By Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, please tell me about the 1969 Dodge Charger 500, and how it grew into the Dodge Daytona with the big wing on back and aero front end. Thanks much, and keep these columns coming. Al Miles, Chicago, Ill.
A: Al, I’d be glad to. Specifically, the 1969 Charger 500 was purpose built to compete on the NASCAR tracks and go after the Ford and Mercury domination. Dodge designers decided it was time to strike back aerodynamically and make several changes. They took the 1969 Charger, added a straight rear window along with a new grille to improve downforce on the superspeedways.
The Charger 500 was officially introduced to the public in the fourth quarter of 1968 as a 1969 model. The base entry 500 came with a 440 Magnum V8, while the 426 Hemi was a $648.20 option. The base Charger 500 carried a $3,842.00 retail price and the street model offered several options.
However, the 1969 Charger 500 failed to beat the more aerodynamic Ford Torino and Mercury Talladega cars on the superspeedways, so it was back to the drawing board.
This all leads us directly to the unbelievable 1969 Dodge Daytona and 1970 Plymouth Superbird, the “grand daddies” of them all when it comes to aero and actual public availability. Instead of a grille change and a rear window upgrade, Dodge (and later Plymouth) went full-bore-forward by adding an 18-inch long nose extension and a 23-inch tall rear wing, all of which were tested at Lockheed-Martin’s wind tunnel in Georgia. The wing, by the way, was bolted directly into the rear sub frame so it would hold up at speeds in excess of 200-mph. Chrysler also admits that the rear facing hood “scoops” were necessary for tire clearance, but actually reduced drag by three-percent. Combined with the front nose and rear wing, this setup gave MOPAR the slipstream and downforce needed to defeat the Fords and Mercurys…and boy did it!
To my luck, I was able to attend the 1970 Rockingham 500 thanks to being stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Richard Petty won that day in his No. 43 Plymouth Superbird, even after spinning out in the fourth turn all by himself and ending up in his pit box (!!!), where the Pettys changed his tires, fueled him up, and sent him on his way to victory. Rockingham, by the way, is a smaller track of just over a mile in length, but it was clear that the Superbird and Daytona were superior. The cars also dominated the superspeedway races, too, in 1970.
Notable, too, was NASCAR’s “public availability” rule that was way different in 1969 and 1970 than it was in 1963, when Chevy introduced its famous “Mystery 427” engine that required only 50 to be built.
Unlike 1969, with a rule of 500 units, NASCAR demanded in 1970 that any vehicle raced on its tracks had to be available on a “one-car-per-every-two-dealerships” formula. The Dodge Daytona snuck by with the 500 unit rule as it was introduced in 1969, but sibling Plymouth Superbird, released in early 1970, had to build 1,920 Superbirds based on dealer locations. Although not verified, it is said Plymouth built near 2,800 Superbirds, much to the public’s delight.
In contrast, only 503 Charger Daytonas were ever built, with 433 coming in street version 440 Magnum trim. The pro race teams and some lucky collectors gobbled up the other 70 Hemi Daytonas.
NASCAR finally put a stop to the overuse of aero kits in 1971, penalizing any winged car with a strict less horsepower limitation via a 305-inch engine limit. By 1971, only one Dodge Daytona competed in the season opening Daytona 500, driven by the late Dick Brooks to a seventh place finish.
Hope this all helps and thanks for your letter as it brought back great memories of my days at Ft. Jackson.
(Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse News Service, More Content Now and BestRide.com, and welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia or old-time racing at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848).