Introduced in 1969 as a homologation special, the Dodge Charger Daytona is arguably the most radical muscle car from the golden era (alongside its Plymouth Superbird sibling, of course). But it wasn’t the first Mopar developed specifically for NASCAR racing. In 1968, Dodge rolled out the Charger 500.
While not as radical as the Daytona, the 500 was notably different than the regular Charger R/T that failed to beat the Ford Torino Talladega and the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II on high-bank oval tracks. To make the 500 more aerodynamic, Dodge went with a flush rear window and a 1968 Coronet grille (no hidden headlamps) for a flat front fascia.
But these changes weren’t enough to make the Charger faster than the Talladega, and Dodge lost yet another title to its Detroit rival. This bitter defeat, however, prompted Dodge to create the wild-looking Daytona, which is now a prized collectible. In addition, the unsuccessful Charger 500 also morphed into a rare and desirable classic.
There’s no precise info as to how many were made. While some claim only 392 left the factory for 1969, others say Dodge sold 540 to 580 units. Mopar experts agree that at least 500 were built.
Most of them left the factory with the 440-cubic-inch (7.2-liter) RB V8, while a little more than 100 examples (again, no exact figure to run by) were fitted with the mighty 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) HEMI.
The latter is by far the most desirable iteration of the Charger 500, with far fewer than 100 units still around as of 2022. So whenever one of these cars pops up in public, it’s a good reason to celebrate.
If you haven’t seen one recently, a fabulously restored 500 HEMI was showcased at the 2022 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN). And YouTube’s “Lou Costabile” was there to document it.
A gorgeous example inside and out, this Charger 500 was restored sometime in the past. But it still sports its factory-correct Copper Bronze Metallic paint, which probably adorned only a handful of Charger 500s.
And if you’re not a fan of the black interiors that are rather common in late 1960s muscle cars, you’ll be pleased to find out that this Mopar flaunts a two-tone saddle upholstery. It also rocks a front bench seat, a cool feature to have in a high-performance classic.
And of course, the 426 HEMI V8 under the hood is of the numbers-matching variety. It’s also as clean as they get and it runs as smooth as it did when it left the factory more than 50 years ago. And needless to say, it sounds fantastic when the gas pedal hits the floor.
It’s one of the finest Charger 500s I’ve seen in a very long time, and you can find that out for yourself in the video below.