14 May 2016

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

THEN AS NOW, RON SMITH’S DAYTONA SHOWS HIS PATRIOTISM

With his draft number up in 1969, Ron Smith was called into service. Faced with the very real prospect of not returning home, he splurged on a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and then had the Spirit of ’76 flag painted on the doors and "USA" emblazoned on the wing pillars. This car matters, because more than 40 years later, it remains in his hands, largely in its original condition.

In that era, as the American people began splintering along ideological, political and generational lines, outward displays of patriotism were not the norm among increasingly disaffected youth. In a year when flags and draft cards were being burned in equal measure, Smith’s decision to outfit his new car with the image of the American flag seemed almost unfathomable.

His car was a brand new Dodge Charger Daytona, one of 500 of the world’s fastest production cars. Created by Dodge in summer 1969 to regain ground lost by the Charger 500 within NASCAR, the Daytona was intended to be a limited-edition, high-performance car capable of winning races. Its objective clear, the Charger Daytona took 1st in its inaugural race, at the Talladega 500. With its outrageous nose cone, aerodynamic styling, powerful V-8, and iconic 23-inch stabilizer wing, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytonas soon earned the nickname “Winged Warriors.”

Given this moniker, it seemed an appropriate choice for the just-drafted Smith as he began what he perceived as his final days on American soil. He immediately set about outfitting the car with his patriotic flourishes. Smith also wanted to feel it at speed, so he took it to a test track, where he topped 170 mph. And in the deserts of Nevada, on a trip from Seattle to Texas, he outran cops as he rushed toward an uncertain future. Before he left for war, however, Smith’s car had a starring role in a Dodge commercial. Finally, he parked the Daytona to await his questionable return to the States.

But he did return, and Smith reunited with his beloved ’69 Charger Daytona, using it as his daily driver for a number of years. Then, sometime in the late 1970s, the car ended up in a garage in Smith’s native Pacific Northwest, where it sat for the next 30 years, collecting dust.

While never truly lost, the car had been unmolested and largely forgotten by all but a select few for decades before Smith, with the help of a local rod and custom shop owner, resurrected it. Smith and the Daytona again garnered much attention, and several stories appeared in the media on the car and its patriotic owner; its first public display came at the 2014 Pacific Northwest Concours at LeMay – America’s Car Museum.

Some 45 years after its original purchase and paintjob, it was seen more as a remarkable, well-preserved relic than the controversial political statement it had been in the 1960s and ’70s. With its patriotic symbols still displayed proudly and Smith beaming beside it, this 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona won the HVA/FIVA Preservation Award.

Serving as a reminder of a highly charged political climate and one man’s unassailable drive to display his patriotism in the face of protests, Ron Smith’s Dodge Charger Daytona offers a glimpse into a tumultuous era that divided the country.

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