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