Curbside Classic: 1972 Dodge Charger – The End Of An Era

Let me take a long last look/Before we say goodbye”- Don Henley

Even if you listened with only half an ear, there was an audible ticking of the clock evident in the years1972-1973. Vietnam was beginning to wind down, as were the Nixon years. And (saddest of all) , the Muscle Car era was expiring with a whimper. It had been on life support since late 1970,when the data from 5 years (give or take) of accident reports had caused alarm in the august halls of America’s largest auto insurers. Young ,target market drivers + high powered cars + Substandard Brakes and Suspension = Low profits. Add to that the hi-po chariots tendency to guzzle gas and emit lots of smog, and it didn’t take a Lee Iacocca and his cohorts in Detroit to see that the muscle car’s days were numbered.

This brings us to our subject matter for today: The 1972 Dodge Charger. In the twilight of the go-fast days preceding the first gas crisis, the Charger was in its third generation and frankly, showing its age. The MoPar B body had morphed from a tough, brawny beast with lots of street cred into a NASCAR queen with more swoopy curves than Joey Heatherton. Richard Petty liked the ’72/’73 so much that he would drive one for another 4 years of racing glory (an eternity in those days for one body style) and notch 6 super speedway wins that year. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is an article of faith among car executives,and the ’72/’73 Charger proved that in spades.

The nameplate reached its sales zenith in ’73,with over 108,000 copies sold. But when the sales numbers were totted up at the end of the year, the sales graph showed a distressing and prolonged plunge after the September Yom Kippur War that triggered an OPEC boycott of sales to the U.S. It was the perfect storm: The EPA had mandated that manufacturers reduce emissions, (this is when we began the phaseout of leaded gas,which presented its own challenges) the price of oil doubled (when it was available), and the country began the malarial fever/chills of inflation and recession.The fun was over. The frivolity and wastefulness of cars designed to be frivolous and wasteful was over, never to return.

When the muscle car died, something in America changed. Hard to put your finger on it,but the cynicism , superficiality and plain ol’ avarice that we battle today seems (to me) to have begun when we lost our real Chargers, Mustangs and Camaros and had to get by with Omnirizons, Mustang II’s and 4 cylinder Camaro poseurs.

The Charger returned with the same body in ’73,( but with dorky slant “opera” windows on the options list as another warning of the bad times to come), but after that, the “Charger” became just another badge job that hinted at what used to be. The donor cars were workaday Cordobas ,Coronets and (gasp !) OmniRizon derivatives that Carroll Shelby rented his name to in order to help you forget that they were…OmniRizon derivatives. They went a little faster than the donor car, but not enough.

This fine old Charger was spotted in southeast Tennessee on a brutally hot July day.  A buddy that knows says that the dual exhausts signify a 400 four barrel under the hood.The possum squashers front and rear are mounted on non stock wheels,but the exterior is otherwise very presentable with no rust visible. It seems like there’s been at least one careful respray. I hope that it finds a good home before the Tennessee winter takes its toll on this last burst of enthusiasm before we lost a lot of our innocence.

[Jeff Nelson is also known as Banzai at CC]