Dodge hit the midsize-muscle market running in 1966 with a luxurious fastback Charger. Hagerty’s Eddy Eckart chronicles the history of the Charger nameplate, from rare badge-engineered Dart to the 1966-1967 DODGE CHARGER: HORSEPOWER & HERITAGE!


Ask enthusiasts the first thing they think of when they hear “Dodge Charger,” and they’re bound to mention Hellcats or reference the 1968-70 second-generation cars, which were popular in their own right before securing their everlasting fame through starring roles onscreen in Bullitt and The Dukes of Hazzard. Chances are slim, though, that the first-generation Charger – 1966-1967 DODGE CHARGER: HORSEPOWER & HERITAGE! – would come up among any but the most die-hard Mopar fans.

It might be well-hidden in the shadows of the high-flying second-generation and 700+ horse modern siblings, but when properly equipped, the first Charger was able to hold its own on the street while offering up design elements and an interior that set it apart from other intermediate-sized muscle of the period. Today, the first-gen car is more affordable and rare than its more popular 1968-’70 successor and provides a chance to differentiate from what’s become the Charger mainstream.

In the early 1960s, Dodge was looking to liven up its image and showcase its upcoming 426-cubic-inch Hemi engine. The 1964 Dodge Hemi Charger concept was born, a two-seat roadster built off an existing two-door Polara. Unfortunately, the Hemi suffered from some early production issues, so the car didn’t get one in time for its national tour. It did, however, succeed in creating some buzz for the brand.

That same year, Plymouth rolled out its Barracuda, which was immediately overshadowed by Ford’s launch of the Mustang. Eager to get in on the game, Dodge sought a smaller, youth-oriented model of its own based on the Barracuda, but parent Chrysler said no—it’d have to make do with an intermediate-sized model instead.

1966-'67 DODGE CHARGER: HORSEPOWER & HERITAGE!While plans for that car began to get underway, the Charger nameplate first graced a production model in 1965 as a sporty trim level on the “senior compact” Dart. Only 480 Dart Chargers were made, all in yellow (although there is some evidence that one silver car exists), all sporting 273-cubic inch V-8s. In an era when cars received constant visual updates, the Dart’s 1963 redesign was already showing its age, so Dodge teased the upcoming model’s new look with the Charger II concept ahead of the production car’s unveiling.

In 1966, Dodge finally got its sporty coupe. The new Charger was based on Coronet underpinnings and shared much of its front bodywork (along with suspension and brakes) with that model, but was set apart by a striking, large fastback, hidden headlights, and a clean full-width taillight. The swept roofline was distinctive and eye-catching among the more mundane three-box intermediate-size designs of the time, though its looks wouldn’t be considered as sleek, or ultimately as brand-defining, as its 1968 successor.


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