Car Show Classic: 1974 Dodge Charger SE – Let’s Take A Muscle Car And Turn It Into A Brougham!

(first posted 7/30/2013)   The redesigned 1971 Dodge Charger was introduced right at the knife’s edge of the muscle car’s salad days. Within a year, the party would be over, as insurance, new tastes (Landau roofs, velour and a quiet ride) and Boomers entering early adulthood would change everything. Chrysler Corporation would have to do what would have been unthinkable 2-3 years earlier–turn their vaunted muscle car into a personal-luxury Brougham. With SIX opera windows, yet!

While the 1968-70 Charger had its own unique body, the 1971 “Charger” was essentially a two-door Coronet, as the 1968-70 Coronet two-door disappeared with the new model year. Thus, the Charger R/T and Super Bee became simple badge-engineered brothers, instead of separate models. High-Impact colors, burbly 440- and 426-CID V8 power, Rallye wheels, pistol grip shifters, and other must-have items turned your basic Charger into something special–in 1971.

But then a funny thing happened. Insurance went through the roof, regulations started catching up, and suddenly these Hemi- and 440-powered superstars were rudely pushed out of the picture. But the Charger had just been redesigned in 1971. What to do before the formal-roofed, neoclassical ’75 Charger and sister Cordoba took the reins to battle against the personal-lux Monte Carlo?

Answer: Improvise. The smooth, Coke-bottle flanks of the 1971-72 Charger were subjected to every tacked-on “luxury” cue known to man: canopy vinyl roof, whitewalls, wire wheel covers, stand-up hood ornament, hi-back bench seating, pinstripes and lots of chrome gingerbread. The only thing I can’t figure is why they didn’t include the optional hidden headlights of the 1971-72 model. They would have fit right in…

But the piece de resistance of the Charger SE (the SE, of course, came onto the scene in 1970, but without all the Broughamy stuff on the outside) was that, ahem, “unique” vinyl roof with a half-dozen opera windows (soundly beating the Ford Elite’s “Twindows” by two) and wreath-bedecked “SE” medallions.

Beyond the vinyl toupee and hood ornament, SEs came with an electric clock, inside hood release (such luxury!), bench seat with folding armrest, deluxe wheel covers (the wires shown further up were extra), Rallye gauges, and other fillips.

In 1974, the cheapest Charger was a no-frills coupe with Slant Six power for $3212. The V8-only SE started at $3742, and of course many went out the door with plenty of optional extras. The standard engine was a 150-hp 318 with a two barrel carb; 360 and 400 V8s were available for $222 and 188, respectively. Just shy of 31K SEs were built for the year.

I spotted this SE at the Galesburg car show in Standish Park last June, looking quite nice in its olive metallic paint and cream-colored Landau top. The only thing that was amiss was the car’s rake, fat tires and Crager S/Ss. To get the full SE effect, you really must have the wire wheel covers and whitewalls. Don’t you agree?