A Wing and a Prayer: The Dodge Charger and Charger Daytona

THE CHARGER AND THE CORDOBA: 1975-1978

With the demise of the Supercars in the early seventies, the market was rapidly shifting to plusher personal luxury coupes. Noting that trend, Burt Bouwkamp decided to base the 1975 Dodge Charger on the new B-body Chrysler Cordoba.

1975 Chrysler Cordoba front 3q © 2009 dave_7 (used with permission)
Although it looks huge to modern eyes, the Chrysler Cordoba was the smallest Chrysler of its era, stretching 215.3 inches (5,469 mm) overall on a 115-inch (2,921mm) wheelbase. From the front, the Cordoba’s resemblance to the contemporary Chevrolet Monte Carlo is pronounced, although it lacks the Monte’s dramatically sculpted fenders. (Photo: “Chrysler Cordoba” © 2009 Dave 7; used with permission)

According to some sources, the Cordoba was originally intended as a Plymouth, a competitor for the wildly popular Chevrolet Monte Carlo. As a Chrysler, with prices starting at around $5,000, it competed instead with the Pontiac Grand Prix. Nonetheless, the Cordoba was quite successful, selling around 150,000 units in 1975.

The Charger was not so lucky. Buyers seemed reluctant to accept the Charger’s transformation from sporty car to personal luxury coupe; sales totaled only 31,000 units, a fraction of the Cordoba’s volume. Burt Bouwkamp later admitted that tying the Charger to the Cordoba was probably a mistake, but at the time, the only practical alternative would have been to update the existing body shell, which was not an encouraging prospect either.

1976 Dodge Charger front 3q © 2009 Joe McKinney (used with permission)
The distinction between the Chrysler Cordoba and the Dodge Charger SE was mostly in the grille and other minor details. A 1975 Charger was only $169 less than the Cordoba, so it’s little wonder that most buyers preferred the Cordoba’s plusher trim and more prestigious name. (Photo © 2009 Joe McKinney (Katie and Joe); used with permission)

Dodge tried to make the best of it by adding a cheaper base Charger for 1976. Priced at a more palatable $3,736, it was essentially a Dodge version of the intermediate-size Plymouth Fury introduced the previous year, with far less content than the SE model. There was also a new Daytona trim package, although it was little more than badges and decals, hardly worth of the vaunted name. The move did not exactly captivate buyers; sales for 1976 were fewer than 66,000, of which nearly two-thirds were the pricier Cordoba SE. For 1977, Dodge applied the Monaco name to all its intermediates and the base Chargers were replaced by two-door Monacos, again leaving the Charger SE. Sales were much the same as before: fewer than 43,000, still a poor showing compared to other personal luxury coupes. The Charger finally expired after an abbreviated 1978 run. The basic package survived through 1979 as the facelifted Dodge Magnum coupe. It was an ignominious end for one of Dodge’s most interesting cars.

LATTER-DAY CHARGERS

In 1975, shortly after the debut of the ill-fated fourth-generation Charger, Burt Bouwkamp was transferred from Dodge product planning to a new role as executive director of European Product Development, where he was involved in the development of the front-wheel-drive Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni. In 1979, Chrysler introduced hatchback coupe versions of the Horizon and Omni, originally known as the TC3 and O24 respectively.

In 1982, the O24 was renamed the Dodge Omni Charger, festooned with decals and powered by Chrysler’s 2,213 cc (135 cu. in.) OHC four. With 84 net horsepower (63 kW), it was hardly a muscle car, but since it weighed less than 2,400 lb (1,089 kg), it had respectable performance for its era. The following year, Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca renewed his acquaintance with his old friend Carroll Shelby, leading to a new Shelby Charger with 107 horsepower (80 kW) and an even more lavish cosmetic treatment. By 1985, there was also a turbocharged version with a respectable 146 horsepower (109 kW), although it offered the same mixture of torque steer and turbo lag that made its Omni GLH cousin such a handful. The Shelby models never sold in great numbers — usually around 7,500 a year — but they were useful image builders. The last Shelby Charger appeared in 1987, after which both the Omni-based Charger and its sportier derivative were dropped.

