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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1968 Dodge Coronet R/T
Dodge was a step behind Ford and Pontiac in styling in the Sixties, but for 1968, things would be different. Finally, in caterpillar-to-butterfly fashion, the B-body cars would break free of their boxy molds to reveal new and curvaceous bodies such as the 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T. These all-new designs were born amidst the friendly, but very real, rivalry between the Dodge and Plymouth exterior studios.
The 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T was more
curvaceous than its predecessors.
In the mid Sixties, Chrysler’s styling studios were organized by make, with separate interior and exterior studios for Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler/Imperial. In the exterior studios, designers were usually grouped according to the size of car on which they were working. There were also individual studios for station wagons, trucks, ornamentation, and fabrics.
To enter a studio, you had to push a buzzer and then “Lenny the guard” would buzz you in. Designers were discouraged from entering a studio not their own, both to prevent styling ideas from accidentally “drifting” from one studio to another and to encourage competition.
But even management was not immune from “friendly” competition. Chief stylist responsible for all Dodge car exteriors was Bill Brownlie, who came to Chrysler in 1953 when the company bought Briggs Manufacturing, the primary source of nearly all Plymouth bodies.
Always the gentleman and always nattily attired in suit and tie, Brownlie liked to snap his fingers as he roamed the studio casting a critical eye over the various clay models. If he wanted to change something, he’d ask plaintively, “Would it be wrong if [for example] we moved this line up half an inch?” Dodge designers quickly learned that this was one question to which “Yes” was invariably the wrong answer.
Brownlie’s counterpart for Plymouth was Dick Macadam. “Mac” arrived at Chrysler in early 1957 with a group of erstwhile Packard designers who followed Dick Teague to Chrysler when the styling studio folded after the death of the Detroit-built Packards. Tall and blond, Mac was both a fine artist and also a meticulous perfectionist.
Their rivalry was good-natured and courteous, but there was a definite edge to it. In addition to their divisional competitiveness, Brownlie and Macadam were gunning for Elwood Engel’s job when he retired. (Macadam got the nod.)
As a matter of tooling economy, Dodge Coronets and Plymouth Belvederes had to share the same basic bodies. Once the essential dimensions were laid out, including differences in wheelbase (117 inches for Dodge, 116 for Plymouth), the windshield angle and side-glass planes were established. Next came the “bakeoff” for the front door “outer.”
This was a key decision. While front fenders, rear doors, and rear quarters were unique, the front doors were, of necessity, shared. Each exterior studio developed initial bodyside theme ideas without regard for common front doors. But soon enough came the big showdown in the styling showroom where one front door would be selected to serve as the common part.
The design chosen for the '68 door was a smooth, gently curved surface with an undercut section near the sill. Compared with the multiplicity of horizontal lines and angles stamped into the 1966-67 doors, the ’68 door’s comparative blandness made it easy to work with.
Freed from the tyranny of the 1966-67 cars’ hard-ruled linework, Dodge and Plymouth stylists embraced the Coke-bottle shape for their cars’ respective bodysides like kids let out of school. Flanking the new door, the designers created bulging front fenders and hunky rear quarters reminiscent of newly earned biceps stuffed in a too-tight T-shirt.
On the ’68 Coronets, the front fenders were completely smooth. However, on the upper and lower surfaces of the rear quarter panels, arching, tapering spears delineated the surface contour.
This treatment reprised that used on the 1966-67 quarters, but where the earlier workout was stilted and forced-looking because of all the linework in the doors, the ’68 redo was much more flowing and organic.
Simulated louvers stamped into the sheetmetal and located forward on the quarters above and below the sideview peak line added a touch of sportiness to two-door cars. New federally mandated side-marker lights were set into circular chrome bezels at the far ends of the car.
Perched atop the hunched quarters was a new, shared, two-door hardtop roof whose radically sloped, tapering C-pillar narrowed slightly as it terminated atop the quarter.
The 1966-67 two-door hardtop roof included a chrome molding to conceal a welded joint where the C-pillar sat atop the rear quarter. The C-pillar on the ’68, however, flowed smoothly into the quarter. Regrettably, the popularity of the optional vinyl roof covering meant that on many cars, a bright molding was still there, albeit to conceal the raw edge of the vinyl.
