Rare Rides: The 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T 426 Hemi Convertible

In past pages of this column, we have taken a look at many of the world’s scarcest muscle cars. Regular readers of Rare Rides may have noted that a good portion of these vehicles originally rolled out of the factories of the Chrysler Corporation during the late-sixties and early-seventies.

Although I am acutely enamored of Mother Mopar’s offerings and love to write about them, there is actually a more salient reason for the regularity with which Plymouth and Dodge cars of that era have been featured here.

The House of the Pentastar, more than any other manufacturer, had a proclivity of offering options that would raise the cost of a vehicle considerably. Because Mopars were moderately priced vehicles that appealed to average people as opposed to well-heeled performance enthusiasts, cars that sported the high-price options, therefore, tended to be ordered in very small numbers.

Two options in particular that could jack the price of a Mopar through the roof had one-word names: “convertible” and “Hemi.” In this episode of Rare Rides, we’re going to examine a car that featured both and was consequently one of the rarest Mopars ever built.

The car I’m referring to? The 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T 426 Hemi Convertible!

The 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T Hemi Convertible. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

The 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T 426 Hemi Convertible had a long lineage that stretched back two decades and comprised five distinct generations of design.

The Coronet, whose name translates to “little crown,” was introduced with the first wave of Dodge vehicles to be produced after the end of the Second World War. Released in 1949, it was a full-sized vehicle with two lesser trim models, the Wayfarer and Meadowbrook, beneath it in the lineup.

Available as a two-door club coupe and convertible, a four-door sedan and town sedan, as well as a four door station wagon, the cars all sported conservative, handsome designs that featured pontoon fenders and a fair amount of chrome.

Where it all began: the 1949 Dodge Coronet, here in convertible form. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

Unusually, all models were offered with a lone engine choice, the dependable Dodge 230 cubic-inch flat-head straight-six, that developed a respectable 103 horsepower.

A unique option was the Gyro-matic dual-range, four-speed, semi-automatic transmission which required the use of the clutch only to shift between low range and high range. Upshifts and downshifts once in the high range were actuated by the accelerator pedal.

The redesigned 1953 Coronet sedan. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

After a slew of aesthetic refreshes, Dodge launched a completely redesigned Coronet in 1953 which featured the introduction of the optional “Red Ram” 241ci-Hemi V8. The new powerplant featured a two-barrel carb and a 7.1:1 compression ratio, good for 140 horsepower. Equally noteworthy was the 1954 introduction of Chrysler’s first automatic transmission, the two-speed PowerFlite, as an extra-cost option.

The ’55 Coronet coupe. (Photo courtesy of conceptcarz.)

Another redesign followed in 1955 and saw the Coronet relocated to the lower end of the Dodge line. Now longer and wider, and offering a trio of engine choices that included the venerable 230 I6, and 270 cubic-inch and 315 cubic-inch Hemi V8s, the Coronet enjoyed a good boost in sales.

A significant rethink of the Coronet came in 1957, when it was enlarged even further, and updated with contemporary styling. Out went the oblong shape of the previous generations, and in came the wide, upright grille, flat hood, slab sides, tons of chrome, and tail fins that the era was noted for.

A 1957 Dodge Coronet Convertible. (Photo courtesy of Hemmings News.)

’57 Coronets were offered in club sedan, Lancer hardtop coupe, convertible, hardtop sedan, and two- and four-door station wagon layouts. Motor choices ranged from the I6, through a multitude of “semi-hemi” 325 cubic-inch V8s ranging in power from 245 to 310 ponies, to the D-501 354 cubic-inch V8 that belted out 340 horsepower, which made it one of the most powerful carbureted engines on the road.

Chrysler’s new three-speed TorqueFlite auto box joined the two-speed Powerflite on the option list. Both transmissions utilized push-button selectors on the instrument panel.

Despite robust sales, the Coronet name was retired after the 1959 model year to make way for a new lineup. But this was far from the end for the Little Crown, as the Coronet reappeared in 1965. The fifth-generation car was now a mid-level offering, riding on the B-body platform, and featuring the svelte, Jet-Age lines dominating the auto industry at the time.

A 1965 Coronet 500. (Photo courtesy of bringatrailer.com.)