Dodge revived the Charger name yet again in 2006 for its LX-platform sedan. The name’s resurrection caused a lot of kvetching among historically minded Dodge fans, since the new Charger was available only as a four-door sedan, not a coupe or hardtop. Nonetheless, the rear-drive Charger’s performance gave away little to its storied predecessor and the 6.1-liter (370 cu. in.) SRT-8 and Super Bee models were even more powerful than the old 426 Hemi. The Charger also returned to NASCAR, although modern stock cars have only the vaguest cosmetic resemblance to their production counterparts.

2008 Dodge Charger NASCAR stocker © 2008 Freewheeling Daredevil (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
Robby Gordon’s 2008 Dodge Charger stock car at Daytona in 2008. (Photo: “Robby Gordon Jim Beam Dodge Charger” © 2008 Freewheeling Daredevil/”The Daredevil”; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

POSTSCRIPT

Despite all its varied incarnations, the Dodge Charger is still most strongly associated with the 1968-1970 generation, survivors of which are prized today. Although less adventuresome than either its predecessor or its successor, the 1968 Charger’s styling remains very pleasing to a wide range of tastes. It was by no means the first American muscle car and whether it was the best is debatable, but it continues to exemplify the breed.

As for the Charger Daytona, it remains a milestone car by any definition. We’ve written before about the etymology of the term Supercar (what most magazines of the sixties called muscle cars) and we’d say that the Daytona bridges the gap between the contemporary and modern definitions of that term. Like the Ford GT40, the Daytona was in some respects quintessentially American — being both crude and ingenious in roughly equal measures — but it had the performance and competition pedigree to match any European exotic of its day. Such aerodynamically radical designs are no longer as unusual as they were 40 years ago, but the Charger Daytona still turns heads and it still has the power to awe.

FIN


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources for the history of the Charger included The Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1966-1967 Dodge Charger” (16 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1966-1967-dodge-charger.htm, accessed 24 February 2010); the transcription of Burton Bouwkamp’s July 2004 presentation “The Birth and Death of the (Original) Dodge Charger,” transcribed on the web at Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 24 February 2010, and “Interview with Burton Bouwkamp (2006, Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 24 February 2010); Jerry Garrett, “Dodge Charger, a Name of Many Shapes,” New York Times 27 December 2004, www.nytimes. com, accessed 24 February 2010; Paul A. Herd and Mike Mueller, Charger, Road Runner and Super Bee (Muscle Car Color History) (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1994); Randy Leffingwell, American Muscle: Muscle Cars From the Otis Chandler Collection Second Edition (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1993); Bryan T. Nicalek, “Charger, Turismo, O24, and TC3: Omni/Horizon Coupes” (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 26 February 2010); Mike O’Donnell, The Dodge Charger Story (11 October 1999, Chicagoland Mopar, www.chicagolandmopar. com/ features/991011.asp, accessed 24 February 2010); Josiah Work, “Fantastic Fastback: 1966 Dodge Hemi-Charger,” Special Interest Autos #111 (May-June 1989), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Chrysler Performance Cars, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000); and David Zatz and Allpar, “The legendary Dodge Charger muscle car” (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, retrieved 24 February 2010). A refresher on the F-102 and the origins of Area Rule came from Robert F. Dorr, “Convair F-102 Delta Dagger,” Century Jets: USAF Frontline Fighters of the Cold War (Norwalk, CT: AIRtime Publishing, Inc., 2003); and Greg Goebel, “The Convair F-102 Delta Dagger & F-106 Delta Dart,” v1.0.1, 1 June 2009, www.airvectors. net/ avf102.html, accessed 1 June 2009.

