Wednesday, September 1, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1966 Dodge Charger

It seems fitting to me to start the second hundred features of this blog with a notable first. So, today we look at the greatest iteration of a first-year model, the 1966 Dodge Charger equipped with the 426 cubic inch "Hemi" V8 engine.
Car enthusiasts don't all agree about the Hemi. Some think it's God's gift to Mopar performance cars, and vehicles so equipped are highly sought-after and command astronomical prices. Others lambast the Hemi as a heavy, barely streetable lump that runs poorly under normal driving conditions.
Likewise, the Charger is what we all remember the Duke Boys jumping barns with. It's what the bad guys drove in Bullitt. But this isn't THAT Charger. The iconic '68-70 bodystyle with its sharply sculpted Coke-bottle shape and badass demeanor just oozes cool. This is, for all intents and purposes, a two-door Dodge Coronet with a roofline cribbed from a Rambler Marlin.
But that's not to diminish the first-generation Charger any. Pretty much all American muscle cars had their roots in humble family cars, whether it was the Chevy II-based Camaro, Valiant-based Barracuda, Tempest-based GTO or Falcon-based Mustang. And where the Mustang (a much smaller vehicle) was an image car, the first Charger was a homologation special so that Dodge could use the new aerodynamic fastback roofline in NASCAR. The best part was, it was a race car disguised as a grand tourer, with luxury touches throughout. The new Charger was V8-only, from a 318 grocery-getter to a romping-stomping 440. And the styling wasn't exactly plain. While its Coronet roots were evident, the Charger featured cleverly integrated hideaway headlights and a cool full-width taillamp design. Interior layout featured four bucket seats with a full-length console.
As in all Chrysler vehicles, the Hemi engine sold poorly among Charger customers. It was the hardcore performance choice, made primarily for racing. Dodge sold the engine in street cars to satisfy the 1000-sale requirement for eligibility to use Hemis in NASCAR. Assuming the badging is correct, this car is one of just 468 Hemi-equipped Chargers sold in 1966.
As it sits, the Charger is a fairly striking vehicle. With its bold lines and bolder red paint, it jumped right out at me when I walked past the Tenderloin auto shop where I sometimes see classics parked. (This is the third blog feature I've sourced from that place.) I can't vouch for the authenticity of the Hemi nomenclature on the fenders, particularly given the custom wheels and what appear to be custom side-exit exhaust. Still, as an example of the breed, I think it does the trick and looks pretty amazing while doing it.

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