THE ’66 DODGE CHARGER | MY FIRST TRUE LOVE/WHEELS

 

The 1966 Dodge Charger, a muscle car legend.

1966 Dodge Charger– 426 Street Hemi engine option available that produced well over 425 bhp.

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I bought my ’66 Dodge Charger off a guy up the road for $750 when I was 18. She’d sat there a good long time, but this was Arizona– dry as a bone, so no body rot. Came home hitched to a tow truck– and I know my mom wasn’t too excited about the new lawn ornament. The old 383 V-8 needed a rebuild, and body was a little dinged– but she was unmolested and all original. So what if it didn’t run yet– she was mine. If only I had held on to her– but I ran outta time, money and energy. More than that– I had a girlfriend with plans to move us down to Tucson to attend the U of A. Never should’ve let her go– the Charger that is. It still pains me, but what’s done is done… Guys, listen to your gut and hold on to a good thing. Like your dream car.

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The 1966 Dodge Charger

The 1966 Dodge Charger– the fastback that’s full-sized and fully loaded.

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The 1966 Dodge Charger was introduced on New Years Day– a late but lethal answer to the Mustang and Baracuda fastback frenzy.  Based on the Coronet, the Charger came packed with serious muscle that few street cars could compete with.  The ’66 Charger debuted one of the most legendary and talked-about engines ever– the 426 Street Hemi.  The Hemi engine had been available in prior years, but the 426 Street option was designed for exactly that– performance on the street.  Rated at 425 bhp, some say it actually produced closer to 500 bhp.  That dog will hunt, son.

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1966 Dodge Charger fastback with concealed headlamps.

1966 Dodge Charger fastback with concealed headlamps that rolled-back when not in use.

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1966 Dodge Charger-- Boss Hoss!

1966 Dodge Charger– Boss Hoss available with a 426 Street Hemi!

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The Charger’s concealed headlamps, luminous backlit gauges and roomy interior were a true work of art. With two bucket seats in the front, it also had two more in the back that could fold down for storage. The console also reached all the way to the back seat. It felt luxurious and sporty all at once. Sadly, the full length console was nixed with the release of the ’67 model.

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The 1966 Dodge Charger's amazing interior.

The 1966 Dodge Charger’s amazing interior.

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1967 gave birth to a new Mopar performance engine– the 440 Magnum. This was their biggest engine yet, and produced 375 bhp. Impressive as it was– it was still no Hemi. The 440 Magnum could keep up off the line, but the Hemi would quickly outpace it once 60 mph was exceeded. For most, the extra power the Hemi provided wasn’t worth the added expense ($1,000 upgrade at the time) and hassles. The 440 Magnum was cheaper than the Hemi, and easier to tune and maintain– good enough for most motorheads. Still, the true racers were loyal to the badass 426 Hemi.

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The 1967 Dodge Charger R/T

The 1967 Dodge Charger R/T

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1967 Dodge Charger ad

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1968 brought a drastic and commercially successful restyling to the Dodge Charger. The new “Coke bottle” look made the Charger one of the best-looking muscle cars, period, with many considering it the best-looking performance car of the 1960s. Dodge pronounced, “This is no dream car. It’s a real ‘take-me-home-and-let’s stir-things-up-a-bit’ automobile.” Check it out in the iconic car chase scene from Steve McQueen’s classic film Bullitt. Legend has it, the Charger flat-out ran circles around that little Mustang– on and off the set.

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1968 Dodge Charger sales brochure

1968 Dodge Charger R/T sales brochure

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The 1968 Charger came in a choice of six interior and 17 exterior colors. Also in 1968, three out of every four Chargers sold were equipped with a vinyl top.

The 1968 Charger came in a choice of six interior and 17 exterior colors. Also in 1968, three out of every four Chargers sold were equipped with a vinyl top.  Pictured here is a ’69 Charger R/T.

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The 1969 Charger introduced a new center grill divider and recessed tail lights, but other than that the exterior was basically the same.  Note the intentional omission to any reference of a certain obnoxious Confederate flag wearing ’69 Charger that was responsible for scores of Chargers meeting an untimely demise.  Yee-haw buddy?  Yawn.

