Even if you're a good ol' boy who never means any harm, cruising in a Dodge Charger makes you feel like you've been in trouble with the law since the day you were born. Bulging quarter-panels, buttressed C-pillars, artfully scalloped sheetmetal, and an integrated lip spoiler out back make it one of the meanest, most aesthetically aggressive muscle cars of all time. While the second-gen Charger's bad boy image has always been part of its appeal, the first-gen Charger fell short of striking the same resounding chord with the hot rodding public. Where others saw a dud, however, Korek Designs saw promise. It built a killer 1966 Charger with all the Pro Touring goodies to prove the point, and now anyone who feasts his eyes upon it is in for a rare yet surprisingly pleasing experience. The result of Korek's vision is a first-gen Charger done up the right way—with a Gen III Hemi, big brakes, modern suspension bits, and a sweet stance. It makes you wonder if this chronically overlooked Mopar is due for a comeback.
Truth be told, first-gen Chargers weren't even popular during their heyday. According to Mopar folklore, Dodge dealers were jealous of their Plymouth cousins, and urged Chrysler execs to build them a car like the A-Body–based Barracuda that could go toe to toe with the Mustang. Since the Chrysler bigwigs didn't want this proposed Dodge to eat into the sales of the Barracuda, they decided to build it on the larger B-Body platform instead. Unfortunately, the first-gen Charger was such a flop that when the second-gen Charger debuted in 1968, Dodge sold nearly twice as many Chargers that year than it did in 1966 and 1967 combined. Interestingly, the early Chargers weren't limp-wristed machines by any means. Available with 383s, 440s, and even 426 Hemis, first-gen Chargers certainly had the oats to run with the big boys. Presumably, the bigger problem was the car's unassuming styling that was more fastback Coronet than a truly groundbreaking design exercise, and it offered a level of luxury and elegance that the speed-crazed youth of the day didn't fully appreciate.
Recognizing the car's unique assets, Ryan Korek had a hunch that it wouldn't take much work to transform a first-gen Charger into a head-turner that can rip asphalt with the new wave of Pro Touring machines. For over 30 years, his shop (www.KorekDesigns.com) has been one of the Northeast's premiere destinations for race cars in need of custom body and paintwork, and he welcomed the challenge of a full Pro Touring build. To get the wheels turning, he tracked down a superclean 1966 Charger on eBay for $14,000. The all-original Charger was rust free, and its 383 big-block and 727 were still in great shape, but Ryan had much bigger plans for it. "We wanted to keep the sheetmetal as original as possible, but wanted the handling, reliability, and comfort of a new car. The goal was to make it luxurious while looking bone stock, as if it just rolled out of a Mercedes-Benz showroom today," Ryan says.
The Korek Designs crew got to work by cleaning up some surface rust, then smoothing out the firewall and inner fenders. Other than that, the sheetmetal is all original down to the floorboards. To stay true to the plan, all the original trim pieces were re-chromed instead of shaved. Although Ryan is a fan of the Charger's body lines, he knew from the get-go that toughening up the car's stance was imperative. To do so, he ripped out the factory front suspension and replaced it with a complete Reilly Motorsports (RMS) setup. The package includes an RMS AlterKtion tubular K-member and control arms, coilovers, custom spindles, a sway bar, and rack-and-pinion steering. In the rear, Ryan replaced the stock leaf springs with an RMS four-link Street Lynx suspension system with coilovers. It all rides on Schott Octane wheels wrapped in Nitto rubber that look a lot like old-school mags. Stopping power comes courtesy of 12-inch Wilwood discs with four-piston calipers in the front and rear.
The obvious benefits of the completely revamped chassis are dramatically improved handling, braking, and ride quality dynamics, but what people notice first is how much the improved stance and rolling stock enhances the car's visual punch. "Wherever we take this car, people come up to us and say that they thought the 1966 Charger was one of the ugliest cars ever built, but we somehow managed to make it look cool. They ask what kind of body modifications we made, and they're shocked to learn that it's all stock," he reports. "I've always thought that 1966 Chargers were beautiful cars but with the wrong stance. By just fixing the stance and putting some nice wheels on them, it's amazing how much it changes people's perception of these cars. The feedback we have received at shows has been overwhelmingly positive."
