A Pair of Crowns: 1968 Coronet R/T and Super Bee Hulks Await Restoration

Story & photos by Steve Magnante. Please hover over each picture for more information.

 

On first glance, only the domed hood sets this WS23L Coronet R/T hulk apart from a run–of-the-mill Slant Six or 318 car. While family-style Coronets came with flat hoods, only the R/T and Super Bee screamers carried this non-functional domed unit, which also saw service in 1969 (on non-cold air cars). Despite the kinked hinge, severe surface rust and botched plastic fill job, it’s salvageable.

 

 

A car’s name is just as important as its outward appearance. The sleekest lines, the best handling, the hottest engine—none of it means a thing if the name is all wrong. Automotive history is littered with plenty of hits—and misses—in the eternal quest to conjure just the right vehicular appellation. Some names just seem to fall from the sky, land on the car and set sales records. Others—despite the input of focus groups, marketing experts, mystics and wizards in the name game—miss the mark and stagnate on dealer lots until cancelled—or re-named.

 

In the Dodge camp, nobody can argue the wisdom and success of names like Charger, Challenger and Dart. Ignoring each model’s historical legacy and application to some pretty iconic American iron, the 2014 editions wear their names well. Simply stated, a visitor from another planet (who happens to understand the English language and the human mindset) won’t need anybody to describe why the names were applied to the cars. Each model looks like its name, if that makes sense.

 

 

The unmolested engine bay still packs the original L-code 440 Magnum, standard equipment in every 1967–70 Coronet R/T. Only the radiator hoses, distributor cap and ignition wires deviate from stock. Visible options include power steering ($99.65), power brakes ($41.65) and 3-speed windshield wipers ($5.20). While debut year 1967 440 R/T engines wore snazzy chrome-plated rocker covers, Dodge saved a few bucks and switched to painted rockers for ’68 and up.

 

 

But in the case of the Dodge Coronet, a model name last used in 1976, our hypothetical extraterrestrial friend might need some coaching to understand the linkage between the actual car and the small crown worn by royalty and nobles below the rank of sovereign—as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Oh, and let’s not make the classic mistake of confusing the Coronet with a cornet. The lung-powered musical instrument lacks the “o” needed for inclusion in this discussion. Oh? Oh!

 

 

Decades of exposure to New England weather has left the stock white vinyl interior with plenty of surface rust and mold. When the 727 Torqueflite was specified, the shifter came on the column unless the optional center console ($55.40) was ordered, as seen here. Speaking of head rests, they could also be had individually for $21.95. It was possible to order a single head rest on either side of the front seat if so desired.

 

 

The Coronet name was first used in 1949, a very big year for Dodge in two very significant ways. First, the ’49s were the first all-new post-WWII Dodges. Like the rest of the domestic auto industry, Chrysler Corporation needed a few years after the end of the war to regroup after making tanks, bomber engines, gun sights and so on for four long years. The 1946–48 offerings were warmed-over pre-war models. Again, the rest of Detroit’s major automakers were in the same situation. But the 1949s solved the problem and were all new except for the engines.

 

 

The ancient aftermarket door speakers were installed many years ago, but, oddly, the factory-issue Music Master AM radio ($60.25) remains. The first Dodge AM/FM receivers came a year later in 1969.

 

 

The second major breakthrough for 1949 was a revamp in the way Dodge vehicles were identified. They were assigned names, and a formal hierarchical structure was assigned to the Dodge lineup. With each model attractively adorned with chrome-plated external emblems and badges, Dodge salesmen could more easily show customers the many choices available. The breakthrough lineup for ’49 was comprised of the Wayfarer, Meadowbrook and Coronet.

 

 

Hinting it originally rode on black painted 14”x5.5” steel wheels instead of optional chromed 14”x5.5” Magnum 500/Road Wheels ($102.05) or simulated mag-style wheel covers ($67.30), the standard full wheel covers rest on the floor. Standard R/T tires were F70-14’s with red sidewall stripes. White sidewalls were a no-charge alternative.

