It was, perhaps, the most singular-purpose production automobile ever created, designed to add a mere 5 mph in top speed to the existing Mopar aero warrior, the Dodge Charger 500. In its one-model-year production life, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona achieved that and more, though it failed to realize any “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” bump in showroom activity. The (original) Dodge Charger Daytona celebrates its golden anniversary this year, so is now the right time to shop for one?
To go head to head against Ford’s NASCAR aero warrior, the Torino-based Talladega, Chrysler engineers calculated the Charger 500’s top end speed deficit at the aforementioned 5 mph, but only at the series grandest shrines of speed, superspeedways such as Talladega, Texas World Speedway and Daytona. As Dan Strohl wrote in a June 2006 article for Hemmings Muscle Machines, achieving this gain in speed would require another 85 horsepower from the 426 Hemi, or a drag reduction of 15-percent on the Charger 500.
Both were big asks, but only one could be accomplished without the expense of redesigning an engine from the ground up. The solution was to do away with the Charger 500’s flat grille, replacing it with a tapered steel nose that added 18-inches to the overall length of the car. The Charger 500’s low-angle rear window was retained, as were it’s a-pillar covers, but out back a massive cast aluminum rear wing was added to the design, increasing both rear downforce and lateral stability at high speeds.
The resulting car was revealed to the media in April 1969, and scheduled to make its first competition appearance five months later, at Talladega in September. Wind tunnel testing of both models and full-size Charger Daytonas ultimately helped cut drag by around 20-percent compared to the Charger 500, resulting in truly astounding speeds in testing. At Chrysler’s five-mile oval in Chelsea, Michigan, test driver Charlie Glotzbach hit a top speed of 243 mph, while fellow NASCAR racer Buddy Baker praised the Daytona for its stability at high speeds, calling it a “quality” race car. (Nearly a year later, at Talladega on March 24, 1970, Baker set a closed-course record in a Dodge Charger Daytona, posting a lap at 200.447 mph.)
But the Dodge Charger Daytona’s first NASCAR outing was very nearly a disaster, though. During practice and qualifying, the abrasive asphalt used to pave Talladega shredded tires, prompting legitimate safety concerns from the Professional Drivers Association. Bill France, NASCAR founder and the man behind the construction of the Talladega track, refused to take action or reschedule the race, leaving the Grand National drivers with no alternative but to walk away from the race in protest. To save the event, France allowed drivers from NASCAR’s Grand Touring division to compete in their (notably slower) cars in the main event.
That was a problem for Dodge, which had promoted the debut of the Daytona at Talladega for months. Worse, perhaps, was that Glotzbach had taken the pole position in his Daytona, qualifying with a speed of 199.466 mph. Desperate to put the cars on the track, the automaker convinced drivers Richard Brickhouse and Bobby Isaac to skip the boycott and drive their Grand National Dodge Daytonas in the main event. That one would win was an absolute certainty, and on that September day, the victory went to Brickhouse. The Dodge Charger Daytona (this time, one driven by Isaac) would post one more victory during the 1969 NASCAR Grand National season, at Texas World Speedway in December.
As for Daytona models delivered to Dodge dealer showrooms, the cars came in four basic variants. Those with unlimited budgets could opt for the 426-cu.in. Hemi V-8-powered Daytona, which produced 425 hp and 490 lbs.-ft. of torque and came bolted to either an A833 four-speed manual (topped by a Hurst shifter) or a TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic.
Those with smaller budgets could opt for the 440-cu.in. Magnum V-8 Daytona, which still produced a respectable 375 hp and 480-lbs.ft. of torque and came with the same two transmission options. Of the 543 Dodge Charger Daytonas built for the United States and Canada, the vast majority (468) were powered by this engine choice. Of these, 294 cars were equipped with the TorqueFlite automatic, while 139 received the four-speed manual.
The Daytona was a hard sell on Dodge dealer lots, in part due to its polarizing styling. The steel nose added considerable length to the Charger, and parking lot dings and scrapes were reportedly common occurrences. Then there was the added cost to consider, with the cheapest 440-powered Daytona carrying a sticker price just under $4,000 without options, roughly $400 more than a Charger R/T and $900 more than the base model’s starting price.
It isn’t clear how many of the 543 original Dodge Charger Daytonas exist today, but tribute cars and fakes are plentiful, given the meteoric rise in Mopar muscle car prices over the years. It’s very much a case of buyer beware, and those considering the purchase of a Daytona would be well advised to bring along a marque or model expert. Hemi-powered cars bring big money (though not as big as in years past), and even 440 automatics sell for the price of a suburban house in some parts of the country.
So, what are those prices, exactly? Here, even the experts disagree, with NADA Guides and Hagerty publishing vastly different values. For a driver-quality 440 Magnum Daytona, Hagerty advises that one can expect to pay an average of $200,400 for a four-speed car, or $150,300 for one with an automatic transmission. In 2018, that price would have been the same, but in 2017, buyers would have paid about $10,000 less. Want a driver-quality Hemi Daytona? Hagerty says that a four-speed should set you back roughly $534,000, while an automatic should run around $400,500. That’s the same price as last year, and about $20,000 higher than in 2017.
NADA, on the other hand, says that a driver-quality 440 four-speed Daytona should run around $90,200 today, with a TorqueFlite version priced at $82,000. Compared to last year, that’s an increase of $2,400, and compared to 2017 (when prices were higher than last year), that’s an increase of $1,600. NADA says that those shopping for Hemi Daytonas can currently expect to pay $168,300 for a four-speed car or $153,600 for an automatic transmission example. That’s an increase of $4,500 over 2018, and an increase of $2,900 over 2017.
The truth is likely between these two price extremes, with restored and show-ready cars commanding much higher prices, particularly when accompanied by a documented history. As with any collector car of this value it pays to shop for the best example your budget allows, and one take away from both Hagerty and NADA is that pricing for Daytonas appears to be flat at the moment, so we’ll reiterate the advice we give to all: The best reason to buy a collector car is because you want a particular year, make and model to drive and enjoy, not because it represents a potentially lucrative investment.