1968 Dodge Coronet R/T
Road & Track Hemi
Who would have thought, least of all the Dodge brothers John and Horace, that in 2007 late ’60s Dodge muscle cars would lead the big-buck pecking order, with some rare Hemi models fetching over a million NZ dollars at auction in the US. As with the New Zealand property market, experts and economists have been predicting a downturn. However, the muscle car frenzy continues to rage out of control, with collectors and investors alike continuing to snap up everything and anything that is even remotely rare and/ or original and with the right options, especially if it’s a Hemi.
Birth of the Coronet
In 1949 Dodge introduced the Coronet, which was the top trim level offered by Dodge. The 74.5kW (100hp), L-head, six-cylinder Coronet, coupled to a fluid-drive, three-speed automatic transmission, was similar to the Meadowbrook models, differing only in interior options and trim. In 1950 the Dodge Coronet remained top dog for Dodge. It was still similar to the 1949 model, the additional features were cosmetic with added chrome trim on the wheels, and the Coronet name appearing on the rear guards. It was little changed for the following two years, apart from the exclusion of the eight-passenger sedan in 1952. The Dodge Coronet incorporated an ornamental ram-air scoop on the bonnet in 1953. The 104kW (140hp) Hemi-head overhead valve V8 engine was also available, and the six-cylinder engine had crept up to 77kW (103bhp). More exterior chrome included a centre body strip, and the Coronet name in script letters could be found down the sides of the rear guards on 1954 Coronet models. The Coronet was on show to tens of thousands of spectators, who witnessed the convertible body-styled Coronet, in all its grandeur, as the official pace car for the 1954 Indy 500. The 1955 Coronet, now the base trim level for Dodge, was drastically restyled and grew by 152mm, became wider and sat lower to the ground. Both the six and eight-cylinder engines produced more power, with the V8 capable of 130kW (175bhp). The exterior trim also got the once-over, with a revised grille divided into two separate openings incorporating the parking lights, together with a stylish wrap-round front windscreen and tir-coloured paint schemes. This model was a sucess with thepublic, and sales soared.Riding on the wings of that success, Dodge made the wise decision not to mess with the design for 1956. The side trim and taillights were slightly modified, and tail fins now protruded from the rear. A push-button transmission was offered as optional equipment. This technology had been borrowed from Chrysler, and proved to be rather popular.
The first Hemi-powered Coronet
In 1956 Dodge created a true ‘sleeper’ car. The Coronet D-500 appeared to be similar to other Coronets, but hidden under thehood was a 5162cc (315Cci) V8 that could pump out 194 Kw (260hp). It was able to go from zero to 96.5kph in under nine seconds. One of the NASCAR rules was that to compete, at least 500 identical models had to be produced. The Coronet D-550 was a purpose-built vehicle intended for the Nascar circuit. It featureda 315 cubic-inch Hemi V8 that produced 212kW (285hp). In addition to a larger engine, the suspension, tyres, brakes and trasmission were all modified to create a highly competitive, veryeffective muscle car/racing machine.The ‘Forward Look’ design was incorporated into the 1957Coronet as the wheelbase and overall length grew once again, and it sat even lower to the ground. One of the most recognisable features was the larger tail fins.Up front, the headlights sat nicely below the headlight ‘brows’, and a chrome strip now ran the entire length of both sides of the body. In general more chrome could be seen throughout the entire vehicle, encompassing lights and grille openings. The new Coronet D-501 engine featured a 5801cc (354ci) Hemi V8 that produced 254kW (340). Only 101 examples were produced.The suspension was updated to include a torsion bar front set-up and rear, heavy-duty shock absorbers and leaf-spring suspension. The quad headlights and grille were the most significant changes for 1958. Dodge focused on improving engine performance. All the engines on offer were the ‘ wedge ‘ single rocker head design, which included the impressive 248 kW (333hp) fuel-injected 5916cc (361ci) V8 in the line-up. The Dodge name could be found in block letters along the front edge of the hood. There were bigger fins and more exaggerated headlight brows for the 1959 Coronet as the length and wheelbase grew even more. The 6276cc (383ci) V8 engine was available with 275kW (345hp) in its Super D-500 format. Buyers could indulge in an extensive list of options, one of them being the Swivel-Seat.With the push of a lever the seat could swing out to meet its occupant.Another option offered by Dodge was the self-levelling rear air suspension, called LevelFlite. The name ‘Dodge’ could be found in block letters on the trunk lid and appeared on the available with 275kW (345hp) in its Super D-500 format. Buyers could indulge in an extensive list of options, one of them being the Swivel-Seat. With the push of a lever the seat could swing out to meet its occupant. Another option offered by Dodge was the self-levelling rear air suspension, called LevelFlite. The name ‘Dodge’ could be found in block letters on the trunk lid and appeared on the front fender.
