Frank Chicherchia’s 1969 Dodge Charger, Monday’s Best of Show. Photos by Thomas A DeMauro unless otherwise noted.
If Frank Chicherchia’s 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona looks familiar to long-time readers of Hemmings Muscle Machines, there’s a good reason: The R4 Red winged warrior, then owned by Paul Kaufmann, starred in a Buyer’s Guide published in the June 2006 issue, #33. Last repainted in 1999, the car has had little more done to it than freshening it up since Frank acquired it, but that was good enough to capture the attention of Hemmings editors, who chose it as Best of Show at Monday’s Musclepalooza XXVI.
As Dan Strohl wrote in his 2006 article, the Dodge Charger Daytona was created with a singular purpose in mind: To gain a top speed increase of five MPH on NASCAR’s superspeedways, thus making the model more competitive with Ford’s Torino Talladega and Mercury’s Cyclone Spoiler. To do so would require an increase of 85-horsepower or a 15-percent reduction in drag, and since gaining that much output was deemed unaffordable, the only choice was to improve the aerodynamics of the Dodge Charger 500, itself an improvement over the standard Charger.
The solution was the addition of an 18-inch tapered nose, a chin spoiler to reduce front-end lift, and a basket-handle rear wing, made of cast aluminum. The Daytona took advantage of other tricks already used by the Charger 500, such as a rear window laid down to 22-degrees, compared to the 45-degree rear window on the standard Charger, and A-pillar covers to further reduce drag and turbulence. The net result bettered the 15-percent gain sought by engineers, enabling Buddy Baker to drive a Talladega lap at 200.447 MPH, over six MPH faster than Dodge’s engineers had hoped for.
The changes made the Daytona competitive on NASCAR’s fastest tracks, but it was a hard sell in Dodge showrooms. Polarizing looks and parking lot shunts aside, the Daytona stickered for $900 more than a base Charger and $400 more than a Charger R/T, and when federal crash test standards mandated energy-absorbing bumpers as of January 1, 1970, few mourned the passing of the Daytona or its cousin, the Plymouth Superbird.
Just 543 Daytonas were built before production ended, and of these, 468 were powered by the 440 Magnum V-8 that sits beneath the hood of Frank’s car. Fed by a single four-barrel Carter AVS carburetor, the engine produced 375 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, and came mated to the buyer’s choice of an A833 four-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter (as in Frank’s Daytona), or the three-speed TorqueFlite 727 automatic. The automatic proved more popular with buyers – 294 cars equipped with the 440 Magnum V-8 came with the TorqueFlite, versus 174 with the four-speed manual.
Buyer’s Guide photos by Daniel Strohl.
Despite the car’s factory fresh appearance, Frank tells us it hasn’t been restored under his ownership. The paint, most of it now 18-years old according to our records, remains impressive, as does the engine and interior. Under Kaufmann’s ownership, the car wore “recall” 15-inch Kelsey-Hayes wheels and redline tires, while today it rides on 14-inch Magnum-style wheels with trim rings and narrow whitewalls.
We’re not the only ones to take note of Frank’s Daytona, which also captured The Journalists Award at the 2014 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, Concours Americana. A few of Frank’s other cars have fared well at past Hemmings events, too, including a 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge, chosen as Favorite Pontiac at Musclepalooza 20 in September 2014; 1969 Plymouth Road Runner that captured Best Engine at Musclepalooza XXI in May 2015; a 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle LS-6, runner-up in the American Muscle 1964-1974 class at our 2010 Concours d’Elegance; and a 1969 Chevrolet “Yenko” Chevelle, featured in the Chevy Mark IV “Big Block” class at our 2015 Concours d’Elegance.
Look for more coverage of Musclepalooza XXVI in an upcoming issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.