Designing the Dodge Charger
Coming immediately on the heels of Dodge's fastback Barracuda program, design work on the Dodge Charger was one of the projects in progress in the spring of 1963, when designer Jeffrey Godshall joined the Dodge Exterior Studio.
"Naturally, from a corporate standpoint, there was little point in duplicating Plymouth's compact-based fastback," he explains. Or, as then-Dodge Division General Manager Byron Nichols reportedly said, "Give us a car halfway between the Barracuda and the T-Bird, and we'll have a whole big chunk of market all to ourselves."
Creating the Dodge Charger off the company's intermediate "B-body" platform would meet that goal, plus provide an important advantage via the option sheet: Charger buyers would have access to all of Dodge's hot high-performance engines and other go-fast goodies. Thus, the Coronet-based fastback had the same wheelbase (117 inches, advertised; 116.5 inches, actual) and emerged barely 3/5 inch longer overall than the Coronet's 203-inch length.
At the time, much of the development of the all-new 1966 Coronet was well under way in the Dodge studio under the direction of studio manager John Schwarz. A team led by product planner Chuck Kelly, his boss, Burt Bouwkamp, and Dodge chief designer Bill Brownlie was charged with making the proposed fastback variant as distinctive as possible, yet having it retail for under $3,500.
The principal exterior stylist responsible for this initial Charger was Carl "Cam" Cameron, an extremely talented and prolific designer who several years ago retired from his position as manager of Chrysler's Product Identity Studio. Carl, who had worked at Ford and the Detroit-based industrial design firm of Sundberg-Ferar, came to Chrysler in 1962.
This July 1963 drawing by 'Cam' Cameron, with its bold
"silverside" two-tone treatment, eventually became a
customized 1964 Polara for the auto show circuit.
The Polara then gave its name -- and perhaps some of
its features -- to the Dodge Charger.
He was -- and is -- a unique guy who favored black cars and was a master at detail. He liked to begin his mornings -- often arriving late -- with a "sugar high" consisting of a candy bar and a Coke. When he sketched, his tongue hung out of his mouth, moving in conjunctive concentration with his Prisma-color pencil. ("We used to kid Carl that if he could have attached a pencil to his tongue, he could have sketched twice as fast," recalls Godshall.)
Designed around the limitations posed by using the Coronet's cowl, windshield, A-pillar, and hardtop door, the fastback roofline quickly took shape, with the side daylight opening drawn back to end in a vertical drop just forward of the rear wheels. Although the design emerged as a hardtop, Cameron recalls that a fixed B-pillar was also considered for structural reasons.
In the end, the hardtop style was chosen, even though it meant adding stiff reinforcing panels in the C-pillars and across the upper deck panel, the boxed-in construction of which doubled as a torsionally rigid support for the decklid. This also served as a plenum chamber for venting air from the passenger compartment through two large, concealed, rubber-covered vents.
Learn more about the details of the Dodge Charger's initial design on the next page.
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