The Dodge 'Charger' name is synonymous with 'muscle car'. Though beaten off the line by Pontiac and their 'GTO', Chrysler was already making plans of their own that would not merely catch up, but, would blow the competition away. Of course, today, the Dodge Charger is one of a number of muscle cars. But the car that introduced the 'Charger' name to the world was anything but ordinary.
Initially the plan was to have a concept created to be a platform for the new 426 cubic inch 'Hemi' V-8 engine. But not just any platform would do. The concept needed to convey to the public the radical horsepower the Hemi V-8 provided. What Chrysler's design team engineered was equally radical.
Throughout the 1950s, many concept cars were merely rolling models. They were literally 3-D canvases; works of art on display, but never intended to actually function. Chrysler's design team intended to change that. They were intent on showing the public a Dodge Charger fit for one's imagination. They set out to design a concept, the supreme idea, of what the Charger could and would be.
Many concept cars are not imagined out of thin air, but have something as a source of inspiration. A designer can be captivated by a shape or the way sunlight strikes something in nature or in modern structures. An artist can even be inspired by a word. For Chrysler's design team, the word was 'Polara'. The company's Polara wasn't, however, the fulfillment of what the team had been imagining. The car would only serve as a baseline model, from which would be built the team's expression of a Dodge 'Charger'.
Much of the stock components in the Polara were removed and forgotten. The car's bumper was replaced by a single, rolled pan with four, small rubber bars. The grille was replaced with a straight hand-built unit. The Polara's inner high-beam lights were removed. The larger, single light remained. The vane running from the top of the headlight cover and back toward the rear of the car remained but was accented much more, creating a higher, box-style rear deck.
The hoodline was contoured slightly and a functional cold-air scoop was added to the top of the hood. The upper-line of the headlight cover, along the side of the doors and all the way back to the rear deck was lowered. Body side-trim was reduced, but the result still gave the on-looker a hint of the Polara's basic outline. As had been done at the front of the car, the rear bumper was also removed in favor of rubber bars. Stock taillights were used, but were spread further apart. One of the other aspects from the Polara that was retained was the DODGE letters across the top of the hood.
While the outside of the car still had many similarities with the Polara, from which the concept had been fashioned, the interior had practically no connection at all. The entire interior compartment had been custom-crafted. The car had been transformed into an incredible two-seat design, complete with a special low-cut wraparound windscreen and an incredible roll-bar/headrest combination. The instrument display, for the most part, was taken just as it would have appeared in the Polara with the exception of an 8,000 rpm tachometer. The specially made dark charcoal leather bucket seats were separated by a James Bond-like padded divider that housed many of the controls on the center console. In reflection to times of the past, the three-spoke steering wheel was finished with a walnut wood trim.
While under 48 inches tall, the Charger concept was anything but small. Its low height and wide stance made it an aggressive and mean looking car.
While the car was all dressed up for the ball, its purposed mode by which it was to get there left it at home with nowhere to go. As the date for the unveiling neared, Chrysler's design team ran into a very real problem. The car was intended to showcase the all-new, specially-built, V-8 Hemi engine, but none could be found. The one meant to be put inside the concept had to go to one of Chrysler's racing teams after it blew one of them.
Running out of time, the team put the Polara's 305 horsepower 383 cubic inch V-8 back in and closed the hood. Amazingly, the Dodge Charger Concept went to the ball without its most important date. The car was taken all over the country, and although the badge said 426 on it, that was not the engine sitting under the hood. Never was the hood raised. Chrysler had gotten away with one. Soon, the concept would get away with one as well.
Most concept cars end up being destroyed and scrapped. This one would end up being saved from the chopping block by a Pennsylvanian Dodge dealer. Eventually, the dealer passed the car on to his son. The car was effectively stored away for over 30 years until concept and show car collector Joe Bortz located it in 1999. After negotiating the sale, Mr. Bortz began the journey of restoring this classic concept car.
Mr. Bortz turned to famous restorer and detailer Fran Roxas to help locate period-correct Halibrand wheels. Halibrand had initially crafted special wheels used on the Charger concept. Surprisingly, Roxas was able to locate the necessary wheels and helped to build some momentum in the project. The wheels were particularly difficult pieces in the restoration puzzle, but, by being able to locate and purchase wheels in good condition, the whole project received a boost of confidence.
Of course, perhaps one of the most important quests in the journey was to actually try and re-unite the car with one of the handcrafted V-8 Hemi engines originally intended to sit inside and power it. Mr. Bortz turned to Hemi expert John Arruzza for his help. Sparing no cost, Arruzza was able to locate one of the original fifteen racing Hemi engines. It even came with a pair of original 1964 NASCAR-spec Hemi heads and vintage Holley four-barrel carburetor.
When the project was finally completed, the 1964 Dodge Hemi Charger Concept Car was able to proudly wear its 426 badge. After nearly 40 years the two were mated up. This time, the car roared to life with an engine capable of delivering over 600 bhp! With its three-speed automatic transmission, independent torsion bar front and rear semi-elliptic lead spring suspension, a 'Sure-Grip' rear axle, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes and all on a 119 inch wheelbase, finally the whole concept, the whole motive had come together!By Jeremy McMullen
Related Reading : Dodge Charger History
The Dodge Charger was produced from 1966 through 1978, 1983 through 1987, and again beginning in 2006. Since its inception, the impressive performance and stylish bodies made the Charger an instant success. During its introductory year, 37,344 examples were produced. The Dodge Charger was based on the Dodge Coronet platform, but with a fastback roofline. The headlights were retractable which resulted.... Continue Reading >>
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