For the most part, Chrysler in the 1970s was a pretty grim story. From the high-powered glory years of the Hemi and the 440 Six-Pack, Chryler soon slunk through a decade of Volares, Diplomats, and others not often worth remembering. But there is one whose story has rarely been told. Until today.
Everybody knows the story of the original Charger R/T. With a name taken (sort of) from Road and Track Magazine, the R/T was one hot Charger when it came out in 1968. But 1971 was the end of the line for the fire-breathing Mopar muscle machines. Or so everyone thought.
When the high performance products were being phased out, the engineers working on them were transferred elsewhere in the company as their projects wound down. It was felt that Chrysler’s performance efforts had been so successful, that the men on that team needed to be dispersed to problem areas of the company in an attempt to export their winning attitude. One of them, Loren I. Edler, found himself transferred into the department in charge of station wagon tailgates.
Everyone knows that Ford had been the 800 pound gorilla of tailgates for a decade, having pioneered the three-way doorgate. Even General Motors was displaying some tailgate mojo with the new clamshell models introduced on the 1971 B body wagons. Poor Chrysler was falling behind, and everyone knew it.
Edler spend several days looking things over and trying to decide how to vault Mopar wagons into the same rarified bracket that their performance cars had inhabited. But it was a tough job. The full-sized C body cars had been new in 1969 and were due for a refresh soon, so Edler saw very little benefit to paying much attention to that class. The smaller B body wagon, however, was still pretty new. It’s three way doorgate was at least as good as Ford’s, so the mid-sizer seemed the place to start.
One day, Edler was kicking around a dusty corner of the plant when he came across a forgotten case of R/T emblems. It was then that he knew what he had to do, and it had nothing to do with the tailgate. The days of the performance car might be over, but what about a performance wagon! Edler got to work.
He knew that the engineering was a piece of cake, as all of the stuff they needed was already there. The emission-free truck 440, the mighty Torqueflite transmission, and all kinds of cool wheels and tires were all on the shelves and ripe for use. The all-important R/T badges completed the package. But this is when the truly hard work begun. In order for this to work, stealth was going to be necessary. Nobody from the government could know about this car, because there was no way it could pass 1972 emissions requirements. Not even upper management could be trusted. This car had to look completely like a standard Dodge Coronet wagon. Only that way would engineering be able to sneak this one out to dealers who were in the know for those special customers who were ready to do what it took to blow those assholes in their Malibu SSs off the roads. Nobody would suspect that a woody wagon named after toilet paper and toothpaste could be the hottest car in the land.
Edler tried and rejected one idea after another for a code that the dealers could use to specify the R/T. At last, he had it: Color and trim! Nobody, but nobody would think to order a top line Coronet Crestwood with full wood paneling in metallic gold with green interior. It was sheer brilliance. With that single combination of checked boxes, the dealer could order the hottest car made, and nobody would be any the wiser. The only thing for the dealer to do was to take the pair of R/T emblems out of the shipping plastic in the glovebox and affix them to the front fenders.
Everything was going beautifully. Enough parts were sourced from the replacement parts Division to create a high compression, premium gas terror from the 440 still made for trucks. Four prototypes had been constructed for testing, with most work being done on weekends to stay under the radar. If someone from management got his hat blown off by one of those gold woodie wagons, the program would be over, simple as that.
Only one thing could go wrong – It was still Chrysler, and it was still the 1970s. Edler had given specific instructions to everyone in the project that under no circumstances were the R/T emblems to be put on the fenders. These things were like gold, as there would be no more once the original stash ran out. To get them, three members of the engineering team had to sign off, one of them personally monitoring them being wrapped and put in the govebox, right under the owner’s manual.
But the engineering guys were proud of their car. Just once, they said, let’s see one in the sunlight with the emblems. And so they did. Unfortunately, this was the same day that some functionaries from the EPA happened to be on site for an emissions spot-test of pre-production 1972 models. And one of them happened to be a car nut. “Whoa, what’s that. You guys building a new R/T?” And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that. Hell descended on Chrysler engineering that day. Lynn Townsend himself strode angrily into the office, informing everyone there that if the Company lost a single unit of production before the end of the month, there would be hell to pay.
The program was scrapped, cars were crushed and people were fired. Miraculously not Edler. Chrysler’s personnel records, having just been transferred to a new record keeping system, had been completely corrupted, and Edler’s background on the performance team was among the lost information. Nobody in management figured that a lowly tailgate engineer could possibly have anything to do with a project like this. Chrysler engineering’s spirit was crushed that day, and their results for the rest of the decade showed it.
Fortune would have one last laugh, however. Edler had driven one of the four cars home the night before the disaster. And wouldn’t you know, when it was time for work the next morning, the thing wouldn’t start. It would later turn out to be a simple ballast resistor. But Edler had used up his supply of spares and drove the wife’s Dart to work that day. With no paper trail, the Feds assumed that there were only three cars, because everybody does things in threes. And in Loren I. Edler’s garage, the lone Coronet Crestwood R/T would reside until Edler’s death in 2003.
The car was eventually auctioned as part of the Edler estate. The present owner bought the car. He turned out to be the only bidder. After all, who else would want a gold wood-paneled wagon with green interior? It was only after getting the car home that he went through the glovebox and found the R/T emblems. It took two years of research, but the owner (who chooses to remain anonymous) followed the clues and can now tell the story which we have just shared with you. He has carefully fastened those rare, original emblems to the front fenders, right where they were supposed to be. At car shows, people point at the R/T emblems on that wagon and laugh. The owner just keeps quiet and smiles. Which we trust you will do too.