Rivalry, whether between nations, individuals, or even cars, can give birth to new concepts, or eliminate them with ruthless efficiency. The Dodge Coronet R/T is a prime example of rivalries driving Dodge in the Sixties. It was rivalry within Chrysler Corporation that created the first Coronet R/T in 1967, and it was rivalry within the Dodge Division that led to its swift decline after 1968 despite an attractive new body.
The Dodge Coronet R/T, shown as a 1969 model, faced tough
competition throughout its life. See more pictures of classic cars.
It must be understood that during the Sixties, Dodge had two implacable rivals, both of whose names, coincidentally, began with the 16th letter of the alphabet.
One of these was, of course, high-flying Pontiac. Led by the irrepressible Bunkie Knudsen, this once-moribund nameplate had, in the late Fifties, burst forth into a new and vigorous life as the wide-track, split-grille darling of the new decade.
The marque's fresh and justifiable reputation for innovative styling made Pontiac the car to look to and even imitate by nervous Ford and Chrysler designers. Pontiac not only habitually bested Dodge in the sales race, it also brashly occupied third place in the industry during the Sixties.
Dodge's other main challenger, was, perhaps surprisingly, Plymouth. Historically, the two makes weren't traditional rivals.
For decades, each pursued a different set of competitors: Plymouth went after Ford and Chevy, while Dodge tackled Pontiac and Mercury. But a series of uncoordinated and perhaps ill-considered moves on the part of Chrysler Corporation senior management had the result of placing the two brands in head-to-head competition.
First, the company pulled the Plymouth from Dodge-Plymouth showrooms for 1960, substituting attractive new Dodge Dart models on a one-for-one basis. Then, in 1961, Dodge dealers were given their version of the compact Valiant -- the Lancer.
For '62, company planners radically downsized the full-size Dodge and Plymouth, recasting them as intermediates and cloaking them with "noncommercial" styling, a miscalculation that sent Chrysler's overall market share plummeting.
In three years, Plymouth and Dodge had, by default, become "equivalent makes." There would continue to be brand-specific styling and minor differences in wheelbase and pricing, but the two divisions were clearly seeking the same customers.
By 1965, each marque was marketing three distinct classes of automobiles in competition with each other -- compact (Dart/Valiant); intermediate (Coronet/ Belvedere); and full size (Polara/Fury). With their equivalency accordingly exposed, the two divisions began fighting each other with a ferocity that only internecine conflict can generate.
Dodge and Plymouth planners quickly realized that not only were they going after the same customers, each division was competing for the same share of Chrysler's corporate largesse to pay for tooling and marketing.
Like jealous siblings everywhere, whatever the one had, the other coveted. If Plymouth got the money to develop the Barracuda, Dodge demanded the same for the Charger. If Plymouth could have a GTX patterned after Pontiac's successful GTO, then Dodge could have an R/T.
Before there was a Coronet R/T, there was a Coronet. Though the downsized '62 Dodge and Plymouth were sales disasters, the basic concept, heavily disguised, was cleverly recast in 1965 as the Plymouth Belvedere and Dodge Coronet, the latter resurrecting a name Dodge had last used in 1959.
Clearly sized between the year's facelifted compacts and the all-new "standards," they gave Plymouth and Dodge instant access to the intermediate class then sprouting up in Detroit.
Built on Chrysler's B-body platform, both were completely restyled in 1966. Though much more attractive, they still reflected the styling philosophy of styling vice president Elwood Engel. Engel favored cars that in plan view "filled in the rectangle," mandating straight bodysides and full car-width fronts and rears.
The trouble was that in 1966, Pontiac and Ford also restyled their intermediates. Their stylists employed much more curvaceous forms. Once again, Pontiac led the way with its LeMans/GTO with vertically stacked headlamps and undulating bodysides that reprised the voluptuous "Coke-bottle" shapes introduced on the full-size Pontiacs a year earlier.
Another original touch on the two-door hardtops and coupes was a distinctive "flying buttress" roof with its recessed backlight. Ford's reshaped Fairlane was no slouch in the looks department, either. So, even though the linear Coronet and Belvedere were all new, they were stylistically dated as soon as they hit the showrooms.
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