Dodge was a step behind Ford and Pontiac in styling in the Sixties, but for 1968, things would be different. Finally, in caterpillar-to-butterfly fashion, the B-body cars would break free of their boxy molds to reveal new and curvaceous bodies such as the 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T. These all-new designs were born amidst the friendly, but very real, rivalry between the Dodge and Plymouth exterior studios.
The 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T was more
curvaceous than its predecessors.
In the mid Sixties, Chrysler’s styling studios were organized by make, with separate interior and exterior studios for Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler/Imperial. In the exterior studios, designers were usually grouped according to the size of car on which they were working. There were also individual studios for station wagons, trucks, ornamentation, and fabrics.
To enter a studio, you had to push a buzzer and then “Lenny the guard” would buzz you in. Designers were discouraged from entering a studio not their own, both to prevent styling ideas from accidentally “drifting” from one studio to another and to encourage competition.
But even management was not immune from “friendly” competition. Chief stylist responsible for all Dodge car exteriors was Bill Brownlie, who came to Chrysler in 1953 when the company bought Briggs Manufacturing, the primary source of nearly all Plymouth bodies.
Always the gentleman and always nattily attired in suit and tie, Brownlie liked to snap his fingers as he roamed the studio casting a critical eye over the various clay models. If he wanted to change something, he’d ask plaintively, “Would it be wrong if [for example] we moved this line up half an inch?” Dodge designers quickly learned that this was one question to which “Yes” was invariably the wrong answer.
Brownlie’s counterpart for Plymouth was Dick Macadam. “Mac” arrived at Chrysler in early 1957 with a group of erstwhile Packard designers who followed Dick Teague to Chrysler when the styling studio folded after the death of the Detroit-built Packards. Tall and blond, Mac was both a fine artist and also a meticulous perfectionist.
Their rivalry was good-natured and courteous, but there was a definite edge to it. In addition to their divisional competitiveness, Brownlie and Macadam were gunning for Elwood Engel’s job when he retired. (Macadam got the nod.)
As a matter of tooling economy, Dodge Coronets and Plymouth Belvederes had to share the same basic bodies. Once the essential dimensions were laid out, including differences in wheelbase (117 inches for Dodge, 116 for Plymouth), the windshield angle and side-glass planes were established. Next came the “bakeoff” for the front door “outer.”
This was a key decision. While front fenders, rear doors, and rear quarters were unique, the front doors were, of necessity, shared. Each exterior studio developed initial bodyside theme ideas without regard for common front doors. But soon enough came the big showdown in the styling showroom where one front door would be selected to serve as the common part.
The design chosen for the '68 door was a smooth, gently curved surface with an undercut section near the sill. Compared with the multiplicity of horizontal lines and angles stamped into the 1966-67 doors, the ’68 door’s comparative blandness made it easy to work with.
Freed from the tyranny of the 1966-67 cars’ hard-ruled linework, Dodge and Plymouth stylists embraced the Coke-bottle shape for their cars’ respective bodysides like kids let out of school. Flanking the new door, the designers created bulging front fenders and hunky rear quarters reminiscent of newly earned biceps stuffed in a too-tight T-shirt.
On the ’68 Coronets, the front fenders were completely smooth. However, on the upper and lower surfaces of the rear quarter panels, arching, tapering spears delineated the surface contour.
This treatment reprised that used on the 1966-67 quarters, but where the earlier workout was stilted and forced-looking because of all the linework in the doors, the ’68 redo was much more flowing and organic.
Simulated louvers stamped into the sheetmetal and located forward on the quarters above and below the sideview peak line added a touch of sportiness to two-door cars. New federally mandated side-marker lights were set into circular chrome bezels at the far ends of the car.
Perched atop the hunched quarters was a new, shared, two-door hardtop roof whose radically sloped, tapering C-pillar narrowed slightly as it terminated atop the quarter.
The 1966-67 two-door hardtop roof included a chrome molding to conceal a welded joint where the C-pillar sat atop the rear quarter. The C-pillar on the ’68, however, flowed smoothly into the quarter. Regrettably, the popularity of the optional vinyl roof covering meant that on many cars, a bright molding was still there, albeit to conceal the raw edge of the vinyl.
In side view, the quarter window formed an extended triangular shape, adding to the overall sportiness of the roof. The large, sloping backlight intersected the body in a gently rolling “W” shape while the rear edge of the C-pillars trailed off onto the top of the quarter panels, forming a crease line that tapered toward the rear of the car. The car’s hunched quarter panels and the wide rear end combined to make the sloping roof look diminutive and thus very coupelike.
In fact, in May 1966, during the development of the 1968 B-bodies, the roof looked so coupelike that product planners canceled an anticipated two-door sedan similar to the stuffy 1966-67 predecessor.
They substituted a pillared version of the ’68 two-door hardtop to serve as a genuine coupe, the roll-down quarter window replaced by a swing-out variant. (While a good move aesthetically, this decision was to have a negative effect on Coronet R/T sales.)
Up front, the Coronet had a W-shaped bumper in plan view, mimicking the path of the hood and fenders. The recessed grille, however, was a shallow vee, with pairs of five-inch-diameter headlamps at either end. The grille was unique. It consisted of a rectangular grid texture of approximately one-inch squares formed by the edges of intersecting aluminum planes. The texture was, in fact, lifted directly from the grilles used on the styling studio’s overhead ventilation system.
The resulting design had virtually no “road value”; at any distance, the grille simply disappeared. Fortunately, a bright molding outlined the grille’s perimeter and traced all four headlamps. On the R/T (which stood for “road and track”), a distinctive italic nameplate accented the driver side of the blacked-out grille, plus both front fenders and the passenger side of the decklid.
In back, the hunched quarters and decklid ended abruptly in a modified ducktail. A horizontal recess in the decklid and quarters angled outboard at the delta-shaped taillights. The delta theme was conceived by now-retired Chrysler design manager Diran Yazejian for the 1965 Dodge full-size cars.
As applied to ’68 Coronets, each delta was composed of three separate boxes for the tail, stop, and back-up lamps. The R/T’s triple lamps were linked by a full-width black panel interrupted by 16 vertical bright “hash marks.” It was this view Dodge planners hoped GTO owners would most often see.
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