In side view, the quarter window formed an extended triangular shape, adding to the overall sportiness of the roof. The large, sloping backlight intersected the body in a gently rolling “W” shape while the rear edge of the C-pillars trailed off onto the top of the quarter panels, forming a crease line that tapered toward the rear of the car. The car’s hunched quarter panels and the wide rear end combined to make the sloping roof look diminutive and thus very coupelike.
In fact, in May 1966, during the development of the 1968 B-bodies, the roof looked so coupelike that product planners canceled an anticipated two-door sedan similar to the stuffy 1966-67 predecessor.
They substituted a pillared version of the ’68 two-door hardtop to serve as a genuine coupe, the roll-down quarter window replaced by a swing-out variant. (While a good move aesthetically, this decision was to have a negative effect on Coronet R/T sales.)
Up front, the Coronet had a W-shaped bumper in plan view, mimicking the path of the hood and fenders. The recessed grille, however, was a shallow vee, with pairs of five-inch-diameter headlamps at either end. The grille was unique. It consisted of a rectangular grid texture of approximately one-inch squares formed by the edges of intersecting aluminum planes. The texture was, in fact, lifted directly from the grilles used on the styling studio’s overhead ventilation system.
The resulting design had virtually no “road value”; at any distance, the grille simply disappeared. Fortunately, a bright molding outlined the grille’s perimeter and traced all four headlamps. On the R/T (which stood for “road and track”), a distinctive italic nameplate accented the driver side of the blacked-out grille, plus both front fenders and the passenger side of the decklid.
In back, the hunched quarters and decklid ended abruptly in a modified ducktail. A horizontal recess in the decklid and quarters angled outboard at the delta-shaped taillights. The delta theme was conceived by now-retired Chrysler design manager Diran Yazejian for the 1965 Dodge full-size cars.
As applied to ’68 Coronets, each delta was composed of three separate boxes for the tail, stop, and back-up lamps. The R/T’s triple lamps were linked by a full-width black panel interrupted by 16 vertical bright “hash marks.” It was this view Dodge planners hoped GTO owners would most often see.
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1968 Dodge Coronet R/T AestheticsInteriors were typically period Chrysler, which meant the 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T aesthetics were defined by an instrument panel capped by a high, carwide, overhanging brow. Fitting of individual parts was random, especially around the glovebox door, as gaps evident in restored examples still demonstrate.
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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1969 Dodge Coronet R/T
After a big marketing push in '68, styling changes on the 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T were substantially more modest. The Coronet's visage was revised so that the grille-headlamps combination mimicked the delta taillight shape.
Changes to the 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T
were mainly on the front and rear ends.
Lacking tooling money, however, for a new hood, Dodge stylists imaginatively accomplished their task by grafting a stamped metal skirt onto the forward edge of the carryover hood. Attached by concealed screws, the skirt narrowed the grille opening and then tapered upward at the ends to permit the headlights to sit in recessed delta-shaped bezels.
The joint between the hood and the skirt was scarcely noticeable, a tribute to unknown heroes in Chrysler's late-Sixties stamping and manufacturing operations. (Though very cleverly done, such a construction wouldn't pass muster in today's more exacting world of fit and finish.)
So, with all that, the delta theme was now carried out from front to back, right? Wrong! Stylists instead this year abandoned the delta taillight look on the Coronet 500 and R/T in favor of something more closely tied to the new taillights on the '69 Charger.
The recessed area above the bumper was filled with a bright-edged black panel that contained three slim horizontal rectangles. The left and right sections housed the taillamps. The middle rectangle, though not illuminated, contained red reflective material. (Then-design manager Diran Yazejian referred to this as the "cyclops" design, adding that it was a Richard Sias effort.) Certainly the new design was original, handsome, and bold, but did it say "Dodge?"
Side-marker lights changed again, this time to rectangles that were both illuminated and reflective, thus offering protection even with a burned-out bulb -- typical of the federal government's "belt and suspenders" approach to automotive safety.