Steroids for the ’60s Coronet
The Coronet name did not reappear on a Dodge vehicle until 1965. Now the mid-sized muscle car, the 1965 Dodge Coronet featured the 6981cc (426ci) Hemi engine that produced a massive 317kW (425bhp). The base trim models recieved the 3671cc (224ci) six-cylinder engines. The Dodge name was proudly displayed in block letters across the front of the bonnet, and the Coronet name was in script along the tip of the front guard.A slightly shorter, restyled version of the Coronetwas available in 1966. With the race Hemi engine available it was more suitable for drag racing than street driving, making it the most powerful production car ever built. Bucket seats were standard, the choice of vinyl or vinyl-and-fabric upholstery was left up to the buyer. Fifteen exterior acrylic enamel colour of choices were available. The 1967 Coronet received the Charger grille as well as some minor rear end changes. The R/T (Road & Track) Coronet was introduced in both two-door hardtop and convertible versions, selling well over 10,000 examples. The 7210cc, 280kW (440ci, 375bhp) V8 engine was capable of propelling the car from zero to 96.5kph in seven seconds, and became a regular sight at drag strips. If that was not enough, a 426 cubic-inch Hemi engine could be substituted for just $460. Only 238 vehicles were equipped with this 317kW (425hp) engine. Fifty-five vehicles were built to comply with the Hot Rod Association Super Stock B rules. These SS/B models were equipped with the 440 cubic-inch V8 engine, and produced 280kW and 650Nm of torque.
In 1968 the Coronet was restyled and given a smoother, rounder profile. Quad headlights were incorporated into the full-width grille. In the rear the taillights were incorporated into a full-width panel. Exactly 10,456 Coronet R/T versions were sold, while 230 examples of the Coronet 426 cubic-inch V8 were produced. The Coronet was completely restyled, while bucket seats, a dual exhaust, heavy-duty suspension and brakes all became standard equipment. The 440 cubic-inch V8 Six Pack became available in 1969. With this 291kW (390hp) engine, a zero-to-96.5kph time of 6.6 seconds could be achieved. The 426 and 440 engines were still available offering 317 and 280kW (425 and 375hp) respectively. Unfortunately, sales continued to fall, and less than 7240 examples were produced in 1969. The styling remained unchanged from 1968. The Coronet Super Bee and R/T versions were outfitted with the 426 cubic-inch Hemi V8. They were offered in two-door coupé configuration, of which 166 examples are estimated to have been produced. Ninety two-door hardtops were also constructed. In the R/T configuration, there were 97 of these two-door hardtops and 10 convertibles. Production of the Coronet continued until 1976.
Hemi Power – America’s ultimate V8
The street Hemi engine stands alone in the field of pushrod engines due to the amount of power it can produce, and because of its rarity, as it was produced for only six years. Those years constituted the peak of the muscle car era, and the Hemi was at the top in terms of power and availability. Over the years the phrase ‘hemispherical combustion chamber’ has been shortened to Hemi. The combustion chamber on a Hemi engine is hemispherical, and if you were to cut a tennis ball in half and look inside, you would see that it forms the same shape as a hemispherical combustion chamber. No other shape can contain the same volume with as little surface area. This low surface-to-volume ratio improves the engine’s volumetric and thermal efficiency. At high revs, combustion time is at an absolute minimum, and the Hemi design works best to boost power. Another advantage of the Hemi design is the valve location – with one on each side of the combustion chamber – which allows for the shortest intake and exhaust ports and the largest valves possible. This flow-through design contributes to valve cooling, and combined with the spark plugs placing dead centre makes the Hemi engine design so effective. The street Hemi engine was the result of the proliferation of high performance street cars in the mid ’60s, and the fact that because Chrysler wanted to race at Nascar tracks it built a production version of the engine. Engineers outlined a format for a detuned Hemi for B-body cars. The suggestion was for an engine with dual four barrel carburettors, cast iron exhaust manifolds, cross bolted main bearing caps and an intake manifold and camshaft that would provide ample power, but maintain drivability in winter and summer. Preference was for a hydraulic cam, but solid lifters would be acceptable and would include thermally controlled pistons to reduce engine noise when cold. The engine was to be developed for both four speed and automatic transmissions, and stipulated no air conditioning and no limited warranty. It was made official on January 12, 1965 – there would be a street Hemi for the 1966 model line-up. A few changes were needed to the Hemi block’s mounting lugs. The crankshaft and rods were the same as those used on the A-990 race cars together with the valves, mechanical lifters, pushrods and rocker arms, and the camshaft was smoothed out to a relatively mild 276 degrees of duration.
