The classic Dodge Charger will forever remain one of the automotive industry’s most appealing shapes and, with the monstrous engines that were offered back in the 1960s and 1970s, the recipe for extreme velocity should be guaranteed. Is it, though? Well, as Dodge found out when racing in NASCAR over five decades ago, things aren’t that simple. And this freshly-completed 1968 Hemi-motivated Charger, a land speed build gone street car, brings a custom example of what chasing speeds like 200 mph means.
Before we get to the ’68 Charger land speed monster that brought us here, allow us to take you through the max-velocity-dictated aero evolution of the classic Dodge Charger.
When the OG Charger was released in 1966, NASCAR racers were surprised to see that its fastback silhouette didn’t help on the long straights, with the rear end generating lift. The issue was addressed by installing a small boot lid spoiler for 1967, which naturally also made it to the road car—unlike nowadays when the new NASCAR rules merely brought more production-like body panels, racers were much quite closely tied to their production siblings.
And while the second-gen Charger arrived as a comprehensive revamp for the 1968 model year, the rear-end lift problem persisted. Even though the sportier muscle car had lost the fastback profile, its new, tunneled rear window still caused lift, while the sinister front fascia, with its deep profile, generated plenty of drag.
The said lessons were learned after the Charger failed to deliver during the ’68 NASCAR season. And while aerodynamics weren’t that advanced in those times, engineers still had access to wind tunnels, where they observed the said flaws. These were corrected by installing a flush rear window and pushing a Coronet front grille to the very nose of the vehicle, which led to the birth of the Charger 500 in September 1968.
The Charger 500 wasn’t enough
And when the high-speed performance of the Charger 500 still proved insufficient, with monsters like the Blue Oval’s Ford Torino Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II reaching superior top speed on high-bank ovals, Dodge went all in, introducing its own aero cars.
The resulting 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and 1970 Plymouth Superbird came with massive nose cones and super-sized wings. They also sported rear-facing scoops on the front fenders. And while these were officially labeled as tire clearance aids for the racecars, their main role was to let the high-pressure air escape the front wheel arches, a move that we constantly see on tuner kits and even certain factory specials like RS Porsches nowadays.
And it all paid out. Not only did the Charger Daytona set a 200 mph closed course record in 1969, but the pointy-nosed, wing cars dominated many of the races they entered—these were only used on superspeedways and road courses, while shorter tracks saw teams deploying less expensive units.
However, in order to level the playing field, NASCAR limited the engine size for wing cars to 305 ci (5.0L) in 1971, effectively pushing teams to retire the competition-dwarfing monsters.
This 1968 Dodge Charger started out as a less impressive 318 automatic
The story of this classic Mopar saw the machine going from the not-that-hot factory configuration (318 with a three-speed auto) to a land speed car aiming to hit 200 mph at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats.
Some 18 years ago, Jimmy Shine (his real name is James D. Falschlehner), a car builder whom you might know thanks to TV shows like Car Warriors or American Icon: The Hot Rod, got to play with the big, heavy coupe.
The production team he worked for at the time gave him a budget, which saw the toy receiving a 526 ci V8 that churned out 750 hp on pump gas. However, they never got to push the beast past 180 mph and, after an incident with the police that followed a more or less legal top speed attempt close to Las Vegas, the producers decided to put the project on the back burner. And the vehicle would remain under the radar for about fifteen years.
Fortunately, Jimmy, who owns the Shine Speed Shop in California, got a hold of the vehicle two and a half years ago. The car had been stripped of its engine, but that only meant the man could regard it as a semi-blank canvas.
From all-out racecar to regaining some of the street manners
The land speed theme stayed, but the Charger, which was only recently completed, now seems to spend most of its time on the street and we can only assume it will enter the car show circuit.
Honoring the legacy of the Dodge, Jimmy installed a 426 HEMI that was stroked to 494 ci and received plenty of custom bits. However, with the said new purpose of the car, things didn’t need to be that extreme anymore, which is why the motor was kept naturally aspirated and makes a generous 510 hp and 566 lb-ft of torque.
A manually-controlled three-speed automatic sends the muscle to the rear wheels via a Ford 9-inch rear end, while Wilwood brakes provide matching stopping power.
The salt-flat DNA is very much present, as the drive recorded in the Autotopia LA video below easily demonstrates. For one, the gearing is seriously tall and this also includes the height of the rear tires (think: 3.0 rear end with 32-inch-tall rear tires).
This means the ’68 Charger can cruise in second and third gear all day long, while its relatively skinny tires and the moon disc caps for the custom steel wheels are something you don’t see every day.
Factor in the low-end torque of the HEMI and the soundtrack delivered by the super-sized Magnaflow exhaust and you end up with a standout driving experience, albeit one that the beholder can at least partially grasp at a glance.
Of course, this build always deserves a closer look, as, for instance, the tubular structure added to the belly of the beast for reinforcement shows just how far the car has come from its factory form.