The new Coronet lineup consisted of 17 models, available in four distinct series: the Coronet, Coronet Deluxe, Coronet 440, and Coronet 500. The base Coronet and deluxe series offered two- and four-door sedans, while the Coronet 440s could be had in two-door hardtop, two-door convertible, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon models. The top-of-the-line Coronet 500 series came only in two-door hardtop or convertible versions.

Engine choices were legion and ranged from a 145 horsepower, 225 cubic-inch slant-six to a bevy of V8s including a 273 cubic-inch option with 180 ponies, a 235 horsepower, four-barrel version of the same engine, a 230 horsepower 318 Polyhead, a 361 cubic-inch 265 horsepower V-8, a 383 V8 offering 315 or 330 horsepower, and the 426 cubic-inch Hemi V8 in 365 or 425 horsepower iterations.

A vintage advertisement for the 1967 Coronet R/T. (Image courtesy of Stellantis.)

In 1967, the Coronet R/T (for road/track) was added to the lineup as a two-door hardtop and convertible. The standard engine was Chrysler’s 440 cubic-inch Magnum V8 producing 375hp, with the 426 Hemi, rated at 425 ponies, as the lone engine option. Transmission choices were the heavy-duty three-speed TorqueFlite automatic or a four-speed manual.

Come 1968, with the muscle car craze in full swing, Dodge opted to once again refresh the Coronet line, with particular attention being paid to the R/T and a new trim level car, the Super Bee, as its top performance model and low-cost performance model respectively.

Continuing to ride on the B-body platform, and still available in hardtop and convertible configurations only, Dodge crafted an entirely new aesthetic for the R/T. Lines of the 206.6-inch body were Coke bottle-esque and more aggressive throughout.

The all-new 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

Stand-out features of the new design included a recessed, blacked-out grille encompassing quad lamps and a full-width chrome bumper up front, a “power bulge” hood, and twin recesses on each quarter panel ahead of the rear wheel arches. Segmented taillamps featuring concave lenses adorned the rear, while finishing touches included a small army of R/T emblems and a contrasting “Bumble Bee” stripe at the aft end.

The plush ’68 interior. (Photo courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

Inside, the R/T was as plush as a muscle car got. Vinyl-covered bucket seats came standard, as did a horizontally-oriented 150 mph speedometer. Interior upgrades were many, and included a Rallye instrument cluster, a Coronet Radio Group (which included a Music Master radio, power steering, and remote left-side mirror), a floor console, tinted glass, and adjustable headrests.

Mechanically, Dodge threw everything it had at the Coronet R/T.

Standard equipment was the 440 cubic-inch Magnum V8. Featuring 10.1:1 compression, an 800-CFM four-barrel carb, a cast-iron intake manifold, a forged-steel crankshaft, a long-duration hydraulic-lifter camshaft, and low-restriction exhaust manifolds and dual exhausts, the 440 Magnum carried a factory rating of 375 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque.

The big 440 Magnum was standard. (Photo courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

A costly $605 alternative was the legendary 426 cubic-inch Hemi “elephant motor”. The Hemi sported a 10.25:1 compression ratio and contained a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, and forged aluminum pistons. Dual 625-CFM Carter four-barrel carburetors were mounted to an aluminum intake manifold. Other performance goodies included a “maximum performance” fuel pump, a dual-breaker distributor, and a low-restriction dual exhaust.

The result was one of the most powerful engines of the era, churning out a seriously underrated 425 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque.

The 426 Hemi was a very expensive option. (Photo courtesy of RK Motors.)

Behind either engine was a standard 727 TorqueFlite three-speed automatic shifted on the column, or on the floor when equipped with the optional console. Ratios were 2.45, 1.45, and 1.00:1. A no-cost option was the robust A-833 four-speed manual. Ratios for the four-speed were 2.65, 1.93, 1.39, and 1.00:1.

In regards to differentials, 440/TorqueFlite models came with Chrysler’s 8¾-inch axle assembly with a 2.94 or optional 3.23:1 final drive ratio. Hemi-equipped automatics used the same differential, but with the 3.23:1 gear. The four-speed mandated the installation of the larger 9¾-inch Sure Grip Dana 60 containing a 3.54:1 ratio and heavy-duty axles.