 

 

In previous years, Dodge used a rather bland and confusing alpha-numeric naming system, which had evolved out of the very first Dodge Brothers offering of 1914, the so-called Model 30-35, a name used through 1916. Then came the Model 30 (1917–1921), First Series Four/Second Series Four (1922 only), Series 116 (1923–1925) and Series 126/124 (1926–1927). A burst of imagination arrived briefly with the excitingly named Fast Four (1927–1928) and Victory Six (1928–1929), but by 1930 things had reverted back to an array of literal series designations like Series DD, DO, DP, D11, D17, etc. Undoubtedly, the 1949 switch to actual names was much appreciated by all involved.

 

 

Though the floors and engine bay are mostly rust free, the rear quarter panel extensions are typical of rust belt cars. Before these cars had value, quickie rust repairs were performed using tin sheet, pop rivets and plastic body filler. Temporary in nature, subsequent rust and temperature extremes caused the filler to lift and fall away as seen here. The only fix is complete replacement with NOS or reproduction patch panels.

 

 

Getting back to the Coronet nameplate, we have to remember that when it was conjured in the immediate post-war years, Dodge vehicles had a reputation for being durable, well-engineered, economical and affordable. Excitement, style and thrills weren’t part of the equation—yet. In that setting, it is understandable that a name that conjured the authority, wisdom and stability of a kingdom wouldn’t be out of place. And so Coronet it was.

 

 

The Coronet shared its blacked-out trunk panel applique with the Coronet 500, the bolt-on R/T badge being the only difference. This R/T lacks the tail stripe treatment, which could be deleted at the buyer’s request. 1968 was the debut year for Dodge’s iconic bumble bee tail stripe treatment on the Charger R/T, Coronet R/T and Dart GTS.

 

 

By 1968, however, the babies born to returning WWII servicemen and women were grown and buying cars. Younger and more worldly than their parents, these folks wanted excitement, and Dodge delivered it with cars like the Charger and Dart. 1968 was a great year for the Dodge Boys. Retail sales of passenger cars jumped an impressive 47 percent over the prior year’s sales, and elevated Dodge’s domestic market share from seventh to sixth place among Detroit automakers. It is easy—but incorrect—to assume the compact Dart was responsible for this happy turn of events. After all, Darts were everywhere back then and continue to be a very common sight at just about any car show. But the fact is the mid-sized Coronet contributed more dollars to Dodge Division’s bottom line in 1968 than any other model that year.

 

 

Moving on to the derelict ’68 Super Bee, though its Plymouth Road Runner cousin could be had in hardtop or sedan configurations, the debut-year Super Bee was a strictly sedan proposition to keep prices as low as possible. Inaugural-year Super Bee output was 7,842, of which 2,933 were 4-speed equipped. 1968 Super Bees all carry a VIN starting with WM21. This 383 Magnum car bears engine code H in the fifth position of the VIN tag. As with a ’68 Coronet R/T, had the optional 426 Street HEMI been ordered, the engine code would read “J.”

 

 

Coronets of various types accounted for 36.73 percent of the nearly 606,000 Dodge passenger cars sold in 1968. By comparison, the Dart was a distant second place, comprising 28.35 percent of total Dodge output. Not surprisingly, the expensive Monaco full-size was in last place, accounting for 6.83 percent of the grand total.

 

 

Despite its bargain-basement price, Dodge didn’t skimp on the Super Bee suspension. Super Bees came standard with police-spec 11”x3”/11”x2.5” front/rear drum brakes and a heavy-duty 0.94”-dia. front sway bar, all on display here.

 

 

Two key details convinced nearly a quarter-million folks to choose Coronet for ’68: its freshly restyled body, and models to suit every need and budget. On the outside, the stylists replaced the sharp creases and right angles of the 1967 Coronet with what was dubbed the “Coke Bottle Theme.” Most fully expressed by the also-newly-styled-for-’68 Charger, Coke-bottle design language emulated the classic glass beverage container’s gentle curves and gave the body graceful “hips” above the wheel arches. For Coronet, body stylists couldn’t totally steal the Charger’s thunder, so they watered it down a little bit with less pronounced curves. But the result was still very attractive, and Coronet sales jumped nearly 21 percent over 1967 sales.

