The original winged car was built by a group of Dodge engineers, designer John Pointer, Bob Rogers, Larry Rathgeb, George Wallace, and Bob Marcell after hours with parts acquired wherever they could find them. Some with management approval, some not ...
The group went to work on an aero package, which they needed to get the Dodge back in NASCAR's winner circle. In 1965, NASCAR outlawed the Hemi and Ford won 32 consecutive races and 48 out of 55. This after Chrysler had dominated in 1964 with the Hemi.
They had acquired a '65 440 race engine and one of the first '66 Charger body stampings with "not intended for delivery" stenciled on it. They built the wing from steel and added several scoops for cooling, airflow, and downforce. The car was completed in late 1965 and taken to the test track where it was wrecked after just a few laps. The car took a real hard hit in the left front and the driver was severely injured. Since a lot of the parts and track time were unapproved by management, the car was taken to a friend's farm and hidden in a barn where they had plans to repair it. But shortly thereafter, NASCAR re-approved the Hemi and the aero package was no longer needed, and Chrysler returned to dominance in 1966.
We found the car while at the NDR Soap Box Derby Nationals in Saginaw, Michigan. During a parking lot party, one of the young fathers started talking about how his dad had a wrecked '66 Charger in his barn. He said it had some really off-the-wall parts on it, and his description of the scoops and spoiler got me interested, so we went to look at it.
Much of the stuff is similar but different from the parts that were eventually used on the '69 Dodge Daytona.
The preceding account is a complete falsehood-Larry Doerr's idea of a way to intrigue a car show audience and spice up his day a little. It clearly worked because we were intrigued by the story and offered to shoot his orange '66 Charger. Of course, we immediately began asking questions. After mentioning that we knew a couple of the men Larry identified in the story, notably retired engineer George Wallace, Larry came clean.
"I made it all up," he said. "It's based in fact-the stuff about the Hemi being banned and Ford dominating. It makes the story more believable. But really I just wanted to build this car and the story came later."
The truth is, this South Sioux City, Nebraska, native who is a Ford technician by trade, has been building cars for 30 years. His resume includes a trio of '55 Mercury panels and trucks, along with a '70 Challenger T/A clone and a Pro Street '70 Plymouth 'Cuda. Larry found this Charger languishing behind a garage. All the paint had been removed, leaving the body with a solid patina of rust covering the entire exterior. The body appeared to have no serious rust holes, and the odometer promised a mere 42,000 miles, so Larry bought it as a parts car for $600. Later he discovered that the car had sat in a body shop from 1968 until 1982, suffering from a major left-front collision-hence the low miles and giving Larry the genesis for his later fabrication work.
At first, Larry's buddy Sonny Lariviere thought there was no way they'd ever get the rust out of the body since it was pitted so badly. Later, Sonny suggested treating the body with muriatic acid. After a tremendous amount of work to remove the rust, Larry, Sonny, and Larry's son Brad managed to save the Charger.
This allowed the bodywork to begin in earnest. But Larry decided the car also needed a hook-something to make it stand out from the crowd. The orange hue was a good start, but that's when he began "fooling around" with the Charger 500 idea. In 1969, Dodge began the race year with a Charger 500 model that featured a flush grille along with a flush-mounted rear window that improved the car's aerodynamics. This was the precursor to the outrageous winged Daytonas that followed.
Larry decided to create his own revisionist history by fabricating a tale of how this car was the initial test model for the rear wing and flush-mounted grille treatments, including adding his own custom-built Charger 500 grille emblem. The fantasy paragraphs left on the dash ploy have worked extremely well, which means just about any time now you should start hearing about a rescued '66 NASCAR Dodge development car on the Internet. Blame that urban legend on Larry Doerr.
Car Craft Q & ACar Craft: Where did the idea for this story come from?Larry Doerr: I just wanted to do something different and wanted to change the look of the car. I knew the story of what Chrysler did during that time and thought that we could make it look like what it could have been. I did some drawings and the wing just looked right on this fastback design, and it all fit together.
CC: What's the best comment you've heard about your car?LD: A lot of people have told me that they don't like the '66-'67 Chargers, but they tell me that they would own this car.
CC: Are there people who think the story is true?LD: A lot of people do. If anyone asks, we always tell them "Don't believe everything you read!"
CC: You also mentioned using muriatic acid to clean the rust. Did that work like acid dipping?LD: No, the acid merely removed the rust. It took about 12 hours to do each individual panel. It took a long time to do the whole car. Then we had to fill in all the pits in the metal with either spot putty or primer.
The DetailsCar: '66 Dodge ChargerOwner: Larry Doerr
Engine: Dodge 440 bored 0.040 over, 460 ci, 10:1 compression
Heads: Production iron, ported
Camshaft: Mopar Performance flat-tappet hydraulic, 252/252 degrees advertised duration, 0.472/0.472-inch lift, double roller chain Induction: Weiand dual-plane with 750-cfm Demon carburetor and modified '68 Chrysler Imperial air cleaner assembly Output: 400 @ 6,000 rpm (est.)
Transmission: Dodge New Process four-speed with Hays clutch and pressure plate
Rearend: Dodge 831/44-inch with 3.23 gears, limited-slip, stock axles
Front suspension: Stock with gas shocks and '73 Challenger front spindles
Rear suspension: Rear axle moved rearward 11/42 inch to center wheel in the wheelwell, stock leafsprings
Brakes: '73 Dodge Challenger front disc brakes, stock rear drum
Wheel and tire: Magnum 500 wheels, 15x7-inch front, 15x10-inch rear; BFGoodrich 255/60R15 Radial T/A front and 295/50R15 rear
Interior: Seat covers by Legendary Interiors installed by owner, Auto Meter water temp and oil pressure gauges
Body mods: Handmade steel rear wing, quarter-panel and front fender scoops, all emblems shaved, custom-built grille emblem, removed rocker panel moldings with all work performed in Larry's backyard shop including body mods and paint
Paint: By Dick Brown of Sioux City, IA, with orange basecoat/clearcoat along with white bumblebee stripe
Cost to build: "I don't want to know"