It was really a shame I was just three years old.
A station wagon had taken its place by the time I was old enough to appreciate it, but for a time while I was a toddler, a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T was sitting in our driveway. It wasn’t much in the way of a family car, but in 1968 the mini-van concept wasn’t even a glint in Iacoccas eye and the fuel crisis was still a half-decade on the horizon, so why not? Appearing as a show car in 1964, the Dodge Charger first appeared to the public from 1965 to 1967, and sleek, low production Chargers based on the Dodge Coronet were sold with very limited success.
Then came the 1968 version of the Dodge Charger. 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. Then Dodge general manager Robert B. McCurry praised the 68 version with its “jet-age aerodynamic styling” and considered it a full-sized sports car. It was a radical departure from the 1966 Charger. The company wrote that the “wedge-form” shifted emphasis to the rear wheels, with a forward thrusting look from there and the curved sides and gauges canted to the driver were said to be an aircraft cockpit theme.
With a 117-inch wheelbase, the Charger had a longer, lower hood line and a small integrated spoiler at the end of the rear deck. It had 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 rally lights added to the styling upgrades.
For safety, Dodge affixed the new glove-box door hinged at the top instead of the bottom – so it couldn’t fall onto your knees – and window crank knobs which were made of a yielding soft plastic. The top of the front seat back had a metal structure covered in energy-absorbing foam and the dash was padded for leg and knee protection. Ashtrays were recessed, and the power windows had a safety lockout to stop kids from playing with them and couldn’t be used unless the ignition was on. Options now included front head restraints, front center lap belts for cars without consoles, shoulder belts for front and rear outboard passengers, a padded steering wheel and a rear window defogger.
For me, all those changes led to countless weekend trips to Hobart, Indiana, and the US 30 Dragstrip. Afternoons of holding my ears from the noise and watching all the gear-heads under the hoods flexing their muscles were an integral part of my growing up!
The 68 Charger’s “Muscle” was a standard 318 cubic-inch V-8, but many opted for the 383 two-barrel V8, the 426 Hemi, and the 440 Magnum. Ours was the 440, which was part of the new-for-1968 Charger R/T package. Much like the more conventionally styled Coronet R/T, which shared the same platform the 440 Magnum, the souped-up Charger boasted heavy duty suspension and brakes, and a choice of the Torqueflite 727 three-speed automatic (or an optional four-speed manual), with rear bumblebee stripes. Dad’s Charger was an R/T – royal blue, with the black honey-bee stripes and a white vinyl top. At the track, he called it “My Goodness”.
Sales for the 1968 Charger were far higher than expected. At the time, 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, Dodge upped the production at the Hamtramck, Michigan plant three-fold as well as adding a Charger production line at the St. Louis, Missouri plant. The Charger accounted for 16 percent of Dodge car sales in 1968, and ran 460 percent higher than in 1967.
Dodge wrote, “This is no dream car. It’s a real ‘take-me-home-and-let’s stir-things-up-a-bit’ automobile.” It certainly stirred things up, at least in my house. Trips to the dragstrip and the memories of my Dad and uncles hunched over the hood on the weekends are the best part the Charger for me – the memories of a much simpler time.