaller rear window of the tunnel roof also gives much less distortion to rear vision than a steeply slanted fastback window.
Further visual performance identity is achieved by the use of a racing-style gas filler cap mounted high on the left rear quarter, and quasi fog/driving/parking and turn signal lights mounted low in the front bumper. Matte black paint is used extensively in the grille and around the tail lights. Full wheel cut-outs, fat tires on 6-inch rims, and simulated engine compartment exhaust vents in the hood (which also house turn signal indicator lights, like the Mustang GT) and at the leading edge of the doors complete the Charger’s complement of visually “in” features.