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1969 Dodge Charger

1969 Dodge Charger R/T

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The Charger Daytona 500, with a flush-mounted grille and rear window, stormed on the racing scene in 1969.  In accordance with NASCAR rules, 500 production units had to be produced in order to qualify as a production model, and allow them to race on the stock car circuit.  Dodge produced 505.  The Charger Daytona eliminated aerodynamic problems that previously hurt it in comparison to Ford’s lower-power but more slippery racing models. Turns out Mopar had an ace up their sleeve– extensive wind tunnel testing. The Daytona included a massive rear spoiler and an aero nose. No other car could match it for top speed (200 mph), with its standard 440 and optional Hemi.  In 11 years of racing, the Dodge Charger — running in close to stock form — won 124 NASCAR Cup races and took three drivers to five championships.  Richard Petty won three of his seven titles behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger, according to Dodge.

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1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

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Fred Lorenzen's 1969 Dodge Daytona Charger race car.

Fred Lorenzen’s 1969 Dodge Daytona Charger race car.

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1969 Dodge Daytona Charger with a cheeky little straggler.

1969 Dodge Daytona Charger with a cheeky little straggler.

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1A beautiful example of a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona.

A beautiful example of a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona.

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1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

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Dodge Charger Daytona-- going green.

Dodge Charger Daytona– going green.

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Warning: I can not control myself and feel the compulsory need to pile on more vintage ads–

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Dodge Charger

1968 Dodge Charger R/T ad

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1968 Dodge Charger Ramrod ad

1968 Dodge Charger R/T Ramrod ad

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Dodge Charger vintage ad

1968 Dodge Charger R/T vintage ad

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Vintage Dodge Charger ad

Vintage 1969 Dodge Charger R/T ad

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Vintage Lee Trevino Dodge Charger ad

Vintage Lee Trevino 1969 Dodge Charger ad

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Vintage Dodge Charger ad

Vintage 1969 Dodge Charger R/T ad

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After ’69 I lose interest… increasing gas prices and stricter federal emissions regulations end the true American muscle car era.  Sure, the Charger and others limp on, but it just ain’t the same.  They don’t look the same either– styling really starts to suffer.  1971 really signals the beginning of the uglies.

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1970 Dodge Charger brochure

1970 Dodge Charger brochure

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The Dodge Charger... tickled pink?  Really?

The Dodge Charger… tickled pink? Really?

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1971 Dodge Charger ad

1971 Dodge Charger ad

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Vintage Dodge Charger brochure

Vintage Dodge Charger Super Bee brochure

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Vintage Dodge Charger Super Bee ad cont.

Vintage Dodge Charger R/T ad cont.

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1972 Dodge Charger ad

1972 Dodge Charger ad– Oh, you’ve topped yourself alright…

AAA

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27 thoughts on “THE ’66 DODGE CHARGER | MY FIRST TRUE LOVE/WHEELS

  1. my father sold his Cobra on the wishes of my mother to buy the house I grew up in…decent trade but still regrets it daily I imagine. Thoughts on the new version…?

    • The new Charger/Challenger– heck even the Camaro and Mustang for that matter, just seem plastic and soul-less. If I was going to buy a modern day American sports car it would be a Viper.

  2. Great Post! I don’t know if it makes me want more to be in the car business or the Ad Agency business back then. Great recollection of the “Spoiler Wars” … saw an interview last night with Fred Lorenzen. I remeber as a kid, riding over with a buddy and his dad, in a Dodge Dart by the way, to the Darlington Raceway during time trials and seeing firsthand the “Wing-Spoiler” cars.

    Thanks.

  3. Great article. My love is lost to the ’66, but all the old ads are great, as well as the omission.

    And I agree wholeheartedly about the soullessness of the new ‘retro’ styled cars… my father and I took a trip this past Fourth and couldn’t contain our disgust for long.

