1970 Dodge Coronet R/T: Dodge’s Big Wheel Becomes A Third Wheel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the Dodge Coronet R/T came out for the 1967 model year, it finally gave Mopar fans a muscle car with an identity. Before that, Mopar fans either had what seemed like grandma’s Coronet with a Hemi or 383, with the latter not quite cutting it against more potent 389s and 396s from General Motors.

Original 1967 Coronet R/T ad.

Original 1967 Coronet R/T ad.

But an interesting thing happened in 1968 – when the Super Bee and the gorgeous, redesigned Charger were introduced, it made the Coronet R/T the third wheel. By 1970 – arguably the peak year of the muscle car era – the Coronet R/T was possibly the least-popular muscle car in the market.

When Pontiac introduced the GTO in 1964, Dodge had plenty of performance in its lineup already: a decent 383 with 330 horsepower, a new 426-S rated at 365 horsepower, and the 426 Max Wedge. The latter was quite a different animal from the rest, more at home on the drag strip than the street.

However, these Dodges had no image like most performance cars of the time – just the usual Dodge 330, 440, Polara, and Polara 500, which were no different than the Pontiac Catalina, Star Chief, Bonneville, and Grand Prix.

The GTO was different, however – it had image in spades. It spoke performance with its standard 389/325 (with the 348-horse Tri-Power optional), dummy hood scoops, and special badging. Car & Driver’s test comparison of the Pontiac and the Ferrari with the same name rattled the establishment and helped create a legend on the street.

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Dodge, on the other hand, had plenty of success on the race track with the Max Wedge (and, soon, the 426 Hemi), but Dodge had no image other than “I’ve got that dang Polara over yonder.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThings were not much different in 1965 – the Hemi was race-only, the 426-S was not commonly ordered, the 383 Coronet didn’t stand a chance against the GTO – Dodge had yet to produce a proper muscle car.

The Street Hemi debuted in 1966 but, again, it was dropped into cars similar to Grandma’s. The new Charger, with its fastback roofline, came close, but it was packaged more like a personal luxury coupe with its four-place seating, and its standard 318 hardly screaming muscle. That all changed for 1967.

The new Coronet R/T (Road/Track) was based on the Coronet 500 trim level, so it had standard bucket seats, full-width taillights, and special Charger-inspired grill; also included were a dummy louvered scoop on the hood and large R/T badges on all four sides. Under the hood was the largest motor available in America: the 440 Magnum rated at 375 horsepower.

1968 Coronet R/T ad.

Original 1968 Coronet R/T ad.

Most muscle cars didn’t have that much horsepower even with their optional motors, but Dodge had it standard. Optional was the 426 Hemi. With credentials like that, the 440-powered R/T garnered a good reputation, which was only solidified when the Hemi was ordered.

Only 10,737 R/T hardtops and convertibles were built – decent enough to make an impact on the street, but paled in comparison to over 70,000 GTOs. The R/T’s sister, the Plymouth GTX, sold a bit more at 12,690.

With a contemporary redesign for 1968, the Coronet R/T was part of Dodge’s Scat Pack, a collection of performance vehicles that came with bumblebee stripes on the rear. However, the market had shifted with a large segment clamoring for a car with few frills but lots of horsepower for a good price.

Plymouth discovered that latent demand with the 383 Road Runner, making Dodge product planners demand that they have an equivalent vehicle: the Super Bee joined midyear. On the other end of the spectrum was the redesigned Charger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot only was it arguably the best-looking car for 1968, but it also was available as an R/T, meaning it also came standard with the 440 Magnum. While more pricey than the Coronet R/T, it sold better than the Coronet R/T’s 10,849 built.

By 1970, the Coronet received a heavy facelift with a bizarre front end that had its charms but was a love/hate affair for most. The body also was a bit more curvy and rounded, giving the Coronet even more distinction from the 1968-69 versions. The Coronet R/T continued to come with the 440 Magnum standard or the optional 426 Hemi, but for 1970 it was joined by the 440 Six Pack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlas, in addition to the 1970 Coronet having controversial styling, it also was a recession year. The Super Bee and Charger R/T continued to outsell the Coronet R/T, which only managed 2,616 hardtops and convertibles. Thus came to end the Coronet R/T, as for 1971 Dodge’s sporty coupes were all transferred to the Charger line – the car that originally muffled the Coronet R/T’s moxie.

Jerry Harris of Vallejo, California, is the owner of this 1970 Coronet R/T with the 440 Six Pack − one of 194 U.S.-spec Coronet R/Ts were built with this motor. The car is impressive all to itself – it’s black and chock full of neat equipment – but Jerry and his two brothers trailered it from California all the way to Carlisle for the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals this past summer.

Sold new at Yakima Dodge in Washington State, Jerry’s been able to trace its history to the third owner, who replaced the transmission in the early-1980s. He then traded the car to a Mopar collector in Canada, and then the Coronet made its way to Oregon and subsequently Emeryville, California, in 2007.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe new owner had the car restored by Gordon Andersen in San Carlos, California, which was completed in 2010. After putting 200 miles on it, the owner put the car on consignment at Kassabin Motors. Jerry bought it from them in March 2012 and promptly put 5,000 miles over the next two years, taking the R/T to shows on the west coast.

In December 2013 he had East Bay Muscle Cars in Brentwood, California, do a tune-up restoration on it, plus had them install new windows, paint the truck lid, restore the N96 Ramcharger hood, and rechrome the bumpers.

Jerry says, “I grew up in Petaluma, California, a small town 35 miles north of San Francisco, and graduated high school in 1972. Even thought I drove a 1959 Ford with a 6-cylinder automatic, the town was full of muscle cars going up and down the boulevard. Every Friday night there a drag race just outside town. Back in the day I rode in many muscle cars but did not own one until 2008 when I bought a 1970 Chevelle SS. I learned a lot with my first muscle car. I really enjoy showing the Coronet R/T as it is usually the only one at the show.”

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About the author

Diego Rosenberg

Diego is an automotive historian with experience working in Detroit as well as the classic car hobby. He is a published automotive writer in print and online and has a network of like-minded aficionados to depend on for information that's not in the public domain.
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