Curbside Classic: 1968 Dodge Coronet Wagon – The Perfect Playground Car

Although I’ve lived in LA for seventeen years, I’ve spent very little time in “the Valley.” For those not familiar with LA geography, most of LA lies in a coastal basin encompassing Hollywood, Downtown, and the Port of LA. However, along the north side of the basin a large mountain ridge cuts across town creating the San Fernando Valley. Once full of Orange Groves, the Valley has since filled up with suburban homes, apartments and condominiums.

Today, the Valley is chock full of people and three pinch points isolate it from the rest of LA. Due to geography, narrow highways funnel too much traffic through not enough road, creating near continuous traffic slowdowns at each point. Despite this, I made my way North over the weekend to visit my cousin, and found this excellent Curbside Classic parked across the street from her Valley home.

In 1968, the Valley was the perfect playground, and this was the perfect playground car. Thousands of young families came to these newly minted bedroom communities to bring up their kids, and turned to Detroit’s station wagons as the perfect solution to haul their brood. Based on the six digit black plates on this wagon, it may have lived in this suburban playground from day one.

The Playground was also well represented on TV, where the Brady Bunch (perhaps the Valley’s most famous residents) used several Mopar B-body wagons to transport Mike and Carol’s large brood, in this case a ’69 Plymouth.

While over on Adam-12, Officers Reed and Malloy occasionally worked alongside this menacing B-body wagon. Dressed more formally than the civilian variants, this Plymouth focused on enforcing the Playground rules.

Getting back to our car, Dodge placed the Coronet nameplate on their intermediate B-body in 1965, where it remained until 1976. No longer shiny and bright, our car still carries refreshed sheet metal, and the new lines for ’68 closely followed the example set forth by the ’64 GM intermediates (outside a very angular and thick C-pillar carried over from Dodge’s 1967 model).

Dodge offered the Coronet in three trim levels in 1968, and while some manufacturers make it difficult to determine trim levels, Dodge spelled things out on the rear quarter panel. Mid level models read “Coronet 440,” while top trims declared “Coronet 500.” This Coronet Deluxe (the base model) replaced numeric values with the mighty Fratzog, as seen here.

The front quarter panel shows the scars of a long life lived Valley style. Those round marker lights were used on almost every Chrysler in 1968 and only ’68, which makes model year identification a snap.

Some internet articles suggest Chrysler dropped these markers in 1969 because certain executives didn’t care for their appearance. However, I think the switch to reflectors in ’69 was a cost saving measure. The round markers required a metal housing, plastic lens and a light bulb while the ’69 part only required a plastic housing and a second glued on reflective element.

We can also see a bit of rake added to the front of the car (an easy modification thanks to torsion bar front suspension), and a stylish Rally Wheel. Since these wheels weren’t offered until 1970, they are clearly a modification, and the only visible custom touch.

This interior shot shows a very nicely preserved interior, and a sharp eye can spot the tailgate control lever for the dual action tailgate. Dodge kept the ’67 roof line on the B-body wagons, but for 1968 they added a two-way tailgate.

Continuing with our playground theme, the back also includes a collection of old Tonka toys, ready for the sandbox!

This shot confirms the overall interior condition. Some argue these B-bodies might be the best car the company ever built (at least before the 1970 refresh), and overall interior quality provides support for this argument. No fancy leather or power accessories, just a cloth bench seat, roll up windows and a big hula hoop steering wheel (with the cheapest possible horn button). Overall, our Coronet is built “Tonka Tough.”

I should note Paul Niedermeyer spent time in a similar ’65 Coronet wagon (chronicled here in his auto-biography series). While the article doesn’t say for sure, I’m confident his Father’s Coronet did not come with Air Conditioning. Paul’s father celebrated a frugal lifestyle (or should l say parsimonious one?), preventing young Paul from enjoying such luxuries.

In contrast, a careful study of the photos shows evidence this car has factory air. In the rear shot, an “Airtemp” sticker appears in the right rear window (the correct location). Up front, a barely visible pair of face vents mounted low in the dash center confirm the A/C option.

A Deeper Look into 1968 Coronet Trim Levels

While writing this posting, Paul questioned whether or not this wagon was a base model. His argument was as follows:

That doesn’t appear to be a base Coronet (“DeLuxe”) wagon, as those did not have the bright window trim. It appears the 440 badges are just missing for one reason or another. Also, the interior trim on the doors is from the 440, not the DeLuxe.”

Since many changes can occur over 40 plus years, I did further digging and discovered the following:

This image is a mashup of two pages. Click -here- to see the original document.

First, thanks to an online accessory price guide for the ’68 Coronet, I was able to determine which Coronet models came with standard window trim, and further confirm bright trim came as an option on all trim levels.

While bright drip rail molding came standard on the Coronet 440 (as indicated by the green box in the image above), buyers had to step all the way up to the Coronet 500 to get standard door frame and quarter glass molding trim (the orange box). However, Deluxe and 440 buyers could both purchase accessory trim, so bright door trim does not equal a Coronet 440 or 500.

Identifying the various Coronet door panels wasn’t so clear cut, but I looked at many online images for guidance. Most 1968 Coronet 440s I found used this door panel, while most base Coronets used the door panel on our wagon. Compared it to the base Coronet door panel, this embossed pattern uses finer vertical lines and the horizontal lines flare apart at the front of the panel. While door panels are very easy to change out, it appears our Coronet wagon is a Deluxe.

Of course, A/C on a base model is also unusual, but it could be the buyer of this wagon knew how to work the options sheet to their best advantage. Overall I find the result very appealing, what say you?