A ’68 R/T convertible. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

Optional on other Coronets, the R/T received the heavy-duty Torsion-Aire suspension package as standard. It featured 1-inch, heavy-duty, hydraulic shocks at all four corners, heavy-duty 0.92-inch torsion bars, a 0.94-inch anti-sway bar up front, and 58-inch, six-pack leaf springs on the left and five-and-a-half on the right outback.

For stopping, Dodge bequeathed the R/T with 11 x 3-inch front drums and 11 x 2.50s in the rear. Power-assisted drums and 11.04-inch power vented front discs brakes with four-piston calipers and power assist were optional. When equipped with the discs, the rear drums were downsized to 10 x 2.50-inch units.

The Magnum 500 wheels were a popular option. (Photo courtesy of Volo Auto Museum.)

Standard wheels and tires for 440 cars were 14 x 5.50-inch stamped-steel units decorated with a standard “dog dish” hubcap or one of three optional full covers, and shod with F70-14 whitewall or red stripe rubber. Hemi-powered cars received 15 x 6-inch stamped steel wheels wrapped in F70-15 red line tires and a standard hubcap or optional full wheel cover. Buyers could opt for 14 x 5.50-inch five-spoke Magnum 500 wheels.

Options were many on the R/T, but aside from the Hemi engine, none were more expensive or required more additional modifications than the convertible top. Requiring extensive additional body bracing (as did the installation of the Hemi) the power actuated top added over $300 to the price of the car, a considerable sum for the day.

Performance of the R/T was excellent, with 440/TorqueFlite equipped cars reaching 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and tripping the quarter in 14.69 seconds at 97.4 mph. Hemi cars upped the ante to 5.2 seconds and 13.6 secs at 101.3 mph respectively when equipped with the four-speed.

A 1968 R/T Hemi Convertible. (Photo courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

The ’68 Coronet redesign was a resounding hit with the public, with roughly 189,500 units sold overall. Of those, nearly 10,900 were R/Ts, with 230 of them equipped with the Hemi and 569 of them being convertibles. Exact figures for ’68 Hemi convertible production is murky, but most estimates suggest the number was in the low double digits.

Buoyed by the success of the ’68 car, Dodge immediately crafted upgrades for the ’69 version.

A 1969 Coronet R/T hardtop. (Photo courtesy of John Corbran.)

Aesthetic changes consisted of a redesigned grille that was pinched in the center and flared at the outer ends, a modified “power bulge” hood, rectangular side markers that replaced the round ones of the ’68, and a redesigned tail that featured three lights stretched horizontally across a recessed panel.

The N96 Ramcharger induction system added twin hood scoops. (Photo courtesy of RK Motors.)

The N96 Ramcharger fresh air induction system, which afforded a hood with aggressive-looking, twin fiberglass scoops was now an option on 440-powered cars and came standard with the Hemi. Scoops could also be added to where the twin recesses normally lived on the quarter panels for a muscular touch. Kelsey-Hayes W23 15 x6-inch Road Wheels were briefly an option but were recalled due to fear of lug-nuts loosening.

Mechanically, three new packages, the Super Performance Axle Package, Track Pack, and Super Track Pack were offered, with the latter providing a 4.10:1 ratio to four-speed cars. Beefier 0.98-inch-diameter torsion bars were added up front, and rear leaf springs were extended to 62 inches in length. Four-speed cars now sported Hurst shifters.

The 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T Hemi Convertible from the Otis Chandler Collection. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

All of these changes resulted in what many consider to be the finest-looking Coronet of all.

The 1969 Hemi convertible was now even more dear in price, with the Hemi costing an astonishing $718, and the convertible top option adding another $330. As such, it makes sense that very few people would opt for this configuration.

A beauty of a unicorn. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

In fact, out of the 107 documented Hemi cars manufactured in 1969, only ten were ragtops, making it a true unicorn of the Golden Era.

The redesigned rear. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

Owing to this, genuine 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T Hemi convertibles now fetch premium prices at collector auctions. In January 2016, one such car, part of the famed Otis Chandler Collection, was sold at the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee. One of only four Hemi convertible four-speeds built, the car fetched an eye-watering $625,000.

One of the great rare rides. (Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

Quite a bit of money for a car that rolled out of the factory with a $4,892.90 window sticker for sure, but totally understandable given that it is now one of the world’s greatest Rare Rides.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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