When it comes to classic Dodge Chargers, the 1968–70 car is the most iconic. It is coke-bottle styling at its finest, it was the bad guy’s car in Bullitt, and it jumped hay bales with Bo and Luke on The Dukes of Hazzard. The 1968–70 generation Charger also spawned the famous Mopar wing cars for NASCAR racing, starting with the Charger Daytona and followed by the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. Although it is the most famous classic Charger, it wasn’t the first. The ungainly (or gorgeous, depending on who you ask) first-generation 1966–67 Charger with its long fastback body has always lived in the shadow of the later, greater Charger. And rightly so, given all of the above. Recently, however, we noticed a big jump in the first-gen Charger’s Hagerty Vehicle Rating, and decided to have a closer look to see what’s what.
The Hagerty Vehicle Rating is a data-driven rating is based on a 0–100 scale and considers the number of vehicles insured and quoted through Hagerty, along with auction activity and private sales results. A 50-point rating indicates that a vehicle is keeping pace with the overall market. Ratings higher than 50 show above-average interest, while vehicles with a sub-50-point rating are lagging behind the market. The HVR is not an indicator of future collectability, but it says a lot about what’s trending hot and what’s not.
Cashing in on a booming muscle car market, Dodge introduced a Coronet-based fastback in 1966 with two bucket seats in front and two more folding buckets in back. Available power started at a 230-horsepower 318-cubic-inch V-8 and went all the way up to the 426/425-hp Street Hemi. Dave Pearson’s 15 race wins in the 1966 NASCAR Grand National series showed the potential of the big Hemi, but didn’t it really sell on Monday. The 426 was an expensive option and fewer than 500 buyers ticked the box. Even the cheaper Chargers didn’t sell particularly well. Dodge sold about 37,000 Chargers in 1966, a year in which Ford sold more than 600,000 Mustangs. The next year was even worse, with fewer than 16,000 Chargers sold and only around 100 with a Hemi. The massive fastback body just wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Most admitted that the Charger was better looking than the similarly-styled Rambler Marlin, but that wasn’t saying much. The redesigned second-gen Charger for 1968 resonated a lot more with buyers, and the 1966–67 cars have lagged behind in the market ever since.
That said, there’s plenty to like about these cars. “I think the quality was better than the later years. They used more metal and less plastic,” says valuation expert Colin Comer, noting that Dodge used real metal for the chrome throughout the first-generation Charger’s interior. As far as driving, Comer says he’s always been a fan, but it’s not a sports car. That, and the love-it-or-hate-it styling could be the main reason that the later Charger is seen as more desirable.
In a 1967 comparison between the Charger and Marlin, Motor Trend noted that both cars were in an in-between space: larger than the sportier Camaro and Mustang, but smaller than full personal luxury barges like the Cadillac Eldorado and Buick Riviera. ”Both aim at the driver who wants a sporty-type car, but who doesn't want to give up room and comfort and isn't ready to move into the more expensive category.” MT praised the 318 V-8’s balance, picking it as the best handling of the lineup, although the 383 was deemed a good compromise. The Hemi, meanwhile, was described as “...powerful and authoritative. Only the Shelby GT 350 and 500 offer a comparable sound.”
The 1966–67 cars appear to be getting more love recently, perhaps as buyers clue in to the value or just in recognition of this Charger’s worthy attributes. Its Hagerty Vehicle Rating jumped 26 points in our latest update, from 31 to 57. That’s the largest month-to-month jump we recorded for April, and the Charger went from trailing the rest of the market to faring better than the average collector vehicle. It’s not the hottest thing on the market, sure, but it is a notable shift.
As for what’s driving the under-loved early Charger’s Hagerty Vehicle Rating, it’s almost entirely from the insurance side of things. The 12-month change of cars added to Hagerty policies was up nearly 15 percent over the past year, and their agreed value was up nearly 8 percent. As for buyer interest (measured by insurance quote activity), it is up about 10 percent over the past 12 months despite a brief dip late last year. Other than a small drop for Hemi-powered cars, Hagerty Price Guide values for 1966–67 Chargers have been flat all year. But even though you shouldn’t expect to get rich off an early Charger, this activity behind the scenes may mean we’re due for a bump in prices.