Un­re­stored Winged War­rior Re­veals the Glory of Brash De­sign and the Im­per­fec­tions of Rapid Pro­duc­tion

Muscle Car Review - - Content - By Barry Kluczyk

Un­re­stored winged war­rior re­veals the glory of its brash de­sign and the im­per­fec­tions of rapid pro­duc­tion

Speed de­fined the 1969 Dodge Charger Day­tona, from its mis­sion to push faster around NASCAR ovals to its ac­cel­er­ated de­vel­op­ment process and even more rapid pro­duc­tion. It was in­tended to hit the streets and NASCAR tracks for 1970, but the Charger 500’s fail­ure early in the 1969 rac­ing sea­son to de­liver a com­pet­i­tive edge prompted Dodge to pull ahead the Day­tona pro­gram. De­spite the re­worked, flush rear win­dow, and flush nose (fea­tur­ing the grille and head­lamps from a 1968 Coro­net), the Charger 500 was still un­com­fort­ably squir­rely at speed. Too much lift pulled up on the tires, coun­ter­mand­ing driv­ers’ ef­forts at con­trol and work­ing against their self-preser­va­tion in­stinct.

The Day­tona’s drag-re­duc­ing nose cone and 23-inch­tall rear wing did the trick, for the most part. The pack­age sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced lift and in­spired the con­fi­dence to keep the pedal to the metal on the straights. The gaunt­let

was of­fi­cially thrown down when a Day­tona, driven by Richard Brick­house, won the first race it en­tered, which hap­pened to be the first race ever at Tal­ladega, in Septem­ber 1969. Buddy Baker re­turned to the track a few months later for a test ses­sion and blasted a record-set­ting aver­age speed of 200.447 mph. The wing worked.

The pro­duc­tion cars NASCAR re­quired for ho­molo­ga­tion were thrown to­gether just as quickly as Baker’s blis­ter­ing pace, but not ex­actly with ex­em­plary at­ten­tion to de­tail.

De­troit-based Cre­ative In­dus­tries, which had a long his­tory of build­ing show cars and small-run pro­duc­tions, was given the un­en­vi­able task of hand-as­sem­bling 500 of the cars dur­ing the sum­mer of 1969. An ex­am­i­na­tion of Peter Swain­son’s un­re­stored ex­am­ple un­der­scores the re­al­ity of the dead­line, with ex­am­ples front to rear of a hur­ried process.

Ex­pen­sive, Un­gainly

The car was orig­i­nally pur­chased by Joseph Gras­zler, of Phoenix, who traded a 1969 Road Run­ner for it at Pea­gler’s Dodge City. The sale of the Day­tona, which has a May 29, 1969, build date, didn’t oc­cur un­til Au­gust 12, 1970. That says ev­ery­thing about the chal­lenge deal­ers faced with the ex­pen­sive, un­gainly wing cars, which car­ried a nearly 25 per­cent price pre­mium over a “reg­u­lar” Charger.

Gras­zler had em­braced the car’s form­fol­lows-func­tion ec­cen­tric­ity and was an early mem­ber of the Winged War­riors en­thu­si­ast club when it was formed in the mid-1970s. He also fre­quented the dragstrip with it in the early days and in­stalled the typ­i­cal af­ter­mar­ket parts of the day, in­clud­ing head­ers, an alu­minum in­take man­i­fold, and more.

De­spite his ap­par­ent love for the Day­tona, Gras­zler didn’t drive it very of­ten. It shows only 20,907 miles, and the li­cense plate tabs ex­pired in 1976. Notes from a fel­low en­thu­si­ast’s ex­am­i­na­tion of the car in No­vem­ber 1975 record its mileage at 20,904. That’s a mere 3 miles added to the clock in nearly 45 years!

Peter Swain­son ac­quired the car in early 2018 from Gras­zler’s neph­ews, John and Paul Becker, who had taken pos­ses­sion of it af­ter his death. Swain­son says, “It’s un­for­tu­nate Mr. Gras­zler isn’t with us any longer to ask more about his own­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Swain­son is an Al­berta-based busi­ness owner with two other wing cars and a slew of ad­di­tional Mopars in his col­lec­tion. “These cars rep­re­sent a spe­cial time in his­tory for mus­cle cars and rac­ing, and pre­serv­ing this one is some­thing I take se­ri­ously.”

Along with the car, Swain­son’s pur­chase in­cluded plenty of ad­di­tional parts and doc­u­ments. Gras­zler had kept it all, from the orig­i­nal date-coded spark-plug wires to all of the other en­gine parts swapped for the af­ter­mar­ket com­po­nents. All of the orig­i­nal equip­ment is on the car to­day, in­clud­ing the trade-in wheels and tires.

