Curbside Classic: 1974 Dodge Charger SE – Context Is Everything

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While you most likely see despair and sorrow weeping from every blemish and rust hole on this seemingly decrepit looking Charger, I don’t.  For me, the optimism spraying from this Dodge has soaked my being, making me realize it yearns for those rich adventures that still lie ahead in the road of life.

No doubt some will view these pictures and question how a car in this condition would ever pass any sort of safety inspection where they live.  There is rust in both the rocker and quarter panels and one can only imagine the potential horrors that lurk around the undercarriage.  Focusing on such things is valid yet pessimistic; the optimism of this Charger is still dripping off me, well after finding it.

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Part of this optimism is fed by the delightfully youthful aura cascading from every nook and cranny. Youth is a wonderful thing, that time in life when everything is fresh and anything is possible, when the highly obvious hurdles that stand in the way of grand and lofty goals are viewed as being somewhere between trivial and nonexistent.

This is the time of life in which most people are highly immune to the toxicity of chronic pessimism that many inadvertently succumb to at some point.

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That any optimism could be still emanating from this Charger is truly baffling.  How so?  When this particular car was new, pessimism was a vicious scourge that was engulfing the Dodge Charger nameplate much like a snake devours a mouse.

For that matter, pessimism was simultaneously feasting on the Chrysler Corporation and much of the United States auto industry.  One wouldn’t think optimism would spring forth from such a toxic template, but it has.

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When the Charger debuted in 1966, it was an optimistic reinterpretation of the Dodge Coronet with a much nicer than non-Dodge grade interior.  From both this angle and in profile it had a profound similarity in physical appearance to the AMC Marlin, but Chrysler was optimistic the mid-sized fastback was a wave of the future.  Or at least a profitable niche.

It was neither.

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Dodge sold 230,000 Coronets compared to a paltry 37,000 Chargers.  Charger sales dropped like a lead balloon, to around 15,000 for 1967.

That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a bountiful harvest of optimism.

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Rather than licking its wounds and staying home, Chrysler tried again and persevered.  Just like optimistic people often reap nice rewards, Chrysler kept its chin up and introduced the next generation of Charger.

Released in 1968 and running for three tremendously successful years, this was peak Charger-dom.  At some point everyone reaches their peak in both appearance and performance.  For the Charger, this was it.

Infrequent are the cars that look great from all angles, with no quirky detail that one cannot look past.  This is one of those few.

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The third generation was born in 1971.  The Charger was maturing, perhaps reflected by a little thickening around the midsection that tends to happen at a certain age.

Naturally, Chrysler was optimistic about this newest Charger, even if it was in actuality just a two-door Coronet.

Upon the winds of insurance foibles and fuel crises, the Charger underwent a rapid and profound transformation by 1973. Like the former gold-medal winners who are now announcers at the Olympics, they were still in the same shell, but dressed much differently and obviously pining for their glory days.

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Sadly, this is the automotive personification of that aged, former Olympian.

Just don’t interpret this unfortunate morphing as pessimism.  Even the most devout of optimists realize they must adapt to remain relevant and vibrant.  It just doesn’t always create the desired outcome.

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The testosterone fueled R/T of 1971 mellowed into a vinyl-topped, laurel-wreathed brougham practitioner by 1973.  Our featured year of 1974 was mainly a rehash, proudly putting on a face of confidence in spite of the formidable challenges presented by changing tastes, a fluid market, and external input.

Much like the Olympian who is attempting a comeback beyond a certain age, the Charger simply couldn’t pull off the impossible.  By 1974, the rounded Charger was simply out of its element, trying unsuccessfully to compete with younger, prettier competition.  What a blow to ones optimism.

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But slipping into a discussion of this Charger in 1974 terms is woefully missing the point.  Let’s remember this is 2016.  Much like sharp rocks dull over time and exposure, the turbulence experienced by our featured Charger in the days of its birth has subsided.  What was once a car outgunned by the competition, the optimism seeping from this Charger has turned the tables.  What a delightful find in comparison to some bloated Torino or a Colonnade-bodied GM.

So what exactly prompted this tsunami of optimism originating from an otherwise corrosion-covered Charger?

Inspect the automotive anonymity in the background of these pictures.  Notice how the Charger is parked well away from anything else.  Remember the youthful aura I mentioned earlier?

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I found this Charger in the student area of a high school parking lot.

Undoubtedly this car is owned and being lovingly treated by a young person unencumbered with the pessimistic thoughts many of us would have and are likely thinking about such an automobile.  The owner of this Charger is able to see beyond the scars of over forty winters and truly appreciate this Charger for what it is – a remnant from a time long ago when the name of Charger meant something totally different that what it does today.

Context is everything.

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Found March 25, 2016

Hickman High School, Columbia, Missouri