Pitching the Dodge Charger
Sketching the idea for a new fastback Dodge Charger was one thing, selling it was another. In order to pitch the Dodge Charger, the clay model was tricked up with actual working rotating lamps and dispatched into the Styling showroom.
After some preliminaries, which included darkening the showroom, design chief Elwood Engel flicked a remote switch and the grillework magically rotated around to reveal all four lamps, lit. This spectacular showmanship (something Engel loved) awed the surprised executives, and Styling carried the day over the somewhat dispirited objections of the engineers, who, of course, had to make sure the darned things worked -- every time.
The hidden-headlight grille stayed when this
prototype became the 1966 Dodge Charger . . .
But the through-the-bumper exhaust ports
and rear-deck 'ears' did not.
Veteran Chrysler engineers were still haunted by distant memories of "one-eyed" 1942 DeSotos trundling along with one lamp door open and the other closed, or worse, both half-open in a "sleepy" position. Consequently, great care was taken to make the Charger's headlamp system as foolproof as possible.
On the clay styling model, Dodge Exterior Studio clay supervisor Ed Getner and his crew employed a single electric motor and a sturdy broomstick handle connecting the twin assemblies to rotate the lights, but Engineering claimed the "broomstick" approach would block too much cooling.
So when the driver of a production Dodge Charger pulled on the headlamp switch, twin miniature electric motors with 450:1 gear reduction ratios rotated the lights into the "on" position while a red lamp on the instrument panel remained illuminated until the units were fully revolved into position.
A separate toggle switch allowed the driver to override the rotating motors so the headlamps would remain in the open position while the lamps were off (for washing the lenses, etc.). A manual adjustment allowed the lamps to be locked in the open position in case of power failure to one or both of the lamp assemblies.
Additionally, by opening the hood and loosening screws on the rotating motors' mounting straps, the lamp assemblies could also be rotated open by hand if necessary.
The disappearing lamps looked great, and their execution "three-upped" the guys at Chevy: First, the Charger's grillework pattern of slim vertical diecast chrome bars allowed the cut line of the headlamp doors to be invisible to the eye, something not true on the Corvette.
Second, when the lamp assemblies were rotated into position, the grille pattern was faithfully replicated around the five-inch diameter lights so that the car's face looked "natural" regardless of which mode the lights were in -- again, most assuredly not true on the Corvette.
Finally, in the Charger, all front lamps were concealed, even the parking lights and turn signals, which lay hidden at the extreme outer ends of the grillework.
Principal Dodge Charger exterior stylist Carl "Cam" Cameron recalled several other ideas that were considered: One encompassed three-sided assemblies with closed, city driving or fog, and country driving positions. Another idea was to cover the headlamps with clear plastic that could be washed as the lamps rotated.
This mock-up photographed on December 15, 1964,
wears an ultimately discarded proposal for a vinyl
roof covering between the Charger's raised side rails.
Highlighted by a circular center medallion, the Dodge Charger's slightly recessed grillework appeared to float in its opening, which was surrounded by a bright collar. Other exterior trim was minimal, confined to a full-length molding that traced the upper fender line, plus sill and wheel lip moldings.
The expansive areas of the Dodge Charger's roof sail panels were decorously decorated by a Charger nameplate and a unique red, black, and chrome Charger medallion, which was designed by Frank Ruff. Engine designators were located high up on the front fenders aft of the wheel openings.
New deep-dish wheel covers, with a die-cast simulated knock-off hub within a concave dish of bright stainless steel, were standard. (These were also available on Polaras and Monacos.) "Many of the 1966-1967 Chargers also sported optional imitation 'mag' wheel covers, which, if memory serves, were not designed at Chrysler but rather by an outside supplier," said former Dodge stylist Jeffrey Godshall.
The Dodge Charger was not being created in a vacuum, and many other ideas were in play -- both at Dodge and in competitors' design studios. Get details on the next page.
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