The orig­i­nal pa­per­work in­cluded the dealer’s pur­chase agree­ment, which in­di­cated that the 440/four-speed/Track Pack– equipped Day­tona orig­i­nally came with wheel cov­ers. Gras­zler had the dealer swap

over the Mag­num 500 wheels from his Road Run­ner trade-in. The fac­tory Track Pack added, among other things, the beefy Dana 9¾-inch axle with 3.54 gears.

Swain­son is plan­ning a full restora­tion of the low-mileage car. It would have been tempt­ing to leave it un­re­stored, but it is per­haps a lit­tle too raw to leave unat­tended. Tak­ing care of one or two of its needs would start the snow­ball grow­ing to a com­plete re-do.

Un­re­stored Glory

De­troit-area Mopar guru and racer Dave Dudek will over­see the resto. Be­fore he tore into it, we got the chance to pho­to­graph the car in its un­re­stored glory. It re­vealed fine de­tails and, frankly, flaws that came with a rapid-fire pro­duc­tion sched­ule.

“They were on a mis­sion to build the cars within the fast dead­line,” says Dudek about Cre­ative In­dus­tries. “The cars were as­sem­bled quickly, and more than a few cor­ners were cut to do it.”

Those cor­ners in­cluded the prep work on some of the unique sheet­metal parts. There is orig­i­nal paint flak­ing off the gal­va­nized filler panel legs at­tached to the lower front edges of the front fend­ers, parts unique to the Day­tona. It ap­pears that no primer was used prior to paint­ing, just B5 Blue over bare steel. In fact, a man­u­fac­turer ink stamp on one of the pan­els is vis­i­ble now that the paint has flaked off. Get­ting paint to stick to the gal­va­nized metal was no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult, and many own­ers re­turned to the deal­er­ship for paint­work af­ter trips through the car wash.

In­deed, the whole front end of the Day­tona is unique. Cre­ative In­dus­tries didn’t merely screw on the nose cone—the 1969 Charger’s sheet­metal made that im­pos­si­ble. It’s not ex­actly pull-ahead 1970 Charger metal, ei­ther, although it’s pretty clear that the hoods were early-run 1970 parts. Com­par­ing pho­tos of stan­dard

1969 and 1970 Charg­ers with the Day­tona demon­strates sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in the fend­ers.

So, did Dodge have unique stamp­ings for the lim­ited-run Day­tona? The an­swer is a firm prob­a­bly, ac­cord­ing to ex­pert Gene Lewis. “They were likely based on the 1970 Charger parts and mod­i­fied. Chrysler’s own Group Re­lease doc­u­men­ta­tion ref­er­ences the parts as be­ing man­u­fac­tured or stamped with­out holes for the side marker lights. You can mod­ify reg­u­lar 1970 fend­ers to match pretty eas­ily.”

What’s not clear is whether the fend­ers were mod­i­fied with the lower va­lence legs prior to be­ing shipped to Cre­ative In­dus­tries or at the pro­duc­tion site. Re­gard­less, they are unique and il­lus­trate the depth of the pro­duc­tion process.

One more thing about the front fend­ers: They fea­tured mesh-cov­ered holes be­neath the plas­tic, rear­ward-fac­ing vents. Dodge said in 1969 the holes were in­tended to pro­vide tire clear­ance for the race cars, so they were mim­icked to the let­ter on the pro­duc­tion mod­els to en­sure no hang-ups dur­ing the ho­molo­ga­tion process. The pro­duc­tion Ply­mouth Su­per­bird had sim­i­lar scoops on

its front fend­ers, but no holes. Ap­par­ently, NASCAR wasn’t that picky.

That’s a lot of de­tail for just the fron­tend sheet­metal on the Day­tona, and let’s not for­get the flush rear win­dow plug and rear wing, which was an­chored with steel sup­port legs in the trunk. There was a lot go­ing on to pro­duce the cars and do them so quickly.

The peel­ing lay­ers of this un­re­stored ex­am­ple pro­vide a unique, arche­o­log­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of the build process and a glimpse into an era of De­troit’s mo­tor­sports-driven mar­ket­ing that’s just not the same half a cen­tury later. The wing worked, and things were never the same af­ter it.

Fac­tory mark­ings on the right-hand valve cover look only days old. One rea­son they are so well pre­served is the orig­i­nal valve cov­ers were re­moved and stored early in the car’s life.

n Note 50 years of dust on the 440 Mag­num’s orig­i­nal crin­kle-fin­ish air cleaner. While Gras­zler had in­stalled some af­ter­mar­ket parts, he kept the fac­tory equip­ment, so the en­gine still has the orig­i­nal “2-69” date-coded spark-plug wires.

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