Packaged Performance

A Review of Dodge’s Drag Strip “Package Cars”

As the official launch – and we do mean launch – of the 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 gets closer, we can’t think of a better time to reflect on previous Dodge drag strip performance offerings.

Here, we’re not talking about the legendary lineup of mass-market Dodge muscle car classics like the Dart GTS, Super Bee, Coronet R/T, Charger R/T or Challenger R/T. Nope, here, we’re talking about those seven legendary Dodge Package Cars from the 1962-69 era; the 1962-64 Max Wedge Ramcharger, 1964-65 Race HEMI®, 1966 D-Dart, 1967 WO23 Street HEMI lightweight hardtop, 1968 HEMI Dart, 1969 Dart GTS 440 and 1969-1/2 Six Pack Super Bee, plus a special surprise from more recent times that we’ll get to near the end of this series.

These Package Cars are different from the mainstream Dodge muscle cars because they were built for drag racing. By contrast, the traditional Dodge muscle cars were meant for all-around street performance and have heavy-duty suspensions, front (and sometimes rear) anti-sway bars, up-sized brakes, mild general purpose axle ratios in the 2.94 to 3.55:1 range, police-specification engine cooling systems and highway-ready performance engines with hydraulic cams and moderate compression ratios of 10:1 to run well all day – or night – long on pump gas.

What’s more, those mass market Dodge muscle offerings could also be had with extra cost options like air conditioning, AM/FM 8-track stereo, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seats and even sliding sun roofs in some cases. All of these add-ons were great for comfort and convenience while mashing the 4-4-2, GTO, GS, Go Pack, Cobra Jet or Super Sport in the other lane. But they also increased the age-old enemy of rapid acceleration…weight. Even worse, when that weight was added under the hood, as with air conditioning, power steering and power brakes, a nose-heavy condition can result, further diminishing traction at the rear tires and causing useless tire spin.

Knowing that a certain hard core segment of Dodge customers weren’t concerned with luxury or comfort while dominating Brand-X machinery, the Package Cars were each built around a…wait for it… package of pre-selected engine, driveline, suspension, interior and body components that were chosen to contribute to the goal of maximum forward acceleration in the quickest time possible. Special attention was paid to ensure each offering was legal for normal street use while also conforming to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) Stock and Super Stock class rule books. The idea was to help amateur and professional racers “win on Sunday and sell on Monday.”

Since drag racing takes place on a 1,320-foot, arrow-straight strip of tarmac, cornering and braking prowess aren’t primary concerns. Instead, the factory engineers in charge of each Package Car program put emphasis on weight reduction, front-to-rear weight transfer, torque multiplication, automatic transmission shift controls optimized for drag racing and making maximum horsepower in short sprints. Make no mistake, the Dodge Package Cars were absolutely street legal and could be used for everyday driving, but certain compromises existed.

For instance, on the Max Wedges and Race HEMIs, lighter 10-inch drum brakes replaced the 11-inch police-specification drums used on Dodge’s street-going muscle cars. And to allow faster front suspension rise at full power, front sway bars were typically deleted. Out back, extra half-leaves were added to the passenger-side leaf spring to pre-load the chassis against engine rotation. This caused the passenger side of the tail to sit up to an inch higher than the driver side but was a subtle warning to opponents that Super Stock leaf springs were in place.

Atop the rear axle, adjustable pinion snubbers with telescoping construction allowed multiple height settings to tame pinion rise. And inside the differential, high-numeric gear ratios boosted off-the-line jump. The 1966 D-Dart’s 4.86:1 gear set was the wildest of the Package Car breed with the 1964-65 Race HEMI’s 4.56:1 cogs coming in second. The scheme was repeated on the 1969-1/2 Six Pack Super Bee, where every one of the 1,907 cars built came stuffed with 4.10:1 gears in a Dana 60 rear axle.

Inside, heaters and radios were rarely seen, and fluff like air conditioning and power steering and brakes were strictly off limits. Some of the package cars took weight loss to the extreme with aluminum fenders and hoods (1963-64 Max Wedge lightweight sedan), only one windshield wiper and sun visor and no back seat (1965 HEMI Coronet), lift-off hoods with no hinges (1964 Race HEMI Coronet, 1968 HEMI Dart and 1969-1/2 Six Pack Super Bee) and even single headlamp grilles with no high-beam capability to shed a pound or two (again, the 1965 HEMI Coronet).

Thin carpeting without the usual jute backing was often seen while body shells were specially marked during assembly to alert workers to delete undercoating, seam sealer and all other spray-on sound deaden-er compounds. This could save as much as 40 pounds. And speaking of thin, when the NHRA outlawed aluminum and fiberglass body panels after the 1964 race season, Dodge turned to extra thin gauge steel sheet stock for front bumpers, front fenders, hoods and hood scoops (1965 HEMI Coronet and 1967 WO23 Street HEMI lightweight hardtop hood scoop). Alternatively, “chemical milling” (a.k.a. acid dipping) was applied to some 1965 Package Cars.

But one area where Dodge added weight was the battery. Beginning with the 1963 Max Wedge lightweight, the battery was relocated from under the hood to the right rear corner of the trunk compartment. Also, in place of the usual production battery, an up-sized unit was used, which weighed nearly 100 pounds. When placed in the trunk, the benefit of the added mass pressing the rear slicks into the track was far more beneficial than the weight penalty. These special batteries were even given a special label that read “Mopar® Super Stock” for the benefit of doubtful NHRA tech inspectors. These huge batteries were used on the 1964-65 Race HEMI Coronet and 1968 HEMI Dart and quickly became a popular over-the-counter add-on with Brand-X racers looking for better traction.

Today, a close look at the 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 reveals the inclusion of many traditional Package Car features (no back seat, trunk-mount battery, suspension tuned for enhanced weight transfer, lighter brake package, up-sized 41-spline half shafts from the SRT® Hellcat, steeper axle ratio and more). We’ve said it many times, the “good old days” are right now as Dodge dips into its rich well of history to bring customers yet another legendary Package Car…the 2019 Challenger R/T Scat Pack.

Be sure to check back weekly to see new editions of this series.

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