Dodge Charger 1966-1973 - Buyer's Guide

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Stuart Grant

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These big fastbacks make a good alternative to more popular American muscle cars. Here's a look back at our buyer's guide from 2009

The 200 or so Dodge Chargers that during the past 40 years have given their lives spectacularly on film and celluloid have spared thousands of others from scrap-heap oblivion.

The rise to desirability began with nine minutes of tyre-shredding mayhem as Steve McQueen (Frank Bullitt) jousted with a sinister black ’68 model. It continued a decade later with Bo and Luke Duke ritually sacrificing half a dozen Chargers per episode in the mindless but entertaining Dukes of Hazzard.

By the early 1980s, the Hazzard producers who had been snapping up unwanted Chargers at a few hundred dollars apiece had unwittingly sent values soaring (adding significantly to the cost of their stunt fodder) and helped elevate even humble versions of this ‘B Body’ Dodge to muscle car stardom.

| Read next: 1969 Dodge Charger 'General Lee'

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While few were sold here new, Chargers have a good following in Australia thanks to appearances in the Dukes of Hazzard and Bullitt. And unless you’re after a revered Hemi version, they’re reasonably affordable

Dodge released its first Charger late in 1965 as an alternative to Pontiac’s dominant GTO. Barrels of development money could have been saved by simply offering a warmed-over Coronet hardtop, but the first Charger came with a unique fastback shape, special interior including a folding rear seat and concealed headlights.

| Read next: Dodge Charge review

At a time when most large US cars retained a separate body and chassis, the unitary-construction Dodge was more than 100kg lighter than most rivals. With the 6.9-litre ‘street Hemi’ V8 an option, it also delivered more performance than any other full-sized model on the US market.

Despite – or perhaps because of – the Charger’s spectacular shape, sales during its first two production years were disappointing and it took a complete makeover to unleash the model’s full potential.

The ‘cigar shape’ 1968 car maintained the fastback profile but used an inset rear window for improved rear vision. This change unwittingly created greater drag and problems for those who had been enjoying spectacular Nascar success with the previous model.

The response was a short-lived ‘500’ homologation version with a flush-mount rear window intended to reduce high-speed turbulence. But nailing the 500’s rear wheels more securely to the track generated greater front-end instability and the model was quickly replaced by the outrageously aerodynamic Daytona.

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Although early cars could be found with a 3.7-litre six-cylinder engine, virtually every Charger had a V8 of some description. Most popular was the 6.3-litre, 383 cubic inch version coupled to three-speed automatic transmission and with a selection of final-drive ratios.

| Read more: 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 'Bullitt' review

Front disc brakes were optional on basic cars but standard on the big-engined R/T and there was the obligatory list of ‘style and comfort’ options that could boost the price of a ’68 Charger from its basic $3014 to well above $5000.

Most desirable of the non-Hemi cars was the R/T version, which came standard with the 280kW ‘Magnum 440’ engine and three-speed auto. Four-speed manual transmission cost $188 extra and the ‘bumble bee’ rear stripe could be deleted at no extra charge.

After 1968, the 500 became a regular mid-range model, with vinyl roof and bucket seats instead of the standard model’s bench.

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A Special Edition pack was also available, deflecting criticism of the Charger’s basic specification by including leather seat trim, fake dash timber, extra interior lights, map pockets and new hubcaps.

Available from 1970, the triple-carburettor ‘440-6 Pack’ engine cost just $119 more than a basic 440, yet just 684 of these ultimate non-Hemi Chargers were sold during their introductory year.

A restyle introduced for 1971 extended the Charger wheelbase and diminished its visual impact but did minimal damage to sales.

With the Hemi engine virtually gone (just 22 sold during 1971) and performance from the once-mighty Magnum diminished by emission compliance, focus shifted to style and standard equipment. The range expanded to include a new Super Bee model with 5.4 or 6.3 litres and an introductory price of only US$3271.

ON THE ROAD

Nobody on the Charger design team seems to have wasted much time turning the Charger into a paragon of chassis sophistication. Up front was Chrysler’s standard fare of torsion bars and control arms, with semi-elliptics at the rear.

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Even the North American car mags, which unashamedly adored the shape and concept of the Charger – not to mention its tack-sharp pricing – weren’t able to gloss over its suspension and steering deficiencies.

"Loose and unwieldy," was Motor Trend’s summation of the power-assisted system fitted to a ’69 Charger R/T that it had pitted against a range of General Motors and Ford-built muscle machines.

The unibody construction came in for a swipe as well, with the magazine’s testers feeling the car was best suited to smooth, sealed surfaces. On roads of lesser quality, the Charger suffered rattles, with body tightness "falling far short" of the Ford and GM cars.

Braking performance with the R/T’s power-assisted discs was decent for a car weighing almost 1800kg and riding on relatively skinny bias-ply rubber. Slamming on the stoppers at 60mph (96km/h) hauled the R/T to a halt in a useful 44 metres.

