The long-forgotten shape of the fastback coupe suddenly returned to prominence in the 1960s as a symbol of speed and style. Dodge jumped on the bandwagon to create the 1966-1967 Dodge Charger, a big fastback that could be as potent as it was pretty.
Although it didn't arrive on the market until January
1966, the new Charger quickly gave Dodge
a strong presence in the fastback revival that
sprouted in the mid-1960s. See more classic car pictures.
Between 1962 and 1964, Chrysler Corporation stylists likely were the busiest in the industry, and for good reason -- they had the biggest job to do. The "Forward Look" fins of the 1950s were dead, and the new styling direction set by Virgil Exner -- first with the Valiant and then with the 1962 Plymouth and Dodge -- had failed in the marketplace, in part due to the disastrous downsizing of Exner's designs dictated by former Chrysler president William Newberg.
Chrysler's market share plummeted, and Exner was forced out. He was replaced in the fall of 1961 by Elwood Engel of Ford, who was supposedly responsible for the stunning 1961 Lincoln Continental, a car also drastically downsized, but with more fortunate results.
Engel had orders from Chrysler President Lynn Townsend to get the styling of the company's cars back into the mainstream, and designers and product planners worked overtime to accomplish the task as quickly as humanly possible. Once, during a tour of the studios, Townsend reportedly urged the stylists on with the words, "You guys are saving the corporation."
The last thing the harried staff needed was extra work. But Engel knew about the "pony" coming down the pike from Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, and pushed Chrysler execs to get moving even faster. Additionally, over at the General Motors Tech Center, designers and engineers were busy fashioning the upcoming Oldsmobile Toronado. Thus, despite their weighty workload, competitive pressures forced Chrysler's overburdened staff to create two new specialty vehicles.
The first of these was the 1964 Plymouth Barracuda. "The industry was rife with rumors of Ford's new Mustang," remembers Gene Weiss, retired Chrysler-Plymouth and Dodge product planning executive. "But the extent of how changed the Mustang was from the Falcon was not learned until it was too late, from a tooling standpoint, to do as much."
The Barracuda was a nice enough car, although, admittedly, an inadequate answer to the Ford Mustang. But as far as the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer body was concerned, at least it was something. The other specialty model was, of course, the Dodge Charger that followed the Barracuda to market 22 months later.
Although size-wise one was a compact and the other an intermediate, these two vehicles shared a common design signature -- both were fastbacks. Or as Weiss succinctly put it, "The Dodge Charger was the conceptual twin of the Plymouth Barracuda."
Consequently, both the Barracuda and the Charger were created from (and handicapped by) the same formula. Of necessity, both were "make-from" cars whose differences from their respective Valiant and Coronet siblings were essentially in the roof, backlight, and decklid.
What caused this sudden 1960s fascination with fastbacks? Learn more about the origins of the fastback body type on the next page.
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