Information on the history of the Charger 500 and Daytona (and the Road Runner Superbird) came from Patrick Bedard, “1969 Dodge Charger Daytona: Hemi-tough, semi-sensational, and all-over bad,” Car and Driver Vol. 33, No. 6 (December 1988), pp. 123-128; Eric Dahlquist, “Super Super Charger,” Motor Trend Vol. 21, No. 8 (August 1969), pp. 34–35; Richard Langworth, “MoPar’s Winged Wonders,” Special Interest Autos #45 (May-June 1978), pp. 52–57; Steve Magnante, “Phantoms of the Wind Tunnel – 1971 Dodge and Plymouth Phantom Wing Cars,” Hot Rod May 2008, www.hotrod. com, accessed 26 February 2010; John Matras, “Supercar Too Soon: 1969 Charger 500,” Special Interest Autos #140 (March-April 1994), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Chrysler Performance Cars, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2000); Roger Meiners, “Too Fast Too Soon? Engineering the First 200 MPH Lap,” Mopar Magazine November-December 2009, www.moparmagazine. com, accessed 26 February 2010; Curtis Redgap, “Engage! The story of the 200+ mph Dodge Charger Daytona” (2006, Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 24 February 2010), “On The Wings of a Snow White…Dodge: A tale of not much time, a lot of money and an absolute commitment to win” (2006, Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 24 February 2010), and “Which came first, the Plymouth or the Petty?” (2003, Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 24 February 2010); A.B. Shuman, “The Thing of Shapes to Come,” Motor Trend Vol. 22, No. 1 (January 1970), pp. 38–41; and Daniel Strohl, “Buyer’s Guide: 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona,” Hemmings Muscle Machines #33 (June 2006), pp. 70-75. Special thanks also to readers “econobiker” and “Jackmac” for clarifying the details of the 1975-1977 Chargers.

We also consulted the following period road tests: “Car and Driver: Dodge Charger,” Car and Driver November 1967; “Dodge’s Larger Charger,” Road Test March 1968; “Car Life Road Test: The Dodge Scat Pack,” Road Test, April 1968; “Car Life Road Test: The Crown Comes Back,” Car Life April 1969; Karl Ludvigsen, “The incredible Dodge Daytona!” Modern Motor October 1969; Allan Girdler, “As a speed machine, the Charger Daytona is the greatest thing since plastic flowers,” Car Life November 1969; and “Car Life Road Test: Charger 440 R/T,” Car Life May 1970, reprinted in Dodge Muscle Cars 1967–1970 (Brooklands Books), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1984), and “Dayton Charger: Undisguised Racer,” Road Test December 1969; A.B. Shuman, “The Chargers of the Dodge Brigade,” Motor Trend December 1970; Steve Kelly, “And Super It Is,” Hot Rod February 1971; and “Road Test: Dodge Charger SE,” Car and Driver March 1971, reprinted in Dodge Muscle Portfolio 1964–1971, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2003); and “America’s GTs: Symbol of Our Age,” Motor Trend April 1970. Some of these articles are also reprinted in Charger Muscle Portfolio, 1966-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1995).

This article’s title was suggested by a catchphrase that originated in the 1943 song “Coming Home on a Wing and a Prayer,” composed by Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh. It subsequently inspired the title of the 1944 20th Century Fox war film A Wing and a Prayer and became part of the popular vernacular.


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12 Comments

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  1. Great read as always!

  2. Thanks for the well done story. One of my all time favorite cars.I’ve had a few of them over the years and have a 06 Daytona now. The street version of the 1969 Daytona’s had a steel nose not fiberglass. Keep up the good work!

  3. Excellent research.

    I wanted to mention that I owned one of the de-contented 1976 Chargers in the 1980s. It was a base model that shared more (front header panel/bumper and rear trunk / taillight arrangement, interior) with the Plymouth Monaco 2dr than with the top line model based on the Cordoba. This base, 225 Slant Six, dog dish hubcap, am radio only, equipped vehicle had only two options- automatic transmission and rear window defroster- no a/c or anything. It was truly de-contented though as it lacked plastic engine bay splash panels between the front header and radiator support ( which I acquired from a junkyard Plymouth Monaco ) and under hood insulation. It did had a huge 25 gallon fuel tank (probably for the V-8) and could get 17-21 mpg highway driving so it had a decent driving range. So equipped, this model was advertised as a fuel economy option as listed in an July 1976 Dodge advertisement in Reader’s Digest.

