By late 1963, when Pontiac’s GTO hit the market and arguably launched the “muscle car” concept, not everyone in Detroit was blindsided, for Chrysler had been quietly preparing to unleash their newest weapon for competition: the new 426-cubic inch “Hemi” V-8. To launch it, Chrysler’s corporate headquarters approved the radical Charger concept car, also marking Chrysler Corporation’s first use of the “Charger” name.
Starting with a bone-stock Dodge Polara, stylists set about creating an awe-inspiring package. Unlike many of the showboats from the 1950s that looked good but often did not even run, there was every intention to make the machine one that would blow the doors off the competition – literally.
Upon arrival in the studio, many of the Polara’s stock components were removed. Up front, the chrome bumper was replaced with a smoothly blended rolled pan, fitted with a quartet of simple, rubber-faced “nerf” bars. The standard grille opening was replaced with a hand-built, blacked-out unit with the inner high-beam headlights deleted. Hand-fabricated surrounds were created for the remaining outer lights, while the front of the hood was rolled slightly and a functional cold-air scoop was added.
Several production-based detail items, such as the D-O-D-G-E letters across the hood and the ornamental fender badges, were retained, but body side-trim was modified, leaving only a hint and basic outline of the original brightwork.
Virtually the entire passenger compartment was custom-crafted and transformed into a two-passenger configuration with a panel that extended the rear deck to the back of the front seats. A special low-cut wraparound windscreen was added, and a dramatic integral roll-bar/headrest was equipped with individual pods for the two occupants. A pair of special, dark charcoal, leather-covered bucket seats was produced from Superform padding.
Separating the front-seat passengers into individual pods was a padded divider that housed many of the controls on the center console. A tri-spoke steering wheel with a walnut rim was used, along with handcrafted bright metal accelerator and brake pedals. While the basic original instrument cluster was retained, an 8,000-rpm Stewart-Warner tachometer was installed in the center of the dashboard.
At the rear, the chrome bumper was removed and replaced by a rolled pan and rubber-padded nerf bars. Stock taillights were retained but spaced wider apart and mounted to a custom panel eliminating the license plate housing. Other custom touches included shaved door handles and a pair of chromed exhaust ports, which would operate with cutouts diverting the exhaust from the stock dual mufflers. Special Halibrand wheels were fitted with Goodyear whitewall tires. As completed, the package was low, wide, lean and mean. At just under 48 inches high, it was a visual masterpiece.
While Dodge intended to use the car to showcase the all-new 426 Hemi’s ground-pounding performance, a critical problem arose. A very limited number of hand-built motors were being produced for select racing teams, but at least one was earmarked for use in the Charger concept. However, when a Chrysler-backed racing team blew up their Hemi, the unit slated for use in the show car was diverted to them.
As the time drew nearer for the curtain to go up on the Charger, there simply was no engine available to fulfill the “426” badges placed inside the air scoop and on its fenders. Despite press releases to the contrary, when the Charger debuted, the actual engine under the hood was the same 305-horse, 383-cubic inch V-8 that came with the donor Polara. One period show folder actually stated it had the 426 “Wedge” V-8 with 365 hp, but that engine too was never installed. Shifting was accomplished through a beefed-up automatic transmission, with power delivered to a Sure-Grip rear axle. Maybe the media were less demanding in those days, for as the car toured the country, the engine compartment was never opened.
600+ bhp, 426 cu. in. Chrysler “Hemi” V-8 engine, three-speed automatic transmission, independent torsion bar front and rear semi-elliptic leaf spring suspension, 4.56:1 “Sure Grip” rear axle, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 119″
Source: RM Auctions
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