 

 

All 383 Super Bees used the 8 3/4" rear axle regardless of transmission (HEMI 4-speeds got the Dana 60). The exact ratio and differential type (Sure Grip or open) are unknown, but the 489 case, large 7290-type driveshaft yoke and 11” drum brakes suggest this is the original axle to the car.

 

 

Though most 1968 Coronets were built as basic people movers with 318 2-barrel engines, Dodge didn’t ignore the muscle car market with its prime mover. And while the name “Coronet R/T” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as “Charger R/T,” rest assured the Coronet was just as capable. What’s more, Dodge chose the Coronet to showcase its entry into the budget muscle car marketplace with the Super Bee, a mid-year response to Plymouth’s Road Runner.

 

 

We looked around for the doors, fenders, hood, grille, glass, bumpers, etc. but turned up empty. Still, this rolling shell is ripe for restoration. In fact, all stripped down, it is ready for media blasting.

 

 

The 1968 Super Bee was available in one body style only, the 2-door pillar sedan with non-retractable pop-out rear side glass. While the same-year Road Runner could be had in both sedan and hardtop body styles, for ’68 the Bee was strictly a fixed B-pillar proposition. A hardtop body style—with roll-down rear side windows—arrived in 1969, but unlike the Road Runner (which even added a convertible body in 1969), the Super Bee was strictly a fixed-roof proposition during its four-year life cycle (1968–71). A total of 7,842 Super Bees were built in ’68 (125 with the optional 426 Street HEMI®). By contrast, Plymouth’s head start and more intensive marketing campaign managed to push 44,598 Road Runners out the door, beating the Bee by more than five-to-one.

 

 

The 4-speed transmission hump bears mute testimony to the one-time presence of a 23-spline A833 4-speed transmission under the (surprisingly rust-free) floor. HEMI Bee’s would have used the stronger 18-spline 4-speed box. A budget-oriented 3-speed manual transmission (Chrysler’s new A230 unit) was added to the Super Bee’s menu in 1970 to help keep the base sticker price close to an even $3,000.

 

 

At the top of the Coronet model hierarchy was the legendary R/T, in only its second year on the market for 1968. An abbreviation for “Road and Track” (and the assumed prowess of the car in both realms), the Coronet R/T debuted in 1967 with a standard 440 Magnum—the biggest muscle car mill of them all at the time (the 455 powered Hurst/Olds didn’t arrive until 1968). There was no “step-down” 383 offering. If you got an R/T, you were in charge of nothing less than 375 horsepower and 480 lb/ft of torque, or the Street HEMI if you were so inclined. This standard 440 power in any B-body wearing the R/T badge was unchanged right through 1971, when the R/T made its final appearance on Chargers.

 

 

This standard (though delete-able) tail stripe has earned its 45 years of patina. Unlike the bumble bee tail stripes applied to same-year R/T and Dart GTS models, only the Bee was interrupted with this circular cartoon logo.

 

 

Total 1968 Coronet R/T sales were 10,558, only 377 units more than sales of the 1967 Coronet R/T—despite the completely restyled body. What happened? The Charger happened. While low-budget Dodge muscle car shoppers were instantly drawn to the Super Bee and its $3,027 base sticker, moving up a rung into the $3,500 price category, a mere $127 separated the base Coronet R/T from the base Charger R/T. Who wouldn’t want the Charger’s distinctive hideaway headlights, tunneled backlight and bucket seat interior? As a result, the ’68 Charger R/T outsold the ’68 Coronet R/T by 7,107 units (17,665 versus 10,558), despite both cars being 98-percent mechanically identical.

 

 

 

One advantage the Coronet R/T had over the Charger R/T was the availability of a convertible body type. But that seemed to matter to only 569 customers (the number of ’68 Coronet R/T ragtops built). This pair of ’68 Coronets was discovered in a New England salvage yard. Safe from the crusher, the owner appreciates their rarity.

 

 


  • epicurus

    Man, that is going to be a big restoration job. It would take me a lifetime and I still probably wouldn’t finish!

  • epicurus

    When I was a teenager I fell for the old Coronet is the cornet musical instrument. Or maybe it was a clarinet.