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Dodge Charger History (1966)

Article by Mark Trotta

After Ford's successful debut of the Mustang in 1964, other car manufacturers scrambled to bring out sporty new models. At Chrysler Corporation, Plymouth had just introduced their new pony-car, the Barracuda. To avoid competing with their sister company, the Dodge boys based their new fastback on a mid-sized car platform, which would provide plenty of room under the hood for their biggest and most powerful motors.

1966 Dodge Charger

Charger Concept Car

Carl "Cam" Cameron designed the stretched roofline car, partly inspired by the 1949 Cadillac. A concept car was built and displayed at car shows in 1965, receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews. The Dodge Charger was put into production shortly after. Similarity to the Rambler Marlin was coincidental.

1966 Dodge Charger

Sharing the B-body platform with the Coronet, the Charger's long body rode on a 117-inch wheelbase.

1966 Dodge Charger headlights

Front sheet metal resembled the Coronet slightly, but the Charger's grille was wider, smoother, and featured fully rotating, electrically-operated retractable headlights.

Helping the 3,600 pound car look sporty was the wide fastback, which stretched all the way to the rear bumper. Chrome block letters spaced across the taillights spelled "C H A R G E R".

first year Dodge Charger taillights



With a six-foot-wide body, there was plenty of room inside. Four individual bucket seats shared a full-length console. The rear bucket seats and console pad folded forward, and with the trunk divider dropped back, seven feet of cargo space was available. Interior carpeting extended into the trunk.



Charger Dashboard

Four round pods housed the tachometer, speedometer, alternator, and fuel/temperature gauges. High-clarity electro-luminescent back-lighting, previously used on other Chrysler models, lit up the dashboard at night.



The Charger's base transmission was a column-shifted three speed manual. Optional was a four-on-the-floor manual or three-speed automatic. And nothing but V-8's under the hood!

A two-barrel, 230 horsepower 318ci engine was standard. Optional was a 265 horsepower 361 motor, a 325 horsepower 383 engine, or a street version of Chrysler's 426 Hemi race engine.


426 Hemi Engine

Cylinder heads with hemispherical, or hemi-shaped, combustion chambers are a good choice where power at high rpm is desired. The advantage is that valves can be angled away from each other and larger valves may be fitted. Additionally, a straighter, less restrictive path can then be provided for the air/fuel mixture, improving engine breathing.

cut-away illustation of the 426 Hemi-head

Placing spark plugs near the center of the chambers helps achieve more complete combustion of the air/fuel mixture. However, because the intake and exhaust valve stems point in different directions, cylinder heads need to be larger, which makes rocker-arm geometry more complicated than other OHV V-8s.

The 426 cubic-inch Hemi motor was first seen in 1964 on the race track and offered in street trim in 1966. With a 4.25 inch bore and 3.75 stroke, the seven-litre OHV V-8 is based on an iron block with four-bolt-main, cross-bolted caps. The crankshaft is forged-steel, as are the connecting rods. Compression ratio for the street Hemi is 10.25:1.



For induction, the Street Hemi had an aluminum dual-plane dual-carb manifold with dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors mounted in-line. With a solid-lifter camshaft, 425 horsepower was advertised, but actual output was closer to 500 horsepower. Torque was listed at 490 ft/lb at 4000 rpm.

Huge by any standards, the 426 Street Hemi was nicknamed "Elephant Engine" not only for its cubic capacity and power, but for its 800-plus pound weight. Included with the engine option were stiffer front springs and bigger 11-inch drum brakes.

Just 468 Chargers were Hemi-equipped in 1966, which cost the buyer an additional $880.


Five Year/50,000 Mile Warranty

Chrysler was one of the first automotive companies to offer a 5 year/50,000 mile powertrain warranty, but it did not apply when the Hemi option was chosen. Instead, buyers got a one-year/12,000 warranty, with a strict clause prohibiting any racing. Chrysler was quite serious about this; there are reports of company representatives visiting race tracks all over the United States, recording license plates and vehicle identification numbers.

first year Dodge Charger

Considering its mid-year introduction, the 37,344 Chargers sold in 1966 was impressive.


Related Articles:

Rambler Marlin (1965-1967)
Dodge Charger (1967)
Dodge Charger (1968)
Muscle Car History (1964-1969)