The automotive world has changed a great deal in the 50 years since the muscle car era. Madison Avenue is no longer dominated by a male culture, the average lunch no longer mandates three Manhattans or other high-octane concoctions once referred to as brown water. Wed like to think that everything is a little more gentle than it once was. The truth be told is that the musclecar business was never, has never, and will never be a bastion of political correctness. You either had the need for speed, or you didnt and on that merit alone, it was always sort of us versus them.
A name like Charger denoted speed and aggression; not for the namby-pamby set. Adding R/T to it meant you had bought power to match the name. For the chosen ones, the car names rolled our tongues off easy enough Charger, Dart, Challenger. They denoted something that was not passé, something guaranteed to be more than a pedestrian walk down the boulevard. Sure, nobody really knew what a Polara or Monaco was, and those names subsequently faded away. But a Coronet denoted the torrid era of jazz, Swinger was slang for a certain type of fast and easy lifestyle, and Demon, well, that title spoke for itself. Then you could put some initials on it R/T for Road / Track, GTS for Gran Turismo Sport, T/A for Trans Am and on it went. The names were not for the faint of heart, and were badges worn with honor at the local drive-in.
Then there were the engines Magnum, Six Pack, Hemi, Max Wedge, Ramcharger. One early variety was a race six cylinder called a Hyper Pak; again, not the stoic motivation that took your mom down to the grocery store. Nope, these were engines that often right came from the factory with chrome and high-lift camshafts. You ended up at the gas station (sometimes more often then you wanted), showing everyone in walking distance what was under the hood. You didnt have to ask them to look, either; once that hood was open, theyd just show up to scope it out.
The dealerships would use whatever incentives they could find to get people to come in and check them all out. It was the Lively Set, then the Hot Ones, the Dodge Rebellion, the White Hat Guys, and Dodge Fever, Dodge Material, and the Scat Pack. Sure, there were thousands upon thousands of non-performance cars that came out at the same time, but marketing the excitement of performance was a huge part of selling them as well. The idea was to use that excitement to put someone into a similarly-styled 318 Charger, or slant six Dart, or Coronet station wagon.
Hiring winning drivers like Dick Landy, Don Garlits, David Pearson, and Buddy Baker led to notoriety on the sports pages as well. It was a big deal during this time period to have a win on Sunday, sell on Monday mentality. Most manufacturers pushed the sanctioning bodies for favorable rules, and built cars to meet the needs. In the first part of the 1969 model run, there was a semi-sleek Charger 500, and that was followed up after a close-but-no-cigar effort in Florida that winter with a radically-restyled Charger called the Daytona (named for the race), with a pointed nose and skyscraper deck wing.
We still like to have fun marketing musclecars. Our Chargers and Challengers still run the high-banks of NASCAR and NHRA strips. Our current batch of TV spots and prints speak of the passion, performance and the spirit that drives us. And who could forget our now infamous Challenger Freedom TV spot?
Here our future president George Washington and his worn band of patriots route a regiment of British Redcoats by a trio of black Challengers SRT8s.
Who says were not having fun anymore?