1969 Dodge Charger 500: The missing link of NASCAR’s aerodynamics

1969 Dodge Charger 500

1969 Dodge Charger 500

The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 was a short-lived bridge between a standard-bodied Dodge and the pointy-nosed big-winged Dodge Daytona, little heralded then and now mostly forgotten.

But the story began in 1968. Both the Dodge Charger and the Ford Fairlane had been freshly rebodied. The Charger’s swoopy new styling replaced the angular tacked-on fastback of its original incarnation, while the Fairlane got a fastback version to go along with the formal notchback sedans. It promised to be an interesting year for NASCAR competition, if only to see how the new aerodynamics would shake up things. The ’67 season had not been good for Ford.

The first 1968 meeting of the makes was at Daytona, and it marked an immediate change in fortunes for Ford. Instead of the also-rans of the 1967 season, the Fairlane Torinos and sibling Mercury Cyclones were at least six miles per hour faster in qualifying than the fastest Dodge Chargers. Only Richard Petty was able to break the Ford stranglehold, and only occasionally, in a ’68 Plymouth Roadrunner with special aerodynamic attention. It showed in results as well: Cale Yarborough took the checkered in a Mercury, and FoMoCo products grabbed four of the top five places.

Now, NASCAR stockers had never been known for their aerodynamics—even the race queens were more, uh, streamlined—but that was where the answer lay for Chrysler.

The problem was in the Charger’s recessed grille and tunneled rear window. The former acted like a parachute, and the latter at speed tried to suck half the state of Georgia along in its wake.

What, then, about a special run of Chargers with flush grilles and fastback rears?  Only 500 would need for homologation. Along about June of ’68, Creative Industries, a Detroit shop that since 1953 had been doing things that the automotive industry couldn’t or wouldn’t do for itself—including, for example, making woodie Chrysler LeBarons in the mid ‘80s—began the task of preparing production o a special Charger along lines laid out by the Dodge boys.

In August, 1968, production began. Completed Chargers coming off the production line were trucked to Creative Industries for conversion to what would be known as the 1969 Dodge Charger 500.

The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 was different from the regular Charger in three ways. First was the grille. Instead of the recessed grille with its stylish retractable headlights, the 500 got a specially-made stamped grille with fully exposed lamps.

1969 Dodge Charger 500 Hemi engine

The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 was available with the 440 Wedge or the th3 426 Hemi shown.

The second way the ’69 Charger 500 was changed was a turbulence-inducing metal “sleeve” over the A-pillar. The third was the replacement of the recessed rear window with new sheet metal between the “sail fins” at the rear of the roof and a special piece of glass for the rear window.

The result was a car that front the front looked cheaper than the standard issue and front the rear looked wildly impractical: The tiny trunk lid, made necessary by the fastback roof, meant that although the 500’s trunk was just as big as the regular Charger’s, one would need a funnel to put anything into it. At least one newspaper scribe wondered whether they were going to sell very many.

Of course, that wasn’t the point. The purpose of the car was to win races. The changes, though unstylish and impractical, in track testing demonstrated an improvement from three to seven miles per hour. At 17 horsepower per miles per hour gained—the generally accepted factor at the time—the alterations were well worth the effort.