text and photos by Sue George

Most folks who aren't Mopar-owners who browse around Mopar car shows don't realize there was a special NASCAR model of Charger built in 1969 that didn't exactly stand out in a crowd. It's not an in-your-face Charger like the Daytona, however it is the predecessor of the Daytona. More often than not, I've noticed that people walk right by a row of Chargers and don't even notice the 1969 Charger 500 that sits among them. Yet it was instrumental to the winged cars being built.

The 1969 Charger 500 was a mutation of the Charger. When Chrysler realized that the standard 1969 Charger was not doing well on the NASCAR Superspeedways like they had hoped, they took a second look at the body style. Chrysler aerodynamicists decided the standard Charger's recessed grille with headlight covers grabbed a lot of air and slowed the car down. To improve the aerodynamics of the front end, they put a new grille in and moved it out flush with the front fenders. The headlights were left exposed. This marginally improved the Charger in the wind tunnel tests but Chrysler realized they could do better. They added flush covers on the A-pillars to further stream-line the front end.

They also realized that the rear tunnel (flying buttress) window created a vacuum directly behind the roof area which caused a tremendous amount of drag. They tried to counteract the drag with a little ducktail on the truck lid. It wasn't enough. So they went to extreme measures and redesigned the rear window area to be a flush fastback. They broke out the existing rear window (actually leaving some of the broken glass inside the rear package tray area), spot welded in a new window plug which extended the window out over the forward rear deck area, put in a long flat window glass, shortened up the trunk opening and the deck lid and then put the car in the wind tunnel. At first it looked like this was going to be the new great racecar from Chrysler.

Unfortunately, NASCAR drivers that tested the 1969 Charger 500 on the Chrysler Proving Grounds test track soon found out the car was uncontrollable in the corners at speeds in excess of 120 mph. The front end still had too much drag and the rear end had too much lift due to the aerodynamic roof/rear window area. It was no more successful on the Superspeedway than it was on the test track. Only approximately 330 1969 Charger 500s were built. It was a very short-lived body style as it did not satisfy the needs of Chrysler to win races. However, it holds a very important place in Chrysler's history in racing. It  was the same aerodynamic rear window plug that ended up in the 1969 Daytona which replaced the 1969 Charger 500 after a few short months of production. And it was because of wind tunnel tests done on the Charger 500 that Chrysler found the magic answer to a very stable race car: a nosecone with a spoiler underneath and a big wing on the rear deck to create down-force and keep the rear end down.

So the next time you walk past a row of Chargers and they all look the same, look again. From the side a 1969 Charger 500 looks just like a standard 1969 Charger. They were available with the same engine choices as the 1969 Charger R/T (440 4bbl or 426 Hemi) and were available in all of the 1969 R/T colors. Any combination of body color and stripe color was possible, since Chrysler did not specify to Creative Industries that a certain stripe had to go with any particular body color. In fact, there is an F8 green 1969 Charger 500 with a factory-installed red stripe! Below is a 1969 Charger 500 on the left, and a standard 1969 Charger on the right.

But from any other angle, you can see the differences between the two models. Below, the standard 1969 Charger in the two photos to the left have a recessed front grille with hidden headlights. The 1969 Charger 500 front end on the right has a flush front grille area and exposed headlights. Look closely and you can also see the stainless steel mouldings used on the 500's A-pillar.

Shown below on the left, from the rear view, the 1969 Charger has a tunneled rear window, with the glass positioned almost perfectly vertically. Chrysler designers called this the "flying buttress". On the right, the two photos show the 1969 Charger 500 rear window plug, new window placed at more of a horizontal angle and the shortened deck lid. 

One last interesting note: the 1969 Charger 500 is the ONLY Charger 500 that has the special rear window plug and flush front end. The 1970 Charger 500 was just a standard Charger body.


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