The 1969 and 1970s were the glory days for American muscle cars, and few were as purpose-built and narrow-aimed as the Dodge Charger Daytona. It’s made to do one thing: go in circles — or rather, storm around NASCAR ovals. And it was designed with body and strength to dominate the competition during its short one-year model run. This rare, red-over-red specimen will be one of the featured lots at the upcoming Mecum Auctions sale, taking place Nov. 10-12 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The Daytona was developed in response to the failed NASCAR record set by its predecessor, the 1968 Dodge Charger 500. That was also the same season that NASCAR hero Richard Petty left Plymouth for Ford. Daytona’s design brief was simple: win NASCAR races, which it did, twice in 1969 and four times in 1970, the year its successor and closest relative, the Plymouth Superbird, won eight.
The duo were essentially similar cars, with the Daytona being derived from the Dodge Charger R/T and distinguished from it by a number of eccentric body changes that made the Daytona much more competitive than its flat-fronted, wingless predecessor. In fact, to maximize aerodynamic efficiency and speed, Chrysler enlisted Saturn V engineers from the company’s rocket manufacturing division in Huntsville, Ala. reminded of a giant basket handle. At the front, a crudely crafted metal nose cone cut through the sky, while the rear lighting, elegantly recessed into the Charger, was reworked to be flush with the roofline.
All this was done to optimize aerodynamic efficiency, stability and top speed, which – in full race specs – exceeded 204 mph in July 1969 at the Chelsea Proving Grounds. But both the Daytona and Superbird were ultimately doomed by their own extreme specs and speed, and NASCAR executives banned aerodynamic equipment on cars with engines larger than 305 ci for the 1971 season.
Not many Dodge Charger Daytonas were made – just enough to homologate the car for competition – and today there must be fewer than the original 503 due to wear, blown engines, rust and decay. After all, in the intervening years these were only ‘old occasions’. And when they were new, some even sat on dealer lots, with the odd rear wing colluding against their sale. Not so today.
Two Chrysler engines were offered in both the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird, and customers could choose from a four-speed manual or a three-speed Torqueflite 727 automatic transmission. The base Daytona, originally priced at $3,993, had a 440 ci (7.2 liter) Magnum V-8. With its four-barrel carburetor it delivered 375 horsepower, but it could be fitted with the Six-Pack option, which used three two-barrel carburetors and developed about 390 horsepower. A total of 433 units with the 440 ci engine were produced. Hard racers could order the 426 ci (7.0 liter) Hemi V-8, a $648 option whose underrated, “official” power was 425 horsepower. Only 70 copies of the Daytona were so equipped. One of those cars set a new auction record for that model in 2022, selling for $1.2 million. And while that sale was an outlier, there’s no question that a Dodge Charger Daytona is at the top of the American muscle car pyramid.
The Daytona presented by Mecum, delivered new in R4 Red with a red bucket seat interior, was fully restored to its original specifications in 2016. It has the 375 horsepower, 440 ci V-8 mated to a four-speed manual transmission and the 3.54 speed A33 Track Pack. It also comes with its rare, original broadcast sheet, which lists the codes for the specific parts that assembly line workers fit on the car. This American performance icon is up for grabs and will pass the auction block on the last day of the sale, and it’s anyone’s guess how far it will go in six figures.
Click here to see more photos of the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona presented by Mecum Auctions.