Classic car: The 1968 Dodge Charger RT 440
The Sixties in America was a decade of contrasts. There was excess, flamboyance and a hippy, relaxed vibe as people listened to roots and hard rock music and broke free of restraints a rigid culture previously demanded of them. At the same time, the Vietnam War raged, students protested and the battle for civil rights gathered steam. Even with these contrasts, by 1968 President Richard Nixon was leading a nation enjoying a sustained economic boom.
In 1968, ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Love Child’ and ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ were the tunes of choice. The median household income was $7,700 a year, fuel was cheap at about 30c a gallon and, on the automotive front, the muscle car had come into its own and was the desired choice of wheels in the driveway. It was all about impressing the neighbours and blowing away the car next to you at the lights while friends and family cheered on from the back seat.
The muscle car scene was still young in 1968 but already some magical cars - the Ford Mustang, Pontiac GTO, Oldsmobile 442, and Chevy Chevelle SS to name a few - were making their mark. Those cars were products of Ford and General Motors, two of what was known as the ‘Big Three’ of the U.S. automotive landscape, with the third being Chrysler.
Chrysler, however, was lacking that gloat-worthy, eye-catching car candy for the driveway that Chevrolet (a division of GM) and Ford could provide. The company owned the Dodge brand and the first-generation Dodge Charger, unveiled in 1966, did not sell well. Something had to be done. The company had great engines in the garage all ready to go, they just needed the enticing body to go with them.
One of automotive history’s best decisions would be Chrysler’s when the company hired designers Richard Sias and Harvey J.Winn. Brought on to create that enticing body, they would produce a beast of a machine that would make grown men salivate for the next 50 years to come.
The 1968 Dodge Charger RT (Road/Track) 440
1968’s second-generation was an altogether different proposition to its predecessor. Richard Sias sculpted the ‘68 Charger’s innovative coke-bottle styling while Harvey J.Winn was responsible for the front and rear look. The result was a deadset winner and a runaway sales success with nearly 100,000 sold across the model range.
With the curvy pillarless shape and the hideaway lights in the grill, the ‘68 Dodge Charger looked the business and the high-performance package in the form of the potent RT 440 2-door coupe cut an imposing figure that couldn’t be ignored. Little did they know they had created a muscle car that would stand the test of time and become one of America’s favourite performance cars and a global classic.
Being a muscle car, the power for the Charger had to be potent and the R/T 440 V8 Magnum big block did not disappoint. With a Carter AFB 4-barrel carburettor, the R/T boasted 279.5 kW / 375 hp at a top speed of 198 km/h (123 mph). Theoretically, 0-100km would be reached in 5.7s and a ¼ mile done in 14 seconds. This was impressive power for a 1746kg, 5283 mm long yank tank.
There was the choice of a 4-speed manual or 3-speed TorqueFlite auto but, apparently, only 2734 manuals were sold from over 17,000 R/T chargers produced in 1968. The R/T 440 had the performance upgrades to handle the power and owners were not disappointed.
Original price for the R/T 440 was $US3,506 ($AU5,034). Today, they are selling from $US56,000 to $US90,000 USD ($AU80,000 to $AU129,000). What was delivered for a few grand back in the day was an impressive curvy monster with clean lines inside and out that you could not fault.
On the exterior, the hideaway lights gave it that dominating look in any rearview mirror plus the dual flat exhaust tips, magnum 500 wheels, signature chrome petrol filler cap and ‘bumblebee’ (scat pack) stripes across the back, identified you were driving the R/T.
The R/T’s interior complemented the exterior’s design with stylish gauges across the dash. Whether you had the bucket or bench seats or the auto or manual, the clean lines continued throughout. Even the boot stored the spare way out of the way making plenty of room to fit a few people for a trip to the drive-in.
A Hollywood star
If the good looks or rumble and vibration of the big block didn’t persuade buyers that the R/T 440 was a winner, by late 1968 its appearance in one of Hollywood’s great movie car chase scenes would have them hooked.
The movie was Bullitt and the chase scene is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s best. In it, Steve McQueen, the film’s star drives a 390ci (6.4 litre) 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback - a ripper of a car in itself. But it’s the bad guys’ black Dodge Charger RT 440 that McQueen is chasing that steals a fair amount of the ‘stang’s thunder and cemented the public’s love for the car. The Charger would soon be making regular appearances in other movies and TV shows (the ‘69 model would grace TV screens as the ‘General Lee’ in TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard).
The 1968 Dodge Charger RT 440 still draws plenty of attention today and you can’t deny that feeling you get when you hear the rumble of a classic muscle car. The ground vibrates, you can smell the fumes from the fuel being guzzled by the carby, the hair on your arms rises and you stop in your tracks and do nothing but watch as it clunks into gear and purrs like a tabby on rocket fuel off into the distance.
Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars.
This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.