Back in the heyday of the muscle car culture, those NASCAR superspeedways were the main battling grounds for the Detroit car manufacturers. Since the mid-50s with the Chrysler 300 C and early ’60s Galaxies and Impalas, Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet were fighting each other for supremacy and bragging rights. In those days, NASCAR allowed only 100-percent stock cars, unlike today. But soon, most car manufacturers realized those boxy designs weren’t aerodynamic at high speeds.
Modifying car bodies for racing purposes was out of the question so Detroit started introducing sleeker, fastback coupes that were somewhat better than regular those two-door sedans of the day. But, by the end of the ‘60s, Dodge and Plymouth were so desperate to win, they decided to produce limited run, homologation specials they designed and produced solely for NASCAR racing.
This was the first time that an American company produced road-going vehicles just for homologation purposes. And that marked the start of the legendary “Aero Wars” of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Also, it paved the way for those Aero Specials of the mid-80s, as well. So here are a handful of those fantastic and often misunderstood machines that present a unique part of the muscle car culture.
1969 Dodge Charger 500
Most muscle cars fans know the Charger lineup well, including the wild Charger Daytona from 1969. But, the Daytona’s predecessor they named the Charger 500 was far less known and not so successful. However, in the late ‘60s, Dodge was desperate to go racing in NASCAR and the Charger was the perfect candidate. But, since NASCAR cars already approached high speeds of almost 200 mph on those newly constructed superspeedway tracks, aerodynamics played a key role in a car’s performance and results.
With a deep grille and concave rear glass, the standard Charger wasn’t that aerodynamic. Also, despite its powerful engines and talented drivers, it couldn’t achieve the high speeds required for winning. So Dodge decided to introduce a limited edition they named the Charger 500 because they produced it in that many examples.
It came with flushed a grille, fixed headlights and regular rear glass to enhance the aerodynamics of the car. The 500 was somewhat better, but not quite as good. So Dodge decided to go even further and present the Daytona. They offered the Charger 500 with two engines, the standard 440 and an optional 426 Hemi.