(first posted 5/13/2013) Every time we purchase a car, we need to balance the rational with the emotional. Should we choose a car because it meets all the critical factors on our needs list, a car that strikes the perfect balance between size, efficiency and cost, or should we choose a car because it presents the image we desire? Over time, most of us have trod on both sides of this street, often making emotional purchases at a young age, and after learning the downside to emotional purchases, moving over to the rational side of the street.
Speaking from the emotional side of the street, I’d love to own this 1968 Coronet 500 simply for its visual appeal.
As a kid, a similar car resided in my neighborhood, and I wanted it. Looking back, I recall the elements that thrilled my young psyche- the tapered rear fenders with bright trim, the red “500” floating in the grill, and the bright fill panel between the tail lights. Not one of these features improved the cars performance, but taken together, they created an image that cried out “This car is the one to have!”
But a Dodge Coronet provided a rational choice as well. Sporting fresh sheet metal and a solid power train lineup, the Coronet helped deliver a good year for Dodge. Division sales were the second highest in the decade, trailing their best year (1966) by a mere 5,125 units. 1968 also represented the best sales year for Dodge B-bodies in the 60’s, toting up just over 285,000 units (both Coronet and Charger).
Dodge used the Coronet nameplate several times over the years, starting out as a full size car in 1949. The name continued on throughout the fifties, but was dropped after 1959. In 1965, Dodge brought back nameplate for their mid sized cars (which were in fact the previous years “plucked chicken” full size models with refreshed sheet metal), and offered the Coronet 500 trim level as the top of the line hardtop and convertible models. By 1968, buyers could also buy the Coronet 500 as a four door sedan or station wagon, but most 500s still came as a coupe or soft top.
Before moving on, if we’re discussing a sixties era Chrysler B-body, we have to mention the 426 Hemi. After all, this was an engine with so much emotional appeal that the mere mention of it’s name brings forth images of the God of Thunder. Unfortunately, this car did NOT come from the factory with a Hemi. While every Coronet 500 came equipped with a V-8 in 1968, Chrysler limited Hemi availability in their intermediate to the two performance trim levels, the Coronet R/T and the (Coronet) Super Bee. While I don’t know which motor resides under the hood, my heart desires the 350 HP 440 four barrel V-8 (doesn’t yours?).
Nineteen sixty eight also marked a turning point in the American auto market. 1968 marked the first year for tailpipe emission standards and seat belts (for the front seats). In addition, 1968 regulations broadened exterior lighting standards, as shown by the mandated side marker lights on this car. Of even greater concern for the domestics, imported cars now grabbed more than 10 % of the market (for the first time since 1959). While Detroit would continue to rely on rear wheel drive, chrome bumpers and big engines for another 10 years or so, these external factors meant the Coronet was a dead car walking.
In addition to regulatory threats, the Coronet 500 also faced death by Charger. A second coupe body based on the B-body platform, the Charger angled further up market and provided even more emotional appeal than the Coronet 500. After a slow start in 1966 and 1967, the new ‘68 Charger took the market by storm, ringing up nearly 100,000 sales. These sales cut into Cornet 500 sales, and Charger out sold the Coronet 500 by a factor of three to one. Of course, if my neighbor owned a Charger, I’d probably be lusting over it rather than today’s Curbside Classic.
OK, back to our object of lust. The interior demonstrates that the Coronet 500 interior nicely matched the flashy exterior. The chrome nameplate on the door, the shiny center console and the bright chrome horn ring all reinforced the upscale image represented by the Coronet 500 name.
The stick on side trim provided more eye candy for my ten year old eyes. Current thought dismisses this sort of gingerbread as tacky and non-functional, but it served an important role in establishing vehicle pecking order back in 1968. Without these pieces, the car was mere transportation. This additional trim told the neighbors you’ve arrived, with the style needed to set yourself apart!
I’ve already mentioned the “500” floating in the grille, but here’s a close-up for those of you who arrived on the scene after this fine machine. Some would argue the 1968 Coronet grille was a bit plain and perhaps derivative. They may have a point- I view the grille as the weakest design element on the the car, but think the 500 badge punches up the look nicely. If I have a criticism, it’s toward the “Knock-Off” hub caps on the styled steel wheels. I’m fine with knock-off center caps if they actually hold the wheel to the hub, but these Magnum 500 wheels use five lug nuts, and look just fine with a simple hub cap.
Let’s take one more look at the complete package. The Coronet 500 from my childhood had maroon paint and a white vinyl top, which may have fit the times a bit better then this simple blue paintjob. Still, the overall effect is very pleasing, and demonstrates why Dodge saw success in 1968. Despite that, in just three years the Coronet 500 nameplate disappeared, along with the Coronet coupe. Chrysler chose to offer the Charger as the only two door B-body that year, in a move to simplify their product line. Because of that, the Coronet 500 walked the earth for a brief six year lifespan, but its emotional hold over my ten year old psyche continues to this day.