Chrysler Motors Corporation announced the 1969 Dodge Charger 500 via an information bulletin on July 18, 1968. It was originally revealed that the Charger 500 would only be available with the 426 Hemi V8. However, in September 1968, Dodge issued another information bulletin stating the Charger 500 would also be available with the 440 Magnum V8. These bulletins further revealed the Charger 500 would be available with all Charger R/T options with the exception of the luggage rack and vinyl roof. The bulletin also specified the Charger 500 would come with a special 500 bumblebee stripe.
The Charger 500 was born out of a need to make the Charger more competitive in NASCAR racing. The Charger’s front grille and rear buttress sail panels were discovered to wreak havoc with aerodynamics on the track. To help the Charger cheat the wind, Creative Industries of Detroit was chosen by Chrysler to craft the Charger 500. Creative Industries made several modifications to create the aerodynamic features of the Charger 500. For starters, the Charger’s split grille was jettisoned in favor of a grille flush with the front of the car. They also removed the Chargers rear flying buttress window and installed a flush rear glass. An interesting touch that also helped to cut down on drag was the installation of chrome a-pillar covers.
The Dodge Charger 500 got its name from NASCAR homologation rules that dictate in order to race on the track, 500 similar cars must be made available to the buying public. However, most experts on the Charger 500 believe that Dodge fudged that number and only 392 were actually built. The vast majority of Charger 500s came equipped with the 440 Magnum and only a handful were built with the 426 Hemi. One possible reason why few takers opted for the Hemi was price. The Hemi added almost $650 to price of the Charger 500. While that may not seem like a lot of extra mullah, that equates to about $4,600 in today’s dollars. Both engines are available with either a four-speed manual or TorqueFlite three-speed automatic.
Car Life tested the Charger 500 Hemi for their September 1969 issue. They got a 0 to 60 time of 5.7 seconds and a quarter mile time of 13.68 seconds at 104.8 miles per hour. Car Life praised the Charger 500 for its suspension, handling, and cornering abilities. Capping off the article, Car Life stated “The something for nothing didn’t show up on the test track. The man who buys a Hemi expects the thing to run. The boggler to us was that the Chargers were happy doing dull things like being driven in traffic or cruised along the freeway at the legal limit and half the car’s top speed. No other NASCAR-in-disguise does both things so well.”
Hot Rod also got their hands on a couple Charger 500 Hemis for their February 1969 issue. The four-speed manual equipped ran the quarter mile in 13.48 seconds at 109 miles per hour. The TorqueFlite equipped car was slightly slower, running the quarter mile in 13.80 seconds at 105.01 miles per hour. Hot Rod also took a liking to the Charger 500. They applauded the Charger 500’s steering, braking, and overall drivability. They also stated that the Charger 500 is a car you make excuses to drive. They also commented that the TorqueFlite-equipped model “is easily one of the best high-speed stockers we’ve sampled.”
Sadly, the Charger 500 didn’t perform as well in NASCAR racing as it did on the street. It fell way behind in victories compared to the Ford Torino Talladega. Not willing to accept defeat gracefully, the engineers at Chrysler developed another aero warrior. Dubbed the Dodge Daytona, it featured a radical front nose cone and a huge rear wing. The 1969 Dodge Charger 500’s run might have been short, but it will always be looked at as one of the Aero Wars’ greatest warriors.