  4. Great post, JP. i was on 295 this weekend and saw a guy with a 1970 challenger with what looked to be an original 340 six pack(that’s what the hood said anyways). i thought about that car for the rest of the day.

    one thing though, JP, i would 1970 was the apex of the era being that the judge from that year and the GSX- two of the fastest musclecars ever- both came out that year…

  5. Thanks for the images. Don’t tell anyone but I’m old enough to remember car shopping with the folks and sitting in the back seat of a brand new ’66 Charger in a showroom. However, Mom nixed the deal because she didn’t like the buckets seats and we wound up with a ’66 Dart instead. I did learn that its far too easy to make perfectly horrible mistakes in life.

  6. Awesome vintage Dodge Charger ads! They are fabulous. Thanks so much for the walk down memory lane.

    When my husband and I were in high school he had a gold ’71 Charger R/T 440/six pack that we cruised around in. A “friend” in a ’72 Maverick challenged him to a drag race one night and when the police sirens started the loser pulled over right away and supplied name, address and specifics for the other car that the cop couldn’t even identify. My boyfriend lost his license for 9 months. My mother-in-law-to-be was not sympathetic and traded in the Charger for a 1973 Chevy Vega.

    That was tough but he soon got his ’71 Cuda also with the 440/6. Too bad we didn’t know then…

    Oh well, time passes but the dream never dies. We now entertain ourselves with a ’72 Dart Swinger that we improved with a ’69 340. Speaking of fabric…the car came with the very popular houndstooth seat inserts. When we went to get them updated we found an elderly gentleman in the business who just happened to know a place in Colorado that had purchased bolts of the original fabric from Chrysler when they stopped using it. We were able to get the seat inserts reupholstered with original fabric!

    Again, awesome post. Thanks much.

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  8. good post. Might have pointed out the platform change 66-67/68-70/70 up but a nice pile of vintage ads. You should have shown the 68 taillights, far and away my favorite muscle car rear panel.
    So can we expect a nice long post on the pinnacle of early muscle car design, the 71 GTX?

  9. It reminded me of VANISHING POINT, but then i realized it was a Challenger …. i guess ….

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  11. I have an 08′ Challenger SRT8 500 – Hemi orange with black stripes. Spectacular dream car which I love dearly and hope to own well into my yonder years. I have all the respect in the world for the spectacular machines in it’s heritage, but I like all the new toys in mine ;)

  12. My friend had both the 1966 and 1967 Charger. They were brutes and I had many a memorable night with him as we blew every other car off the road. In his true fashion he had to get a Daytona. This car was just unbelievable. It was down right scary from 0-100 mph and after that I’m not sure wether or not the shorts had to be changed. These were great cars by any standard. I tried to purchase the Daytona off him quite a few times but never got through to him. Sadly he passed away and his family disposed of every thing with out letting me know. Well, I’ll just have to keep wishing. Oh, by the way, he was a close enough friend to let me drive on occasion.

  13. Its nice to see that there is someone else out there that understands this small piece of forgotten American culture. Everything just seems so plastic and disposable now a days. These cars and everything about them personified and represented all that was great in American culture. Built by hand in America for the speed hungry youth market. They roared away on the back streets drag racing, and providing many of back seat happy times for a maturing audience coming of age.

    I actually own a 69 Daytona, once owned by the the legendary figure “Big Willie Robinson” of the LA street racers back in the 70′s. This vehicle guest appeared in the movie “2 lane Blacktop” as well but back then it was painted red with black tail stripe. Now its a faded banana yellow with black tail stripe. When the car popped up on e-bay many years ago, I grabbed it. The fact it escaped the gas wars, weather, and the crusher was amazing to me. I had to have for nostalgic reasons. Anything from the 70′s for that matter I collect, vintage selvedge Levis jeans, gas station signs, dub plates, and over 15 vintage muscle cars. No wonder my wife hasn’t kicked me out the house yet.

    Keep up the great post’s, I truly relate to them.

    As they used to say back then “Race in Sunday sell on Monday”.

  14. I sort of get many of the the ‘ gee, i wish i was there then ‘ comments posted here. But there’s an alternative view / second way to get with the program too.

