When I was growing up, my parents went through a lengthy parade of family cars. Early on, when my dad was in sales, he seemed to bring home a new company car every year, and sometimes more than one at a time. During the later, lean years, my parents either bought or inherited a series of beaters that caused the junior-high-aged me to crouch down in the back seat and hide in shame every time we went anywhere. But as those other cars came and went, one constant remained through it all—the first car my dad ever bought new, the same year I was born—his 1969 Dodge Charger.
An original bad-ass muscle car, the ’69 Charger had both brawn and beauty. It remains one of the most revered cars that Chrysler ever designed. A land shark that measured over 17 feet from bumper to bumper (I looked it up), and with a back seat that easily held four kids and the dog, it got about 10 miles to the gallon. Ours was brown, inside and out, and was truly a thing to behold:
Motor Trend magazine had this to say about the Charger:
"After sinking into soft seats that look and feel like real leather, you look outside and see eerie sweeps of metal and hypnotic, fascinating shadows that soothe the pounding sun and make the car an almost organic, protective embrace.”
I guess they kinda dug it.
While I remember the vinyl seats very well, I do not remember them being particularly soft or feeling like leather. What I remember is the vinyl upholstery sticking to the backs of my young legs during the summer. On the hottest days, we’d have to sit on beach towels to keep from frying our skin right off.
The “eerie sweeps of metal” part was true, though. I especially remember the steering wheel. Ours had a brown interior, but otherwise it looked pretty much like this:
As for the “protective embrace,” well, that may have been true by 1969 standards. But back then, cars came with seatbelts that snapped to the wall, way up above the windows, where they could be secured out of the way and not annoy passengers with something so trivial as safety. Not so much a “protective embrace” in the post-Ralph Nader era.
Both my parents drove the Charger, but we always understood that it was without question my dad’s car. He loved that car, and still gets a little misty-eyed when he talks about it. I can’t think of it without thinking of him.
Although Chargers tended to be rust-prone money pits, it seemed like we had ours forever. My dad held on to it through most of the 1980s, even though it spent most of its last five years languishing in the driveway behind my parents’ house. I wasn’t home the day they finally had it towed away, but I remember feeling like I had lost a childhood friend after it was gone.
Dad paid around $3,500 for his new. Nowadays, thanks to the Dukes of Hazzard TV show and movie (yes, the General Lee was a ’69 Charger), a fully-restored one goes for $40,000 or more. Not many are still around, and I read that between the TV show and the movie, a good 300 Chargers were destroyed during filming. Seems like a tragic waste, doesn’t it? The fact that many of those cars gave their lives for a Ben Stiller movie (not to mention Jessica Simpson), well, that’s just like rubbing salt in the wound.
As for me, these days I drive an aging Civic, which has proved to be a very practical choice since gas prices have gone over $3.00 per gallon. It’s a great car, and I’ll likely buy another Honda when the time comes. But the first time I saw a commercial for the new Dodge Charger, it stopped me cold. One glimpse of that split-rectangle grill and I was immediately overcome with a powerful wanting.
After I thought about it, I realized that it only makes sense, considering.