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GRAY BLONDER’S CAR REVIEW

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

The smell is the first thing that hits you: it’s hot in sunny south Florida, and that vinyl is giving off the unmistakable scent of aged perfection. We’ve been looking for a few months for this car… a real deal, bright orange, giant-wing-festooned, 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona. As soon as the long, heavy doors swing open, nostalgia settles over you like a warm blanket. The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona is a muscle car guy’s happy place, and everybody knows down deep Gary Blonder is a muscle car guy.

Gary Blonder Rides Again

The first time I caught a glimpse of the Daytona was in 1969, when Dodge put one right in the front window of the local dealership. Anyone who has seen a Daytona in person understands this was a great idea. Its radical nose-cone demands a closer look. The audacious wing signals this is not just another big-engine-in-midsize car operation (though, with a 117″ wheelbase and a total length of 226.5″, it seems odd to class this B-body Chrysler as “midsize”), and the enormity of the whole vehicle seems to defy good sense at every turn. You must see it up close to truly appreciate it.

Needless to say, on this day, I do truly appreciate it. The owner of the vehicle, a relatively high-mileage example at around 88k, is the third person to steward the car over the years. Thanks to its pampered, garage-kept life, this Daytona still looks and feels much like the big chunk of beautiful bait the Dodoge dealer hung out there for the public all those many years ago. The original owner had a feeling the car might be worth something down the line, so (unlike many Daytona buyers) he never tracked or abused it. Most of the miles are highway, running between one cruise (or more recently) classic car meet up and down the East Coast and another over many years. As a result, when I push in the satisfyingly heavy clutch in and turn the key, the 426 Hemi chugs instantly to life in all its burbling hemispherical combustion-chambered glory. The noise is instantly evocative of hairy-looking dust-flecked footage of sixties-era road-racing, as is the heady musk of uncatalyzed exhaust smoke. It’s going to be a nice day.

Gary Blonder Puts His Foot Down

The owner gives me a sideways look when I ask, “Can I open it up?” We are flying down the flat rural roads at completely legal speeds, flanked on either side by soupy marsh, a guardrail and my excellent driving habits the only thing standing between us and the alligators. The big hemi spins at a leisurely 1200 RPM, which means its poor cams are flopping those big old valves around to little effect, which means we are not getting the full Charger Daytona experience, which means as soon as I think the owner has nodded at me, which is coincidently the same time I hop over rough rise in the road, I drop her down to third, put my foot in it, and blast 50 years back in time.

What follows is exactly what I expect: the big weird-looking creature settles back on its haunches, the differential stutters momentarily as it seeks to distribute the huge wave of torque I am applying to it, and the Daytona takes off like a rocket. It might be only in my imagination that I can tell the aero is pushing her down against the asphalt as we are manically rushing toward the legal posted speed limit. Nonetheless, as we begin to achieve what would be a nerve-racking pace in a lesser vehicle, the Daytona seems to find its true nature. It begs me to put the pedal in the carpet and run out third and keep going, but good sense and the white-knuckle grip my passenger has on his knees persuades me to go ahead a let off. “Geez, that was fun!” I say. The owner is obviously nodding and smiling in agreement, but since he doesn’t say anything and I have my eyes locked on the road, I can only assume.

Gary Blonder: True Aficionado
I hand off the keys and head toward the Jag. By the clamminess of his hands, I know the owner appreciated our drive. I know I did too. Sometimes it takes a true aficionado to open up your vintage racer and let her have her dignity. Usually, that’s Gary Blonder.

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