Also new were twin faux scoops that were designed to nest into the existing stamped recesses in the rear quarter panel. This attractive but rarely seen option ($35.80) was available for the R/T and the Super Bee. Though of one-piece plastic construction, the sculpted body-color part gave the appearance of two parallel horizontal faired scoops floating out over the quarter panel.
The simulated air inlets at the scoops' leading edges were silver colored. If you squinted hard, the scoops looked like bloomers; one wag in the studio nicknamed them "Maggie's drawers."
The eggcrate grille of '68 was replaced by a more conventional stamped-aluminum horizontal linear texture, blacked out on Coronet R/Ts and Super Bees, and ornamented with appropriate emblems. While the power-bulge hood remained standard, a new Ramcharger hood option featured twin forward-facing hood scoops that were fully functional.
The scoops forced air to the carburetor via expansive and elaborate plastic ductwork connected to a special air cleaner by a large rubber seal. Doors just below the hood scoops were activated by a switch on the dash, allowing the driver to control whether the engine received cool or warm air. This "engine fresh air induction system," as Dodge engineers termed it, came standard with the Hemi engine.
In '69, Dodge also offered special performance packages for the 440- and 426-cubic-inch engines. Track Pak included a heavy-duty four-speed transmission with Hurst linkage, a heavy-duty 9.75-inch Dana axle with a 3.54 ratio, Sure-Grip nonslip differential, 26-inch high-performance radiator with fan shroud, seven-blade torque-drive fan, and dual-breaker distributor. The Super Track Pak included all of the above plus power disc brakes and 15-inch cast-center road wheels.
Assemblies of Coronet R/Ts from the three plants that made 1969 B-body Dodges (Detroit Lynch Road, Los Angeles, and St. Louis) fell to 6,955 vehicles, 437 of which were convertibles. Of them, 97 hardtops and 10 ragtops came with Hemis at $718 extra. Again, its stablemates were a large part of the R/T's decline.
Some 19,298 '69 Charger R/Ts were sold, and production of Super Bees leapt to 26,125, aided on the style front by the addition of a popular hardtop and on the performance front by a new 440 "Six Pack" engine package. Meanwhile, Plymouth GTX production declined slightly to 15,010 units, while demand for the upstart Road Runner zoomed to 82,109 cars.
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1970 Dodge Coronet R/TInto the third year of use for the ’68 shell, Dodge planners loosened the purse strings to pay for more ambitious styling changes for the 1970 Dodge Coronet R/T, springing for a complete front and rear redo. Compared with the $5.5 million tooling bill for ’69, the more ambitiously facelifted ’70 Coronet and Dodge Charger generated $12.2 million in unique tooling. The changes also resulted in an overall length of 209.7 inches, a 3.1-inch increase.
The complete redesign of the 1970 Dodge
Coronet R/T included a polarizing front end.
The new rear bumper was no longer flat, but was refashioned into a shallow “W” in plan view, with related changes to the decklid and quarter-panel end caps. Delta taillights returned; on 500s and R/Ts they were shaped in triple tapering rectangles much as in ’68, but more exaggerated and with the back-up lamps cleverly concealed between the inner and middle boxes. The R/T’s back panel was once again blacked out.
The add-on bodyside scoop on the rear quarter was changed to a single large simulated vent with an R/T medallion recessed into the surface. In concept, the design of this part was closely tied with a similar scoop on the fore part of the ’70 Charger R/T door. The bumblebee stripe was simplified, becoming almost identical to that used on the ’67 Chevy Camaro SS.
The new front end selected for the 1970 Coronet -- with its distinctive dual-loop bumpers -- has become highly controversial over the years. It was designed by Diran Yazejian, who joined Chrysler in 1959 fresh out of Art Center College of Design in Southern California. As seen in a green-and-black sketch dated March 8, 1967, the design was originally based around two body-color “nostrils” swept back in plan view, each with chrome-lined “throats,” with a crisply contoured chrome bumper floating beneath. For additional cooling, the wide area between the nostrils (which resembled the center section of the hood on the ’71 Oldsmobile Toronado) was pierced by horizontal louvers on either side of the peaked centerline.
