The Dodge Charger first appeared as a show car in 1964; from 1965 to 1967, sleek, low production Chargers based on the Dodge Coronet were sold, with limited success. The success of the 1968 Dodge Charger can almos certainly be placed on its styling, after dismal sales of the otherwise similar 1967 cars. The new “Coke bottle” look made the Charger one of the best-looking muscle cars in the US, with many considering it the best-looking performance car of the 1960s.
Dodge general manager Robert B. McCurry called the second-generation Charger a full-sized sports car, praising its “jet-age aerodynamic styling.” A radical departure from the 1966 Charger, the new one continued its performance image. The company wrote that the “wedge-form” shifted emphasis to the rear wheels, with a forward thrusting look from there. The curved sides and gauges canted to the dirver were said to be an the aircraft cockpit theme.
The 117 inch wheelbase Charger had a longer, lower hood line, a small integrated spoiler at the end of the rear deck, concealed headlights, an integrated bumper with vertical bumper guards, simulated wastegates in the hood and body sides, a large quick-fill gas cap located aft on the quarter panel, and bumper mounted parking lights to resemble rallye lights.
The interior was redone, with front bucket seats with an optional center cushion console, all done in vinyl; the company added a rallye clock and map pockets. Safety features included a new stove box door hinged at the top so that it could not fail open and downward, and window crank knots made of soft plastic formed into a tulip shape to yield in an impact. The top of the front seat back had a corrugated section metal structure covered in energy-absorbing foam, and the dash was padded for leg and knee protection. Other standard safety features included recessed ashtrays, power window safety lockout, and requiring the ignition to be on for power switches to be activated. Optional safety equipment included front seat head restraints, lap belts for center seat passengers (when the console was not ordered), shoulder belts for front and rear outboard passengers, a padded steering wheel, and a rear window defogger. The standard engine in the Charger was the 318 cubic inch V-8. Options incline the 383 cubic inch two barrel V8, the 426 Hemi, and the 440 Magnum. The company also added the hot Charger R/T, which wa equipped like its four-door brother, the Coronet R/T — with a standard 440 Magnum, heavy duty suspension and brakes, and the bulletproof Torqueflite 727 three-speed automatic (or an optional four-speed manual). The rear bumblebee stripes were a deletable option. Dodge wrote, “This is no dream car. It’s a real ‘take-me-home-and-let’s stir-things-up-a-bit’ automobile.” The 1968 Charger came in a choice of six interior and 17 exterior colors. In 1968, three out of every four Chargers sold were equipped with a vinyl top. 1968 Charger sales were far higher than expected; product planners assumed they would sell 20,000 to 35,000, but built 96,000. Hemi sales went up to 467, still quite small (the option cost over a quarter as much as the car), but better than the prior year. To meet the increased sales production at the Hammtramack, Michigan plant was tripled and a Charger production line was added at St. Louis, Missouri. The Charger accounted for 16% of Dodge car sales in 1968, and ran 460% higher than in 1967. The Charger was a runaway success, by Dodge standards.
For the next two years, Dodge was torn between the usual annual styling changes and not wanting to mess with a good thing; they made minor changes to the grille as a compromise. The 1968 has a chrome bumper under the grille, the 1969 has a chrome center divider in the grille, and the 1970 has a rectangular chrome bumper around the grille.
The Dodge Charger 500 could have been named after the number made — 500 — by Creative Industries (from standard Chargers), solely to meet NASCAR sales rules. They used a Coronet grille and a flush, more-slanted rear window to eliminate aerodynamic problems that hurt it in races with Ford’s lower-power but more slippery racing models. The same year saw the Charger Daytona, with its massive rear spoiler and aero nose; no other car could match it for top speed (setting a record of 200 mph), with its standard 440 and optional Hemi. Its looks were not appreciated in 1969. The slant six was added to the range, unaccountably; only about 500 were sold.
For 1969, Dodge refined the Charger, using a new grille and tail light treatment to bolster the sporty image. New vinyl roof treatments and exterior colors were optional, to appeal to the youthful driver. Engineering innovations ranged from manual tilt seat adjusters and easier rear door lock buttons to improved brake adjusters and headlights on warning buzzer.
The Charger gained a divided grille with six functional air vents in the divider piece, resembling dual intakes. Near wall-to-wall rectangular tail lights replaced the dual, round projecting lights used on the 1968s. These lights are surrounded by a black insert as they were in 1968 to retain Charger’s highway identity. A high rate “rallye” suspension, including a sway bar, was standard. The R/T and 500 models had special handling packages with heavy duty torsion bars, heavy duty shocks, extra heavy duty rear springs, and sway bars. The options included cruise control, front disc brakes, a tachometer, rear window defogger, and radio up to a stereo tape player.
A new optional Special Edition decor group for Charger and Charger R/T models boasted leather bucket seats, a wood-grain steering wheel, and wood grain inserts on the instrument panel. These cars have SE nameplates on the roof pillars, bright trimmed pedals, deep dish wheel covers, and a light group with a time delay ignition light and hood mounted turn signal indicators….An even wider array of vinyl top choices were optional, adding tan, green, black, and white. The standard engine was the 318 cubic inch V8, but buyers could drop down to the slant six; only 500 did. Two optional 383s were sold, with two and four barrel carburetors. In the Charger R/T, which accounted for 21 percent of 1968 Charger sales, the 440 C.I.D. Magnum, 375 H.P. power plant was standard and the 426 C.I.D., 425 H.P. Hemi was optional.