    I’m one of a group of T G U S C F T E S*, over here in the UK. None of us were over ‘there’ back then, but its just not really been a problem.

    My feelinf is. if yer savvy enuf to look past the obvious choices, then there’s LOADS of cars to keep that good gas flowin’ in yer veins.

    In our crew are Galaxies, Coronet, Falcons, Torinos, Newports, Lincolns, a OHC 66 Tempest, a 52 Chevy pick-up to name a few (and for laughs a 60s Giardiniera). ALL were bought for WAY, way less than the obvious choices of Camaro, Hemis and so on.

    None of this UK crew were ‘there back then’ (being in their 30s and 40s )AND ’tis only this writer (being in his 50s and US born) with a direct lineage to the cars and period.

    But, ALL of the UK crew really ‘get’ what these acars are all about. They surprise me with their passion and knowledge eva’ day.

    S’funny, when growing up in the states, with my pa at a Pontiac (then Renault!)then Ford dealership, I felt I had somthing of an inside line to these cars’ their magic spell

    and for 30 years I tried to persuade my USA pals to get with the program. None of them ever did get it (but when over on biz, boy! do they love the late nite tours ’round London in the 66 NYer.

    But over here in Blighty, they def do get it… and we’re all the better for it.

    So, keep your eyes peeled for some sixties metal. It doesn’t HAVE to be a Charger,, Hemi, Barracuda… There’s other fish out there.

    Put the pedal to the metal ‘n get livin’…

    rickk

    * T G U S C F T E S =
    Those Great US Cars From Thirties – Early Seventies

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  16. al plowman my dads friend had a elvis presley / richard petty SPEEDway white 440 66 charger w/ the green lights in the dash & the cool glass. My dad hAd a 69 rivera w/ a oversq 430 BUICK, made by GM vp who also headed BUICK. Plowman said U couldn’t get a warranty w/ the 426 HEMI that was an option & besides the 426 was a HIGH rpm breather, 440 MAG was a torque stump puller. After my Dad died plowman wanted 2 sell the DODGE, I got my brother the rivy in the probate. He wanted a GRAND and my brother a chevy GEEK didn’t want 2 buy it. I forced him into it as I could make him a profit.

    I moved 2 LA and he decided 2 VISIT in that he wanted 2 MOVE. FR: sf Bay area 2 hollywood. Down the 5 , he averaged 116, @ 100 he asked my brother how fast & he said 65. @ 120 plus he said the puppy just sat down & flew. The cracked tail LIT was impossible 2 fin back when, got a used ONE , he sold the car 4 $3500. He still laughes about not wanting IT

  17. Just a note, I purchased a 1966 Dodge Charger on March 28, 1966, and still have the original paper work with my signature, oh yeah I still have the car and still drive it today to shows and car events. The car is dead factory stock and is in perfect condition. Oh, one other item, I ordered this car in October of 1965 and picked it up from McGinty Dodge in Indianapolis in March, I forgot to mention that this car is a factory 426 Hemi, 425 HP, of which there were only appx. 300 built in the 1966 model year, and there are only a very few left today (maybe less than 5 cars).
    Also I should mention that I couldn’t help myself, in December 2005 when the new charger was reintroduced I purchased a 2006 charger SRT8, 425 HP on December 9, 2005 from Dick Scott Dodge Plymouth, Michigan.
    I drive the 66 (dark green metalic with black interior) mostly to car shows and cruise events only, and drive the 06 (brillant black SRT interior) in the summer only. I love driving both cars and do so as often as time allows.

  18. I know that everyone wants to have selective memories, but please don’t leave out the resurgence of the Charger name in the early ’80′s. I understand they were just 4 cylinder cars and I understand they didn’t melt the tires with enough horsepower to pull a train, but these are part of the heritage and should be remembered as such.

    Also, and probably most importantly these cars were enhanced in cooperation with Carroll Shelby himself. That in the least should make them an important part of Charger nameplate history, but the fact that the Shelby Chargers and later the GLHS’ were just about the quickest car of that time period, with fairly good gas mileage, should at least give them a footnote in Charger lore.

    Thanks.

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