“Heigh ho, Lance. This is Rob. You know, Rob, I met you over at Samantha’s during the Tactile Encounter session. I had on the purple Yves Saint Laurent jump suit and was sitting between that tacky copy of Oldenburg’s “soft hamburger” and the dynamite Ernst Troler original. Right . . . right, we were rapping about the relevancy of Dusty and Marty Balsam’s pivotal encounter in Big Little when she turned on the whale thing, right.
“Yea, well what I was calling about, really, was to see if you’d like to fall by my digs sometime this weekend. I just picked up on a dynamite, really dynamite new sculpture that I figure you’ll be into, too, as soon as you see it.
“Right, right on, Tom Owen is going to go out of his gourd on this one.
“It’s called ‘Charger’ and it’s—are you ready for this?—it’s made by Dodge.
“Hello? . . . Lance? . . .”
That’s the way it goes nowadays, Rob old buddy. Had you said that Playboy’s sculptor laureate, Frank Gallo created the Charger from ground-up polyurethane coffee cups, Lance would have been rattling your blue anodized aluminum doorknob instead of leaving you standing there in front of your Lucidity clear plastic phone with his curt ciao still searing across your eardrum.
A Dodge Charger? A piece of sculpture? What the hell kind of individual artistic statement can that be when 50,000 people a year make the same statement? Besides, you’ve got to admit that an objet d’art created by a guy with a name like Gallo, or Toler, or Quasar (who everybody knows works in a vital environment like Ibiza or Johnson’s Pasture, or St. Tropez) has a bit more of a cachet than anything Bill Brownlie can slap together out of modeler’s clay in gay, romantic Hamtramck, Michigan.
But that does not alter the fact that Brownlie and his associates at Dodge have come up with the best-styled new car for 1971. Or that Dodge, not Georg Jensen, is selling it. Dodge? The company that gave the world such exquisite creations as the original Charger—a tribute to the ever-popular Rambler Marlin; the station wagon that has a rear silhouette like a drain culvert, and has pursued the evolution of the neo-DeSoto design school with the fervor that only graduates of such an academy could muster. But even before the ’71 Charger there have been signs that someone in Dodge Division was doing more than mimicking whatever trend the GM Styling Center was into. The second generation Charger was the first significant departure. It was so far out of the Detroit styling mainstream that it remained unique throughout its three-year model run despite its public acceptance—which, in light of Detroit’s copycat styling syndrome means it was radical. And, it turns out that Brownlie was also responsible for that car with its high, wide hipline and small tunnelroof greenhouse.
Subsequently, a corporate reorganization had Brownlie working for both Dodge and Plymouth and one can see the embryonic lines of this year’s Charger taking shape with the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger. And actually that experience probably proved most valuable as, for the first time this year, the Charger series of Dodge’s intermediate line-up has lost its exclusivity. When you buy a 2-door Dodge intermediate it’s automatically a Charger. No more separate sheetmetal as in the past when the Coronet was available as a 2-door and a 4-door in addition to the sportier-imaged Charger hardtops. What this new policy meant was that the stylists had to come out with a car that retained some of its sporting flair but was not wild enough to turn off middle-aged, middle of the road, middle Americans. In other words a compromise between a Charger/ Pontiac Grand Prix/Chevrolet Monte Carlo-type car and a plain Jane business coupe or 2-door sedan. Incredibly, given these parameters, Dodge has pulled it off, and done so with élan. Meanwhile Dodge’s sister division, Plymouth, attempting the same marketing gambit with its Sebring model (which uses the same basic under-the-skin hardware) ended up with a compromise that looks just that.
The Charger comes off as anything but a styling compromise. Not only is it apparent to people viewing the car from the outside but the driver is aware that he is controlling something far from normal as well. From the driver’s seat you find the front part of the Charger sloping down and away, giving the impression that there’s a set of Honest Charley extended spring hangers jacking up the rear. The raked impression is also reinforced by the upward sweep of the sheetmetal at the roof’s rear corners. It may make for great exterior styling but it does little for rear corner vision, leaving large blind spots that only the Charger’s extreme tunnelroof predecessor outdid in recent memory. And although proper positioning of the inside rear view mirror has alleviated most of the visibility problem in normal driving conditions both driver and passenger-side outside mirrors should be considered mandatory options on the Charger.