Despite the fact that by the mid-1960s Mopar had already become synonymous with high performance and Chrysler’s Hemi had earned a reputation that struck fear in the hearts of racers at drag strips across the nation, when it came to the youth market the company was a few years late to the game.
By the time 1965 rolled around, both Pontiac and Ford had captured the attention of buyers looking for thrills at low cost with the GTO and Mustang, respectively, and Chevrolet would have their new Camaro on the streets not long after. But despite the fact that Chrysler had the hardware required to go toe-to-toe with the best of them, they were peddling sheet metal that catered more toward “mature” buyers, and the cars were priced and equipped accordingly.
Plymouth would be the first out of the gate from the Chrysler portfolio, launching the Road Runner package for the 1968 model year. Based on the Plymouth Satellite, the Road Runner used the same formula that Pontiac had employed years earlier with the GTO to great success: Massive power, sharp looks, and an intermediate body offered at a price that the kids could afford.
After seeing the sales numbers that Plymouth was enjoying with the Road Runner, Robert McCurry, the division general manager for Dodge at the time, requested a similar model to be mocked up by the styling department. Harvey J. Winn, one of the department’s senior designers, submitted a design with name “Super Bee” and an associated logo that incorporated Dodge’s Scat Pack performance badge within it, and the submission got the nod from the company brass.
Underpinned by the B-Body platform shared between the Coronet and the Charger during that period (which is said to have inspired the Super “B” moniker), the model was quickly ramped up for production. Dodge wasted no time getting the Super Bee in front of the public, debuting the new model at the 1968 Detroit Auto Show.
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While the Road Runner was essentially a hopped up version of the Plymouth Satellite, the Super Bee used the Dodge Coronet as its foundation. And much like the Charger, the Coronet received an extensive redesign for the 1968 model year that gave the car a far more muscular figure than in previous years.
The Super Bee treatment bumped the Coronet’s style up a notch as well, adding a pair of bumble bee stripes around the rear deck and a domed hood.
What the Super Bee lacked in frills it made up for with raw performance. Available in 1968 with either a 383ci big-block V8 making 335 horsepower or the notoriously underrated 426ci Hemi hooked to either a Mopar A-833 four-speed manual transmission with a Hurst Competition-Plus shifter, or the three-speed Torqueflite automatic, the Super Bee package also included a heavy duty suspension system, uprated brakes and high performance tires.
Despite their visual similarities the Super Bee was actually a slightly larger car than its Road Runner cousin – its 117in. wheelbase was an inch longer and its overall length was several more than that, which in turn made it slightly heavier than the Plymouth.
Although well received upon its debut, this additional mass was perceived as a performance drawback, and along with the Dodge’s higher price due to higher quality content, it prevented the Super Bee from seeing as much initial success as the Road Runner had.
1969 would bring with it a visual refresh for the Coronet and the Super Bee in turn. A hardtop model joined the pillared coupe in the lineup along with a new, 390 horsepower 440ci Six Pack motor which used a trio of two-barrel carburetors. A new twin-scoop Ramcharger hood graced the options sheet, offering additional visual menace to the Super Bee’s look along with its inherent performance benefits. This functional air scoop hood was spec’d as standard on Super Bees equipped with the 426 Hemi motor.
For 1970 the Super Bee would get yet another aesthetic tweak which would result in the model’s most recognizable (and most visually polarizing) look. This year Dodge made a more concerted effort to distinguish the Super Bee from the rest of the Dodge lineup (and the Coronet R/T in particular) with bolder stripe packages, unique tail lamps, different rear fenders, unique hoods, and a number of eye-catching colors like Plum Crazy, Go Mango and Sublime.
But it was the revised front clip that the Super Bee shared with the Coronet that would ultimately define the identity of the car, which featured a pair of wing-shaped oval grilles housing a pair of headlights on each side, which split the front of the car down the middle. It was a look that stood in contrast to the general muscle car aesthetics of the day, and it elicited passionate responses from enthusiasts, both positive and negative.
By 1971 the automotive industry was already in flux, with the muscle cars quickly being transitioned out as a reaction to outside factors like emissions, gas prices, insurance premiums and other concerns.
This year would bring with it an all-new design for Mopar’s B-bodies, a more curvaceous and elongated aesthetic that would typify the early 1970s. The Coronet lineup itself saw changes as well. Now offered only as a sedan or station wagon configuration, the Super Bee package was moved to the Charger lineup so it could remain associated with a B-body coupe.
Power was down slightly across the board, and a 340 cubic inch high performance small block was now on offer – ultimately its only year available in a Super Bee – as a $44 option above the standard 383 V8. As development of high performance product quickly wound down, after 1971 the Super Bee moniker would be shelved indefinitely.
Three and a half decades later, with Chrysler’s new rear-drive LX platform ripe for high performance variants, Dodge sought to capitalize on their heritage with the new 425 horsepower Charger SRT-8. At the 2006 Detroit Auto Show the company brought back the Super Bee as a limited edition package for the 6.1-liter Hemi V8 powered sedan.
Wearing a Detonator Yellow paint hue with flat black hood and fender decals, the Charger SRT-8 Super Bee kicked off a series of heritage-inspired high performance variants for both the Charger and its coupe stable mate, the Challenger, which continues to this day.
In 2012 the SRT-8 Super Bee made a return, this time as a package more in line with the “high performance, low price” approach of the original car, putting the exciting visuals and paint hues together with the 6.4-liter, 470 horsepower SRT power train in a model that was largely devoid of luxury content, in turn making the car a more “budget friendly” option for enthusiasts who want to go fast.