But by early August, the design had been altered so that the body-color nostrils became far less dramatic -- flat in plan view instead of being swept back, and closer together -- with small vertical louvers flanking the insides of the loops and everything above a conventional bumper. The whole workout looked pasted on, a mere suggestion of the original idea. (This was typical of the styling process in which the execs would pick a sketch for its dramatic design statement, only to see it progressively watered down to meet manufacturing-cost targets.)
Fortunately for Yazejian’s design, another sketch dated September 19, 1967, reveals that the design had been reinvigorated by transforming the twin nostril concept into a loop bumper. Thus the design went from radical to conventional to radical, a surprising and quite exceptional progression.
Within the corporation, loop bumpers had debuted on the 1969 “fuselage” Chryslers and Imperials, and were attractively incorporated into the facelifted C-body Plymouth Fury and Dodge Polara/Monaco in 1970.
The only other cars in the corporate lineup that year with loop bumpers were the B-body Dodges, the Charger and the Coronet. Dodge planners and stylists felt that the loop bumper was an effective way of distinguishing their products from rival Plymouth, whose B-body still employed a conventional bumper.
The Charger’s loop bumper was straightforward. The first few inches of the 1968-69 sheetmetal were recast in chrome bumper stock running continuously around the grille and headlights. This concept was, of course, more expensive to make than a regular bumper. Not only was more bumper material required (the middle was thrown away), but a more-elaborate and sturdier bumper-mounting system was needed, with lower and upper body mounts.
All of the loop bumpers cited above were carwide rectangles. Not so the loop bumper on the Coronet, which was much trickier. Styled to look like independent tapering wedges, the design was actually one piece, with a recessed area in the center connecting the loops.
“When we were working out the design on the full-size clay model,” Yazejian recalls, “I originally tapered the loops around an imaginary horizontal line bisecting the dual headlights, so each loop tapered in two directions -- up and down. But this didn’t look right, so instead, I kept the bottom line of the loops horizontal -- like my original green-and-black sketch -- and restricted the tapering to the upper half of the loops. This made the design ‘read right.’” Yazejian admits that the idea behind the design was to reprise his signature delta taillights into a new way of looking at a Dodge front-end theme.
Recessed inside each loop were dual headlamps flanked by vertical plastic grille bars that were blacked out on the 500, Super Bee, and R/T, and outlined by a red accent line. A studio photograph dated February 7, 1968, indicates that concealed headlights were considered, but in the end these were confined to the Charger.
One neat finishing touch on most of the two-door Coronets was a body-color vinyl appliqué that covered the bumper’s recessed center section, cleverly making the twin loops look like freestanding units. (Sedans and wagons lacked this appliqué because preproduction surveys indicated that their buyers preferred more chrome.)
The new bumper mandated a new hood, which sported a raised “boattail” plateau that faded as it moved toward the windshield. At the center, a peak-line ridge rose up the waterfall and then back to the windshield. Bisecting this peak, the R/T medallion was mounted to the hood just above the hood/bumper cutline.
To this, R/Ts and Super Bees added a new-style power bulge featuring forward-facing simulated hood scoops that were artfully faired into the hood surface. The Ramcharger option once more relied on twin scoops, with hood tie-down pins optional.
The ’70 front-end design still stirs debate, with the word “odd” often used to describe the appearance. But the new nose job on the Coronet had one clear advantage over the more-conventional ’70 Belvedere front end: The Coronet was more aerodynamic.
As reported by Edwin Sanow and John Bellah in their book Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler Police Cars, 1956-1978, “Car magazines eventually found this silver lining by running drag tests on equally equipped Coronet Super Bees and Belvedere Road Runners. The oval nose of the Coronet cut through the air better at the end of the strip, and consistently produced better speeds through the traps.” So there!
Under the hood on four-barrel cars, the intake manifold was new, and the driver’s exhaust manifold incorporated a heated air inlet to the air cleaner. An electronic voltage regulator was now fitted. The 440 Six Pack, with its 10.5:1 compression ratio and 390 horsepower, had been introduced in mid 1969 for the Super Bee and Road Runner, but in 1970, it became available on virtually all Chrysler Corporation high-performance cars, including the Coronet R/T.