    1. Interesting! I knew they had de-contented it, but I hadn’t realized they’d gone to such extremes.

  4. It wasn’t so much “decontenting”, but that there were really two different Chargers in 1976. The two door body (shared with the concurrent Plymouth Fury) that had been badged as a Coronet in 1975 was given the Charger name in ’76. So there were these base model Chargers, as well as the Charger SE, the Cordoba based model that had debuted for ’75. This lasted for the one year only, as the Monaco name moved to the B-body for 1977.

    1. Jackmac,
      That makes much more sense as I was wrong about the Plymouth Monaco junkyard parts car versus Coronet or Fury name. I crossed my wires in remembering the Chilton repair book that covered the Furys, Monacos, Chargers and Cordobas. The base Chargers truly didn’t share much with the Charger SE in regards to front end, rear end treatments and interiors. Interesting to find that the base Charger/Fury was 1976 only. Not very collectible but neat to know this oddity.

      One other de-contented item that rubbed me wrong about that car was that the rear seat wing windows were fixed in place yet their leading edges were rubber stripped to meet the door windows as if they would have rolled down (unlike the SE/Cordoba cars which had moldings around the windows.) I got into the interior panel at that point to see what was what. It looked like Dodge had intended to have it roll down, like earlier model year Chargers, but yet again de-contented and fixed it in place. It would have been nice for the rear seat passengers if the windows could have rolled down in that non-a/c car. I checked the junkyards at the time but earlier Chargers had different window and crank hardware dimensions.

      I also forgot to mention that the ’76 Charger didn’t have a passenger side mirror either though the appropriate hump was still on the door skin.

    2. Ah, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of the connection with the B-body Fury, but that explains a great deal. I’ve amended the text to better reflect that relationship.

      Thanks to both of you!

  5. The wing on the Charger Daytona was made to add downforce and keep the rear wheels on the ground. It had nothing to do with opening the deck lid.

    1. The purpose of the wing was to add downforce, yes; the [i]height[/i] of the wing was dictated in part by the desire to have the trunklid open on street cars. The aerodynamicists who designed the Daytona said they could have gotten the same downforce with a shorter wing (the downforce was primarily determined by the shape of the airfoil, not the height of its support struts).

  6. My mom had a 1977 SE, and absolutely loved that car. We actually kept it until 1984, when an accident did enough damage to total it. Unlike many, we had very few mechanical problems with it, likely due to the fact that my Dad’s best friend was a factory service rep and we bought his demonstrator. That car had likely been nearly rebuilt over the year he owned it to fix the problems. He also left a box of spare notorious ignition computers in the trunk…and we went through a couple of them.

    But my mom still talks about that car.

  7. Regarding the front “fender blisters” on the Charger Daytona, I’ve never seen a picture of a race car (NASCAR or USAC) at speed riding low enough that they would be needed for tire clearance and I’ve seen quite a few pictures. Exhausting the high air pressure from the front wheel wells seems the obvious reason they are on the car, the race teams cut a hole in the fender under the blister to accomplish this.

  8. In his autobiography, Bobby Allison claimed that he was the first driver to hit a 200 mph in Daytona. He claimed that he did it earlier the same day when Buddy Baker did it. Allison claimed that he was asked not to say anything and was surprised to find out, later than same day, that Dodge said that Baker did it.
    Allison believes that the reason was that he wasn’t a Mopar guy. In 1969 Allison drove Dodge on speedways, but drove a Chevy Chevelle on shorter tracks because it was much smaller and did better against the traffic on small tracks. He felt that Chrysler didn’t want a Chevy guy to be the first one who would hit 200 mph in a Dodge Daytona.

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