1968 Dodge Coronet R/T Aesthetics
The Coronet R/T was the only convertible model
in the Dodge muscle-car stable.
Coronets and Plymouth Belvederes shared a long rectangular speedometer flanked by minor gauges at both ends. One sharply critical enthusiast magazine bemoaned the speedo's "terrible lack of legibility."
Fortunately, Coronet R/T buyers could opt for the Rallye Instrument Cluster, a fancy way of saying that you could order a Charger dash in your R/T. The Charger dash used more-legible round instruments, including a big round 150-mph speedometer and matching optional clock/tachometer, a trick combination worth the price. The four circular minor gauges were canted toward the driver for easy checking.
Front bucket seats were standard, with headrests optional. Buyers could opt for a floor console with storage bin and lid or a center cushion with a fold-down armrest.
Bright trim was disappearing as the feds mandated nonreflective decor for interiors, forcing designers to change horn rings from chrome to a cheap-looking dull silver. A more attractive three-spoke woodgrain steering wheel was optional.
Tooling for the all-new B-bodies for 1968 cost some $61 million. Tooling specific to Dodge took $25 million of that total.
Good looks were all fine and good, of course, but with a muscle car like the Coronet R/T, what was under the hood counted most. Dodge did not disappoint.
The standard engine was Chrysler Corporation's largest wedge-head V-8, a 440-cubic-inch Magnum with a 4.32-inch bore and a 3.75-inch stroke, four-barrel carb, double-snorkel unsilenced air cleaner, dual exhausts, and a 10.1:1 compression ratio, developing a lusty 375 horsepower at 4,600 rpm.
For 1968, improvements to the 440 included air-valve secondaries in the carbs, modified combustion chambers, and a new windage tray in the oil pan to increase net output at upper speeds by preventing both oil aeration and friction increases that resulted from oil being drawn into the crankshaft rotating path.
To hint at what was underneath, Coronet R/Ts came with a nonfunctional power-bulge hood with a narrow black-and-chrome diecast insert that wrapped around the sides and rear, giving the effect of an exhaust vent rather than an air intake. Transmission choices included a four-speed manual or three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.
Those wanting more horses could opt for the 426-cubic-inch Hemi Stage II "elephant" motor with two four-barrel carbs and a 10:25:1 compression ratio, developing 425 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. In addition to the new windage tray, in '68, the Hemi was fitted with a new camshaft to improve upper speed-range performance (premium fuel required, of course).
Street Hemis were specially built at Chrysler's Marysville, Michigan, plant that also housed its marine and industrial engine divisions. The factory had been erected to build the technologically advanced Wills Sainte Claire automobile; Chrysler bought the plant after Wills production ended in the late Twenties.
But at least at Chrysler, muscle cars were about more than just raw power. Since 1957, with the advent of torsion-bar front suspension, which delivered superior handling, and the "bulletproof" TorqueFlite capable of handling gobs of torque, Dodge and Plymouth had garnered half the police car business in the United States.
In fact, Dodge was the favorite highway cruiser of the hard-to-please California Highway Patrol. To meet the stringent requirements of police service, Chrysler engineers had developed an entire inventory of severe-usage parts that could easily be fitted to their muscle car offerings. Consequently, the police car business served as a handy muscle car "skunk works."
Thus Coronet R/Ts came with heavy-duty shocks, larger-diameter torsion bars, sway bar, and an extra leaf in the right rear spring to accommodate the extra torque. Special 14x5.5 wide-rim wheels were fitted with F70x14 wide-tread redline tires, backed by heavy-duty drum brakes. (Hemi-equipped vehicles came with 15-inch wheels, and front-disc brakes were optional.)
With the 440/TorqueFlite combination, a Coronet R/T convertible was capable of sub-seven-second 0-to-60-mph runs, as proved in a couple of magazine road tests. Motor Trend reported 6.9 seconds to 60, and a 15.1-second quarter-mile run at 94 mph.
When Car Life tested a Dart GTS, the Coronet, and a Hemi-powered Charger R/T, the best 0-to-60 time on the Coronet R/T was 6.6 seconds, with 14.69 seconds for the standing quarter at a speed of 97.4 mph-better than the Hemi Charger. CL commented that the "Coronet ran like the Hemi should have." Hemi-engined Coronet R/Ts were rare; just 220 hardtops and nine convertibles were so equipped.
The three cars were tested together as members of Dodge's heavily promoted "Scat Pack" of performance cars, soon to be joined midyear by the Coronet Super Bee. For image reasons, each car was identified by so-called "bumblebee" striping consisting of two wide parallel tape stripes applied at the rear edge of the body.
Available in black, white, or red, the bumblebee stripes on the quarter panels went up and across the decklid and wrapped around the other side. Coronet R/T buyers could opt for a more traditional full-length bodyside paint stripe, or nothing at all.
Even though the 1968 Coronet R/T was a much more attractive automobile than the inaugural 1967 iteration, production rose only slightly, from 10,181 units in 1967 to 10,558 in '68. The cause isn't hard to understand, and it had little to do with the sensational all-new Endura-bumper GTO that Pontiac fielded in 1968. The reasons for the Coronet R/T's lack of greater success lay instead in competition within Dodge's own ranks.
The Coronet wasn't the only all-new Dodge B-body in 1968. There was, of course, the spectacular new Charger, that, unlike its predecessor, shared no exterior sheetmetal with the Coronet. This was another reflection of the Dodge-Plymouth rivalry.
The divisions' initial sporty vehicles were "make-from" cars, with the first Barracuda derived from the '64 Valiant and the first Charger from the '66 Coronet. But when Plymouth got the tooling money to style a Barracuda with its own unique sheetmetal based off the new compact A-body for 1967, the "Dodge Boys" demanded -- and got -- an equally unique Charger based off the new B-body in 1968.
With its "double-diamond" bodyside designed by Richard Sias coupled with the dramatic flying-buttress roof and wide-mouth hidden-headlight grille, the Charger's muscular masculinity simply overpowered the Coronet hardtop, even in R/T form.
If this spectacular Charger (also available in R/T form) sitting in the showroom smack next to the Coronet R/T wasn't enough, the car got some additional competition in February 1968, when Dodge announced its new Super Bee coupe priced at $3,027, some $352 less than a Coronet R/T hardtop.
True, the Super Bee came standard with the lesser 383-cubic-inch V-8, but if you wanted more, the Hemi was optional. Thanks to the earlier decision to create a coupe using the two-door hardtop roof, the Super Bee had virtually the same sporty profile as the Coronet R/T pillarless hardtop.
In fairness to Dodge planners, the division was forced to come out with the Super Bee following the overwhelming and unexpected success of Plymouth's new Road Runner, which promulgated the idea of a stripped-down "just the basics, please" muscle car that was clearly on the funky side.
Of course, for whatever big success Plymouth had, Dodge's hard-charging general manager, Bob McCurry, demanded an equivalent in Dodge showrooms. He got one in the hastily conceived Super Bee.
Thus, scarcely four months into the 1968 model year, the Coronet R/T was flanked by a costlier but more spectacular-looking Charger R/T and a cheaper but similar-looking Super Bee.
With its funkier graphics and "I'm all engine -- the body's just here to keep rain off the driver" image, the Super Bee quickly drew attention away from the Coronet R/T just like the Charger had done at new-model introduction.
In the Dodge muscle car lineup, the only real marketing advantage left to the Coronet R/T (advertised as "The Silken Snarl") was that it alone was also available as a convertible. Many of those who in 1968 purchased the 7,842 Super Bees and the 17,665 Charger R/Ts were prospective Coronet R/T buyers who chose to spend their money elsewhere.
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