Curbside Classic: 1969 Dodge Coronet 440 – Bread and Butter B-Body

(first posted 11/10/2012)     It was 1969, and the B-bodies from the Dodge Boys were making some big waves. Dodge Charger 500s were tearing up NASCAR’s short tracks. Bewinged Charger Daytonas had broken 200 mph on super-speedways. Coronet-derived Super Bees terrorized empty stretches of highway in the wee hours of the weekend. So how was Chrysler able to finance all that Saturday & Sunday excess? By selling a lot of Coronet 440s on Monday, that’s how.

First, a few notes on Mopar nomenclature: For 1969, all Dodge passenger cars fell into one of three categories: The compact A-body (Dart); full-size C-body (Polara/Monaco); and the midsize Coronet and Charger B-bodies. Although various trim levels and option packages created a hierarchy within each category, today we’ll concentrate on those specific to the B-bodies. The Charger was available in base, R/T, or SE/500 trim (which technically included the Charger Daytona), and the Coronet was available in Deluxe trim (which included the Super Bee) as well as 440, 500, and R/T option levels. Got that? All right, now on to the engines:

Image courtesy of  Hamtramck Historical

The 1969 Coronet offered seven engine choices, starting with the base Slant Six. From there, however, it was all V8, from the small-block “LA” 318 (not to be confused with the earlier polyspherical 318) and big-block  383 and 440 “B” engines, all the way up to the big Kahuna 426 Hemi.

Quite confusingly, Dodge nomenclature included both a 440 engine and a Coronet 440 trim level, although the two were mutually exclusive: A Coronet in 440 trim could not be had with 440 under its hood. The largest engine available for the Coronet 440 trim level was the 383 cu in V8 in two- or four-barrel guise. The Magnum 383 was restricted to Super Bee, and the Magnum 440 to the R/T.

With all of that out of the way, we can focus on the Coronet at hand. It’s equipped, as most were, with an LA-series 318 cu in engine sending 230 hp and 340 lb-ft. of torque through a TorqueFlite transmission, in this case the A904 (light-duty) version. Sales figures indicate that this was the most common engine/transmission combination for Coronet 440s, and it’s not hard to figure out why: Since their introductions, both the “new” 318 and A904 had proven themselves to be stout and reliable power train components (both have long since achieved “cockroach” status among Mopar enthusiasts because they simply refuse to die).

A sterling power train, however, is not enough to keep a fairly pedestrian ’60s Dodge on the road for close to 45 years. Achieving that kind of longevity takes a little help from the environment. This Coronet appears to have been sold new by Parrish & Clark, in Tulsa, OK. At the time, Parrish & Clark claimed to be Oklahoma’s largest Dodge and Plymouth agency, and also was the co-sponsor of the famous buried 1957 Belvedere. What does all that mean to the survival of vintage tin? Well, Tulsa rarely sees temperatures below freezing and has an average annual snowfall of about nine inches. With little-to-no corrosive salt on the roads and mostly hot & dry conditions, Tulsa has an excellent climate for the preservation of sheet metal. But what are the chances this Coronet spent its entire life in Oklahoma?

Pretty low, it turns out. Note the Colorado “Rockies” license plate in the above photo. At some point, this Coronet made its way across the short stretch of shared CO-OK border, and given the lack of rust there’s a good chance it spent its time in the eastern part of the state. The Rocky Mountains may be Colorado’s defining geographical feature, but the massive rain-shadow desert in the eastern half of the state is much friendlier to cars–dry, dusty and more like ranch land than foothills. Further helping its chances of survival, our feature Coronet was not ordered with a rust-harboring vinyl roof; apparently, the original buyers weren’t suckered in by the Dodge Boys’ White Hat Special. Not that this Coronet was devoid of options: Those hubcaps are the optional “deep-dish” type with a prominent Fratzog in the middle—and all four of them are (amazingly) accounted for.

Chart courtesy of Hamtramck Historical

The handy chart above shows no shortage of available performance and luxury packages for the Coronet, from the infamous “all-engine, no options” Super Bee to the fairly luxurious Coronet 500. The R/T combines performance and luxury, while the cheapskate-special Deluxe covers the very lowest end of the spectrum. If you add up the sales numbers for every Coronet other than the 440, you end up with total production of around 100,000 units. The Charger and its derivatives sold about 70,000 vehicles in 1969, which was down significantly from the previous year. Now, selling 170,000 B-bodies is nothing to sneeze at, but what really helped amortize the tooling costs of all B-body derivatives was the 440 package, which alone represented more than 105,000 sales–that’s over one-third of total B-body sales. Every Dodge dealer in the country may have had a Super Bee and a Charger R/T in the showroom, but they had 10 or 15 Coronet 440s parked out back for customers who weren’t especially concerned about dominating the boulevard at midnight.

Oh yes…what’s that we see in the background mural in the top image? Why, it’s the Road Runner himself, leaning against a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner as both of them look down forever on the humble Coronet 440.  Actually, the Road Runner has a connection to the Coronet. Introduced by Plymouth as a bare- bones, B-body muscle car in 1968, it rapidly outsold Dodge’s Coronet R/T, which cost more and was hardly “bare-bones.”

In a typical Mopar inter-divisional squabble, Dodge dealers insisted on a Dodge-badged analog to the Road Runner; thus was the Coronet-derived Super Bee born, in mid-1968. The story of Plymouth’s B-bodies is much the same as Dodge’s, with multiple specialty trim lines spun off the base Satellite. Because virtually all of today’s attention goes to Super Bees, Road Runners,  Daytonas and R/Ts, it’s rare to see a Coronet 440 cross the auction block under the lights and TV cameras. Still, make no mistake about it: The lowly 440 trim level helped make the rest of those vehicles possible. And so ends this paean to volume leaders.