If there’s one thing which always manages to excite the boy in me, it’s American prototypes and concept cars from their golden era. In stark contrast to the European car manufacturers of the same period who were terribly practical, sensible and sometimes just a tad boring, the Americans truly gave it their all up through the fifties and sixties.
That most certainly holds true for the designers at Dodge back in November 1963, when they presented their latest thoughts for the new Dodge Charger Roadster at that year’s Milwaukee Auto Show. They started off with the reasonably humble Dodge Polara Convertible and then injected a huge dose of racing and testosterone directly into its veins. Amazingly though, they actually managed to retain the majority of the stock body panels, thereby retaining the family relation. Long, wide and low, it was a spectacular sight – a real “looker”. At a mere 112cm tall, it immediately stole all the attention on the vast Dodge display at the exhibition.
During the wild transformation from Polara to Charger, several common and ordinary elements of pretty much any car design were deemed unnecessary and subsequently deleted – among these: bumpers front and rear, back seats, the retractable convertible hood, and even the external door handles. All of this naturally lead to a significant loss of weight, which was much needed too if the new concept was to have any sporty credentials, as the original Polara could hardly be called a feather weight. But it also handed the designers the opportunity for a much simpler, unadorned and streamlined design than what the Americans were used to during the early sixties. With the vast chromed bumpers gone, four tiny upright bumper gaurds were placed either end of the car. They obviously wouldn’t have protected the car from bumps and scrapes like the original bumpers did, but instead they gave the roadster a menacing and decidedly aggressive expression.
Elwood Engel, Director of Styling at the Chrysler Corporation – which Dodge was of course a part of – stated that “the Charger’s styling speaks DODGE”. He then continued to explain that the new design had a “get-up-and-go” image which he proclaimed was the very definition of Dodge’s overall image which he called “…an all-out, dependable performer.”
A wide front grill and big seven inch headlights further enhanced the potent design. Magnesium wheels from Halibrand wrapped with sticky Goodyear racing tyres were tucked away under the arches with extra wide wheel wells at the rear. These were no doubt minded for the drag racing enthusiasts, as they could thereby immediately fit even wider rear tyre and wheel combinations.
This vicious concept of a racing machine was of course born right at the beginning of the era for those massive bonnet air intakes. As always in the USA, bigger was better and Dodge were not about to be left out, so the Charger Roadster was naturally equipped with a gigantic Ram Air scoop atop the huge bonnet. It was to help fed to hungry 426 cu in Wedge V8 with plentiful cool and dense air. The 426 was originally fitted with a single four-barrel carburettor, but this new bonnet design allowed for all of two four-barrel carburettors! Luckily for Dodge, the fuel crisis was still about a decade away…
The windows – if we can even call that slim piece of glass a window – were only a mere 15cm tall, further reinforcing the racing image, and the vast built-in rollbar made sure that the rear seat most certainly remained on the shelf in Dodge’s parts store. Instead, they focused on the front seats giving them both aerodynamically shaped integrated headrests – a design feature which I’m particularly taken with. The bucket seats were also given extra side support and then trimmed in a luxurious charcoal grey leather. The cherry on the cake was the Deist competition racing harness holding both occupants tight.
Another interesting design feature was the two front seats being separated longitudinally by a leather clad wall down the middle of the interior. It would have kept the Charger’s male driver from being distracted by the short skirt of his passenger, and instead his focus could remain firmly on the walnut gearknob, the tacho with a 8000 rpm redline and the 365 potent horses in the engine bay. Indeed, Chrysler and Dodge truly had vision for speed obsessed young men in 1963…