After the basic 1966 Charger design was set, someone at Chrysler got the idea that the new Dodge fastback might be just the vehicle for installing a production version of the much-hyped Chrysler gas turbine engine -- the "power plant of the future" Chrysler engineers had worked on for years -- thereby creating other Dodge Charger options.
First shoehorned into a 1954 Plymouth to show off to the press, this gas turbine engine -- in ever-more refined versions -- was installed into a series of Plymouths (and one Dodge), culminating with the production of 50 specially built Chrysler Turbine cars in 1963. Amid much fanfare, these Thunderbird-like vehicles were turned over to typical American families for several months to plumb customer reaction.
Expectant reporters asked what Chrysler planned to do next, and someone came up with the idea of fielding a limited run of 500 or so turbine-equipped vehicles -- but installed in which vehicle? The Dodge Charger was the newest, most glamorous car under development at the time. It had the right look, and its size and weight were appropriate. A sketch program was authorized.
Turbine cars had their own cooling requirements, so designer Carl Cameron developed a unique grille opening that was set into the Charger front end. Flanked by exposed headlamps, the gas turbine car grille featured a camera bellows-inspired frame that led to a deeply recessed, very open eggcrate.
The large grille opening on this styling study from
February 5, 1965, suggests the front Carl Cameron
designed for an abortive gas-turbine Charger.
Eventually, the project was canceled and Chrysler never did field a production gas turbine Charger. But the styling work was not in vain. When it came time to design the grille for the 1970 Challenger, the bellows design from Cameron's turbine Charger was successfully resurrected, intact, for Dodge's first pony car.
So Dodge remained focused on its gas engine Charger, but what about the other manufacturers? Although fastback styling elements were seen on a number of mid-1960s cars, the first-generation Charger's only direct competition came from the American Motors Marlin. Introduced in February 1965 on the 112-inch-wheelbase Rambler Classic chassis, compared to the Charger, the Marlin looked, well, lumpy.
It didn't start out that way. The idea came from the Tarpon, a nifty little fastback show car based on the equally nifty and new 1964 Rambler American. But when it came time to "productionize" the idea, AMC President Roy Abernathy insisted the design be based on the larger Classic for a couple of reasons.
For one, the car had to have a V-8, and AMC's existing V-8 was too big to fit inside the American's engine bay. For the other, as then-AMC styling chief Dick Teague later explained, "Abernathy didn't like little cars. . . . He liked big cars because he was a big guy."
Teague protested, but to no avail. The resulting six-passenger fastback bombed, with only 10,327 units produced in 1965 and 4,547 the following year. A restyle for 1967 on the full-size Ambassador's 118-inch platform produced a much handsomer car (its longer front end gave it better proportions), but only 2,545 were built.
Teague redeemed himself the following year with the debut of the sporty Javelin and the even sportier AMX, both fastbacks and both good looking. And, blessed as he was with a good sense of humor, he even learned to laugh at all those Marlin jokes.
When 1966 arrived, the Dodge Charger was finally ready to be released. How was it received? Find out on the next page.
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