Museum Classic: 1968 Dodge Charger R/T–The Most Beautiful Car Of The Muscle Car Era?

Charger 2

One of the interesting facets of humanity is its ability to synthesize information and formulate an opinion, which is why I don’t always trust what I hear.  In that vein, someone in the comment section will think I’m crazy for believing what I do, but the above Grim Reaper on wheels is, without a doubt, the most beautiful muscle car to turn a wheel on Woodward Avenue.  To anyone who disagrees, I will plug my ears and shout “la la la la la,” because I’m not listening anymore.  You’re crazy.

OK, so I’ll listen.  There are plenty of beautiful muscle cars, like the ’67 Shelby GT500 (is it, however, a muscle car?), the ’70 1/2 Camaro Z/28 (once again, muscle car?), the ’70 Chevelle SS, and any number of wonderful vehicles.  But I still think I’m right, and there is plenty of evidence to convince the skeptics.

Charger 1

Let’s begin at the rear.  By the way, the now-closed Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, MI, owns TWO ’68 Charger R/Ts, one 440-powered, the other with a Hemi.  I don’t even own one, so there goes the idea of equity in our tumultuous world.  The 440 model above displays the, in my opinion, superior (compared to the ’69 and ’70 Charger) round taillights in a truncated tail section, and the trunk lid is upswept into a small lip spoiler.  The ’68-only round marker lights on the side are leaps and bounds more attractive than their ’69 replacements.

The double-stripes around the tail are just flashy enough, but not ostentatious like the later billboards on the E-Bodies.  The term “automotive pornography” might have become cliche over time, but if ever there was an image that made the term relevant, the above photograph might be it.

Charger 6

Taken as a whole, especially on this black Hemi version, the look is graceful and menacing.  Chrysler’s designers, working under Elwood Engel, might have committed a forgery in the design of the rear window and C-pillars, as they bear a striking resemblance to the ’66 GM A-Bodies, but the swelling rear quarter panels could belong to nothing but a Charger.

Charger 5

Above, you can see how clean the Charger’s bodyside is, with no unnecessary chrome trim. Additionally, the Charger is one of the rare cars that looks better with a vinyl top than it does without.  Some cars, like the original Toronado, are ruined by a toupee, but the Charger somehow looks even more masculine.

Charger 4

One of my favorite features of the second-generation Charger is the beltline that sweeps down underneath the front fender line.  This “dueling body lines” motif adds some tension to the doorskin, but the front and rear ends still look homogenous. Chrysler has even cribbed this look for its most recent Charger, less successfully.  Two door “scoops” flank the emblem that was most likely to strike fear into any potential mark out on Woodward, the rare “Hemi” emblem. Although it may seem odd for a Hemi R/T to wear dog dish hubcaps and black steel rims, it only adds to the businesslike appearance of this particular Charger.

Charger 3

As we swing around front, the perfect round marker light again makes an appearance, just behind a severely recessed grill with hidden headlamps.  Many 60s cars look great with hidden lamps, like the ’65 Riviera, the ’69 Caprice, and the ’69 Camaro, and the Charger is no exception.  Another facet I prefer about the ’68 (over the ’69) is the uninterrupted grille.  The “snout” in the middle ruined the cleanliness for me, although I might be in the minority in that regard.

112_0508_25z1968_Dodge_Charger_RTFr

Most car fans are aware of Bullitt, and Steve McQueen’s Mustang still fascinates viewers as the hero car, and inspires countless Highland Green imitators.  I come from a Ford family and grew up on Mustangs, and have driven my ’65 Mustang since 1994. I only have owned one Mopar, my Dart wagon, so I’m not coming from a “Mopar or No Car” angle here.

But even coming from a Blue Oval-tinged childhood, I must admit that the Charger was two-tons of gorgeous misanthropy, its evil sneer allowing the Mustang no quarter.  The Bullitt Mustang was, comparatively, a kid’s car in an adult world. Both cars are movie and TV stars, but the Charger was the looker in this contest, if only by a little.

Charger 7

As far as all 1960s cars are concerned, I would probably prefer a first-gen Riviera and, in a perfect world, an early Miura from a purely aesthetic perspective.  However, if we’re talking muscle cars, this is the one.  Even the gas cap is awesome, sitting out in chrome plated glory right atop the quarter panel, making this Charger appear as if it thundered straight from Daytona’s pit lane (where this car was almost completely unsuccessful against the Torinos and Cyclones until the ’69 Daytona came along).  Even my wife thinks this is the baddest car ever made. If they didn’t command stupid money, I (and likely every car guy on the planet) would snap one up immediately.

1968 Dodge Ad-12

Chrysler knew it had a hit when it advertised “the only car that looks as good as it goes.”  And even though the Duke Boys and much of America may prefer the ’69, you know where my allegiance lies.  This is the pure, perfect pinnacle of the muscle car era.