Aside from its triple two-pot Holley carbs, the 440 Six Pack’s heavier pistons with four valve pockets were unique to the engine, as was a forged crankshaft with shot-peened journal fillets and a roller timing chain. Stage III Hemi engines received hydraulic tappets, but just 13 Hemi-powered Coronet R/T hardtops were built, plus one Hemi R/T ragtop (which has, fortunately, survived).
One of the new trick options was the Rim Blow steering wheel in which the horn was activated by a ring integrated into the steering-wheel rim. To blow the horn, you simply squeezed a thin, black rubber “tube” that protruded slightly from the inside rim surface. (It was easy to inadvertently blow the horn, but it was excessive warranty costs that eventually killed the option.)
Despite all that was new, assemblies of Coronet R/Ts for 1970 fell dramatically to a mere 2,408 units. This looked paltry even considering the reduced output of 14,254 Super Bees and 9,509 Charger R/Ts on the Dodge side, and 39,110 Road Runners and 7202 GTXs from Plymouth.
Nineteen seventy was the high-water mark for Chrysler Corporation muscle cars. The year was highlighted by the introduction of the all-new Dodge Challenger and next-generation Plymouth Barracuda, E-body “ponycars” built with the more-substantial B-body underpinnings. The Dodge-Plymouth sibling rivalry elevated a notch with the introduction of Plymouth’s “Rapid Transit System,” an unabashed imitation of Dodge’s successful Scat Pack concept.
Like some once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the planets, everything was in place: the big engines; the sexy styling; the trick graphics combined with vivid colors like Plum Crazy, Go-Mango, Hemi Orange, and Top Banana; the spirited advertising. It was all there to be savored by anyone willing to hand over his hard-earned money to the friendly neighborhood Dodge or Plymouth salesman. The party would continue one more year, but without the Coronet R/T.
For 1971, product planners rearranged the Dodge and Plymouth midsize lineups by splitting off the sportier two-door cars from the utilitarian four-door vehicles. Dodge’s two-door intermediate continued the Charger name with a curvaceous new Yazejian-styled body, while the Coronet badge was reserved for sedans and station wagons.
The Super Bee made the transition from Coronet to Charger (where there was already an R/T). The glamorous Charger and the brash Super Bee had finally triumphed over the more staid Coronet R/T. But their victory was short-lived: 1971 was the last year for the Super Bee and R/T; they were replaced in 1972 by the Charger Rallye, which offered increasingly detuned engines.
Still, it was great fun while it lasted. What’s left today are some highly collectible vehicles with a virtual cult of collectors, enthusiasts, and even magazines devoted to them. In this milieu, however, Coronet R/Ts seem almost neglected in favor of the more charismatic Chargers, Super Bees, and Road Runners, just as they were by customers back in 1968-70.
The one collectible advantage possessed by the Coronet R/T is that unlike its B-body siblings, it was always offered both as a hardtop and a convertible. Remember, during 1968-70, there were never any Super Bee or Charger soft tops, no Plymouth GTX convertible in 1970, and no Road Runner ragtops in 1968. Hopefully, when collectors realize this, we may see more Coronet R/Ts -- especially of the open variety -- at the various shows.
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1968-1970 Dodge Coronet R/T SpecificationsThe Dodge Coronet R/T had power and style. But the muscle car field was crowded in the late 1960s, both in the industry as a whole and within Chrysler Corporation. With competition on the market and in its own showrooms, the Coronet never put up the sales numbers to take a place in history alongside its brethren. Here are the 1968-1970 Dodge Coronet R/T specifications.
Up until the end, the Coronet R/T had plenty of
power, as seen in this 1970 engine.
1968 Dodge Coronet R/T (117-inch wheelbase)
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1969 Dodge Coronet R/T (117-inch wheelbase)
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1970 Dodge Coronet R/T (117-inch wheelbase)
| ||Weight (lbs.)||Price (new)||Number built|
For more pictures and articles about great cars, see: