Partly by Matthew Litwin
At the Chicago Auto Show on February 20, 1965, Dodge
pulled the covers off its latest styling study: the Charger II. It was a
sleek fastback with crisp, full-length contours sculpted into its
flanks, along with a pair of sharply scalloped, simulated quarter-panel
air ducts. A canted front end housed a full-width grille, while the
long-hood/short-deck body enveloped a cabin--with four bucket seats and
a full complement of round gauges--that oozed sporty luxury.
The Charger II garnered positive feedback in Chicago and met with
similar responses as the car traversed the show circuit. So strong was
the public and media reaction that Dodge pushed it into production
Based on the Coronet platform as a single hardtop model, the
new-for-1966 Charger now featured a vertical--versus canted--front end
housing a full-width grille with hidden headlamps and a revised
"wall-to-wall" taillamp. Little else changed from the concept car, to
the point that even factory literature stated, "...the fabulous new
fastback that made it all the way from the designer's drawing board to
your driveway with all the excitement and all the fresh ideas left in."
Offered with a range of engine/transmission options and sporty
accessories, the car generated a great deal of optimism in spite of its
late release. The Charger had fastback styling popular with Corvette and
Mustang buyers, "personal" bucket seats like the Rivieras, race-inspired
gauges, and body contours that provided a sense of speed. But sales
crawled to a rather disappointing 37,344 units in its first year. Just
as troubling, as a race car, the Charger captured only a handful of wins
on the NASCAR circuit due to its lack of stability in high-speed
corners, prompting Chrysler to issue a rear deck-mounted lip spoiler as
a dealer option.
It got worse for '67: Charger sales, in spite of a revamped engine
lineup and NASCAR championship headlines--David Pearson won the '66
title in Cotton Owens's Dodges--fell a staggering 58 percent (to 15,788
units). Speculation persists that adapting a pony-sized fastback
roofline to intermediate cars provided an awkward profile, with pundits
pointing to the similar fate of AMC's Marlin to support the theory.
Regardless, it was a bleak year for the new leader of Dodge's Rebellion.
The Charger would find sales success with the advent of the vastly
racier redesigned '68 B-body. This shift in attention, both when these
models were new and among collectors today, has left the first-gen
Charger lagging in terms of demand. Despite being bolstered by
high-output V-8 options and related go-fast gearing, the 1966-'67
fastbacks have remained a comparatively affordable, and perhaps rarer,
alternative to many of the later Chrysler B-body muscle cars. Let's take
a closer look at the attributes of this mid-decade Mopar performer.
As a top-tier Coronet, the Charger was prohibited from receiving the
corporate Slant Six, and even the fuel-sipping 273-cu.in. V-8. In spite
of the mandate, the 1966 Charger received the 230-hp 318 as its base
engine. Fitted with a Carter two-barrel carburetor, the V-8 was part of
the A-series of engines featuring a polysphere-style cylinder head
design. Those looking for more output blended with a hint of fuel
economy could have optioned the 265-hp 361, a Carter two-barrel
carbureted V-8 from the corporate B-series.
Sprightly as the 361 was, it didn't tickle the go-fast senses like the
other options, starting with the high-output 383. Another "low-block"
B-series engine, its Carter four-barrel, enlarged cylinder bores, higher
compression and other upgraded internals, produced a more muscular 325
hp. Topping the power chart was the 426 Street Hemi, the new-for-1966
detuned production version of the "Race Hemi" now fitted with
dual-Carter AFB carburetors mounted inline and running 10.25:1
compression that, on paper, had a factory-rating of 425 hp and
490-lb.ft. of torque. The Hemi also carried an entry fee of
$877.55--over a quarter of the Charger's base sticker price.
When the '67 Charger emerged, there were noteworthy mechanical changes.
To start, the A-series 318 was canceled and replaced by an LA-based 318
of the same power rating. Meanwhile, the 361 had been retired between
model years and replaced by a 270-hp version of the 383 featuring a
The real performers came with the return of the 325-hp 383 and the 426
Hemi engines, along with the newly-developed 440 Magnum. Though the
basic engine architecture had appeared a year prior, it received a
significant jolt of power due, in part, to a redesigned intake manifold,
Carter AVS four-barrel, more aggressive camshaft and redesigned cylinder
heads with larger intake/exhaust valves. Although it was rated for 375
hp, the Magnum 440 cost $564 less than a Hemi while providing a
comparable 480-lb.ft. of torque.
What to watch for: Thanks to five decades of thrashing, most of the
Charger's engine lineup has proven to be unquestionably durable. Both
the 318 and the 383 spent years as Mopar workhorses; the 383 would later
be offered in Magnum tune for performance applications, showing more of
its potential. The Magnum 440 also has an extensive history of making
plenty of power and doing it reliably. As for the Hemi, Chrysler product
planners knew that this engine was intended for competition use, even
when sold in production "Street Hemi" guise. Thus, the replacement
warranty was limited to just 12 months or 12,000 miles, and extended to
the original buyers only. While it's possible to find numbers-matching
Hemi Chargers, it's pretty rare. Engine output, their basic key
dimensions and ID codes that can be found within the Charger's VIN
Like other base configurations of the era, a column-shifted three-speed
manual was issued as Charger's standard equipment both years; however,
its use was limited to the 318 engine. The most popular option was the
TorqueFlite automatic with a floor-mounted shifter and console, followed
by Chrysler's four-speed manual. The linkage for the four-speed shifter
was provided by Inland, and clutch size varied with engine displacement:
10.5 inches with the 318, 361 and 383; 11 inches with the 426.
For 1965, the 119-inch wheelbase unit-body Dodge 330 and 440 were
retired, and the 117-inch wheelbase intermediate-sized unit-body
Coronet, Coronet 440 and Coronet 500 debuted. Its basic architecture
would remain unchanged through 1970, even with the Charger's
Key underpinnings up front were a subframe and K-member, both acting as
the foundation for the Torsion-Aire independent torsion bar suspension
with hydraulic shocks and an anti-roll bar. The K-member also provided
mounting support for the engine. Under the back half of the Charger was
a pair of multi-leaf springs, along with shocks that retained Chrysler's
8¾-inch differential, or legendary 9¾-inch Dana 60 when the 426 Hemi
engine were optioned with the four-speed.
Putting it all to the road were 14-inch steel wheels, shod with bias-ply
tires. Four-wheel drum brakes were mandatory for all models in 1966.
BODY & INTERIOR
To shave development costs, the Charger was fitted with doors, hood and
front bumper from the Coronet.
The Charger's not-so-subtle sporty flair was prominent throughout the
interior for both years, thanks largely to front and rear vinyl bucket
seats and a full-length center console. The rear seats could fold
forward, providing more storage space, and there was a healthy dose of
brushed aluminum panels trimming the console, as well as the door and
rear side panels. Four round instrument clusters housed the speedometer,
6,000-RPM tach and additional gauges. An optional electric clock would
have been located in front of the console-mounted shifter. Slight
interior alterations for '67 included a new upholstery pattern, while
the forward section of the center console was shifted to the option
chart. A racy three-spoke, woodgrain steering wheel was standard for
In base form, Chargers were delivered with a two-barrel 318-cu.in. V-8;
however, the option chart was sprinkled with torque-heavy big-blocks,
including a 383 and the 426 Hemi in 1966.
Drum brakes were standard equipment in 1966. Disc brakes were optional
in '67, though standard with the Hemi.
Charger buyers could, in theory, have selected the standard three-speed
manual, optional four-speed manual or optional TorqueFlite automatic
both years; however, some engine selections had specific transmissions
assigned to them.
The term "sporty personal car" was briefly used to describe the Charger
when new, spurred in large part by its standard four bucket seats,
full-length center console and race car-inspired gauges. Little
remembered was its flow-through ventilation.
Riding on the Coronet's 117-inch B-body chassis introduced in '65, the
Charger used the same basic front torsion bar/rear leaf sprung
suspension systems as its siblings; however, heavy-duty parts were
optional, or standard with 426 Hemi.
Though the Charger II concept car and the first batch of
regular-production Chargers were initially well received, the slippery
fastback hardtop design quickly became polarizing and had an immediate
sales impact, prompting a dramatic change.
Model year 1966
Assembly United States: Lynch Road Assembly, Detroit, Michigan (1966)
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door fastback
Related Dodge Coronet
Engine 318 cu in (5.2 L) 2bbl A V8 (1966)
361 cu in (5.9 L) 2bbl B V8 (1966)
383 cu in (6.3 L) 4bbl B V8
426 cu in (7.0 L) 2×4bbl Hemi RB V8
Transmission A230 3-speed manual
A833 4-speed manual
TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic
Wheelbase 117.0 in (2,970 mm)
Length 203.6 in (5,170 mm)
Width 75.8 in (1,930 mm)