When testing a Charger – especially one of the big-engined cars – it’s wise to check the tachometer at different speeds then do some calculations. Cars that indicate close to 4000rpm when sitting on 100km/h will likely be running the optional 4.10 rear axle ratio. These deliver amazing acceleration but rev their heads off at cruising pace, producing fuel consumption figures that will dip below the old 10mpg (28.5L/100km) mark.

Bucket front seats were standard on R/T, 500 and SE versions but others came with a slippery and unsupportive bench and column-shift automatic. The steering wheel was large and skinny-rimmed, surrounded by a dash layout that’s comprehensive but a little disorganized.

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Chargers without front disc brakes aren’t common and kits are available ex-USA for around $1000 to upgrade all-drum versions. Modern radial tyres and attention to suspension bushings improve stability and steering response.

Boot space is typically massive but the loading lip is high and extracting the spare wheel from its spot above the rear axle will do a better job on your abs than anything the junk jockeys from morning television can flog you.

HOW MUCH?

Very few Chargers came to Australia as new cars and that’s no bad thing. Right-hand drive conversions back in the 1960s to ’80s certainly weren’t monitored to the same degree as those performed during that past couple of decades and can display some serious engineering deficiencies.

Recent rule changes permit full registration without steering conversion, allowing scarce specification cars to maintain their authenticity and value.

With more than half a million Chargers built in the space of eight years, only a few specific models can be considered rare or more than moderately collectible. Demand, however, has seen basic 5.2-litre V8s in reasonable condition sell for up to $20,000 and very good 6.3-litre cars top $30,000. Non-R/T cars priced above $50,000 need to be in exceptional condition.

Unless the car is a genuine Dukes of Hazzard survivor (of which there reputedly are 18), bright orange paint and big, stupid door numbers will add nothing to the value of an otherwise ordinary Charger.

Genuine R/T cars begin at around $40,000 and extremely good single carburettor cars can exceed $100,000. Finding a genuine V Code 440 6-Pack will be difficult and expensive, with high-quality cars on offer in the USA at $90,000-150,000. 1971 versions of the 6-Pack are 30 percent cheaper than the more popular preceding model.

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

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Body & chassis

Sweeping sheets of steel and minimal attention to rust-proofing make reviving a neglected Charger a time-consuming task. Look at sills, wheel-arches, floors (especially the boot), sub-frame and rear spring attachment points. Good news is availability of reproduction panels; a set of front mudguards, rear quarter panels, full floors and sills costs around US$4000 (plus duty, GST and freight). Make certain that the headlamp doors open and close easily as remanufactured actuators cost US$1000 per pair. With attendant hardware including $200 worth of new vacuum hose, the cost can quickly reach $2000. 40-year-old vinyl tops may have faded or split but replacement material in Boar or the rarer Gator-Grain patterns is available from US suppliers.

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Engine & transmission

Most common in cars available here are 383 and 440 cubic inch ‘big block’ engines and the 5.2-litre ‘Fireball’ used in local Valiants. Both types are durable but the larger units can suffer from overheating. New aluminium radiators are available locally for around $500. Misfiring and backfiring can be a warning of camshaft wear, or at least faulty ignition timing. Parts are easily found; new timing chains under $100 and big-block engines in good condition for less than $3000. High value cars need to be running their original engine block, so seek advice from a marque expert before handing over a major lump of money.

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Suspension & brakes

No serious issues here as all wearing parts are available and at reasonable prices. Older RHD conversions need to be professionally inspected to ensure on-going safety.

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Interior & electrical

Long-term durability wasn’t a big issue when these cars were designed, so it’s common to find lower-priced cars with split seat vinyl and distressed headlining. Virtually everything needed to refurbish a basic Charger interior seems to be available, with kits of replacement seat vinyl in original patterns costing less than $2000. Replacement centre consoles are available for under US$200.

Dodge Charger (1966-73) specs

Number built: 52,778 (1966-67), 235,068 (1968-70), 241,095 (1971-73)
Body: all-steel, unitary construction, two-door hardtop
Engine: 3.7-litre in-line six-cylinder, 5.2, 6.3, 6.9 and 7.2-litre V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor (3 side draft on 440-6 Pack)
Power/torque: 279kW @ 4600rpm/648Nm @ 3200rpm (7.2-litre single carb)
Performance: 0-96km/h – 6.1 seconds. 0-400 metres – 13.9 seconds (7.2 litre auto)
Transmission: three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
Suspension: Front – independent with upper and lower control arms, torsion bars and telescopic shock absorbers. Rear – live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers
Brakes: drum or disc front, drum rear, usually power assisted
Tyres: FR70 and GR78 14 bias ply
Price range: $8000-130,000 (exc. Hemi versions)
Contacts: Dodge Clubs in most states.
Website: www.chargerclub.org.au

 

From Unique Cars #304, Oct/Nov 2009 

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