This new street Hemi bowed to the history of dual quad intake manifolds of the past. A newly designed aluminium dual plane manifold boasted two Carter AFB carburettors, coupled to a mechanical staged linkage that allowed for routine street driving to be done on the rear carburettor. The heads came in for some minimal treatment in order for the large cast iron exhaust manifolds to be fitted. Because of the size of the Hemi’s 4.7-litre oil pan, a 203mm-wide plate was added to the K-member for additional protection. A new cast iron bell housing was made to house the Street Hemi’s clutch. Only two transmissions were slated for the new engine – the A833 four-speed manual and the heavy-duty A727 TorqueFlite. Each new engine was carefully built, inspected and dyno tested to prove it was capable of consistently producing 317kW. It was no secret that these engines were going to be hammered hard, and tested to their limits by young street racers wanting to emulate Dick Landy and Ronnie Sox. Any failures would hurt the Hemi programme, and damage its reputation as the finest V8 engine ever to be built in America.
Our feature car
Ian Kenyon was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, where he grew up and by the age of 18 had become a diehard American Muscle car fan. Unable to resist, Ian purchased a 1974 Camaro, which he proceeded to restore. As an apprentice panel beater in the late ’70s Ian quickly learned the necessary skills required for the job, and the Camaro soon hit the streets of Yorkshire in all its splendour. Ian recalls the day that was to change his life forever, when racing a couple of buddies down the motorway. The other two cars were a ’70 Mach 1 Mustang and a ’68 Plymouth Roadrunner. He was racing beside the Mustang in his Camaro and hauling along quite nicely (Ian alleges flat to the boards), but the Plymouth rushed past as if they were standing still. In an attempt to retain some level of dignity they tried in vain to catch the Plymouth, but were horribly unsuccessful. At this point Ian’s new-found respect for the Plymouth sparked his life-long passion for the mighty Mopar. It wasn’t long before the Camaro was sold and replaced with a ’69 Dodge Charger 440. As a naïve teenager rushing in with all guns blazing, Ian was soon to soon to discover the car was actually the lesser 383-engine version, and a valuable lesson was learned. Nonetheless, the Dodge was completely stripped and restored, during which time Ian had also bought a ’67 Mustang Fastback as a run-around while the Dodge was off the road. Over the next 20 years Ian’s passion for Mopars lead him to own many desirable Dodges and Plymouths, including a few staunch Pro Street cars which he built along the way, many of which he wishes he had hung on to. At this stage Ian was not only competent in the art of fabrication and panel beating, but was also an unaccomplished motor mechanic. This experience proved invaluable during six seasons of campaigning and racing his ’64 Valiant Signet around the UK.
Road & Track
In March 1998 the featured ’68 Dodge Coronet R/T was offered to Ian. He was familiar with the car, as the owner was a friend who had bought it some 15 years earlier. Ian actually remembers the phone call late one night when his friend rang, excited with his new purchase. Unable to wait until the following morning, Ian was there like a shot and spent almost the entire night crawling over the Dodge. It was in a fairly bad state, as it had originally taken a pounding from some clown driving a fork hoist at the shipping yard, and the then owner had refused to take ownership of it. The shipping company ended up owning the Dodge and it sat, neglected, in its premises for several years. By the time the Dodge ended up in Ian’s hands not much had been done, and although complete was quite rough. Ian did drive the car for a few years while he collected many parts essential for the restoration project, which begun in late 2002. The body was completely stripped and put onto a rotisserie, so Ian could learn the extent of the rust and other fabrication work that needed doing. The rust wasn’t too bad though, requiring only a small patch to the driver’s side floor and a new boot floor. The right rear quarter panel required Ian’s special touch, and the left rear quarter was replaced entirely with a new panel. Other new body parts included two completely new doors and a boot lid, pretty much all that was required to complete the body’s refurbishment before applying the factory bright blue metallic paint. Ian’s attention to detail was almost obsessive, and he was determined that all the suspension components (as well as the rest of the car) would be finished exactly as the car had left the factory in 1968. Although many of the suspension parts were left natural, devoid of any coating or protection from the elements, Ian decided to have the parts passive clear coated. This gave them that natural look Ian was seeking, as well providing protection from rust. The Hemi engine and TorqueFlite transmission were stripped, and to Ian’s surprise were in reasonably good shape. Both were fully rebuilt to exact factory specifications along with the Positraction rear end, which completed the drive train. The interior was another story, requiring major refurbishment. Ian had a local upholsterer recover the seats, and was so disappointed with the result that he ended up reupholstering the entire interior himself. This included the head lining, which took Ian three days to complete.