Of course, great looks and a modern suspension are just part of the g-Machine formula. To complete the package, Ryan ripped out the original 383 and replaced it with a Gen III 6.1L Hemi from Bouchillon Performance. The stock motor is essentially the same piece of hardware you'll find in a late-model SRT8 Charger or Challenger, which is a very good thing. Bolting it in position was cake, thanks to the RMS K-member, and once in place, Ryan built a custom exhaust using a set of Mopar Performance long-tube headers, and dual MagnaFlow mufflers. On Bouchillon's engine dyno, the Hemi spit out 475 hp and an impressive 495 lb-ft of torque. Coupling the Hemi to the factory 8.75-inch rearend are a 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission and a custom aluminum driveshaft. "The car was built as a cruiser, but the handling and brakes are awesome and the 6.1L Hemi runs like a scared ape," Ryan opines.
For those who still aren't smitten by the first-gen Charger's exterior, the car's finely sculpted cabin is a temptress that's more difficult to resist. In fact, we'll proclaim that it has one of the coolest factory interiors of any muscle car. Front and center are four monster gauges that you'll swear are custom aftermarket units, but they're not. The factory cluster includes a 150-mph speedometer and a 6,000-rpm tach, as well as gauges for the alternator, fuel level, coolant temperature, and oil pressure. One of the most interesting features is a 1966-model-year-only full-length center console that runs from front to back, which nicely accents the four individual bucket seats. The premium factory door panels, courtesy lights, and trim pieces were all exclusive to the Charger as well, no corporate parts-bin sharing here. "By the time the 1968 Charger came around, the interior started getting plasticky. Chrysler cheapened it up so they could sell them for less money to kids who wanted to tear up the streets in them," Ryan quips.
As any Mopar owner will attest, there's a special tax that any hot rodder looking to pick up a Mopar project car has to pay. With the sky-high asking price of most Mopars in general, and second-gen Chargers in particular, it makes you wonder if the more affordable 1966-67 Charger will finally catch on. If people like Ryan keep showing off the potential of these chronically overlooked and underappreciated Mopars, we can smell a big-time comeback on the horizon.
By The Numbers
1966 Dodge Charger
New Berlin, PA
Type: Chrysler 6.1L Gen III Hemi
Block: factory 4.060-inch bore iron
Oiling: stock pump and pan
Rotating assembly: Chrysler 3.580-inch forged steel crank, powdered metal rods, and 10.3:1 hypereutectic pistons
Cylinder heads: factory aluminum castings
Camshaft: stock hydraulic roller
Induction: stock Gen III Hemi
Engine management: Mopar Performance ECU and wiring harness
Ignition: factory Gen III Hemi coil packs, spark plugs, and wires
Exhaust: Mopar Performance 1.75-inch long-tube headers; dual 2.5-inch MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: stock water pump, Griffin radiator, dual electric fans
Output: 475 hp and 495 lb-ft
Supplied by: Bouchillon Performance
Transmission: Chrysler 545RFE five-speed automatic
Rear axle: Chrysler 8.75-inch rearend with 3.91:1 gears and Auburn limited-slip differential
Front suspension: RMS AlterKtion tubular K-member, control arms, sway bar, and coilovers
Rear suspension: RMS Street-Lynx four-link and coilovers
Brakes: Wilwood 12-inch discs with four-piston calipers, front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Schott Octane 18x7, front; 19x9, rear
Tires: Nitto 255/45ZR18, front; 275/35ZR19, rear
In public, the most common questions Korek gets asked revolve around the two-tone paint. T
To keep things looking stock, a Vintage Air A/C system and a retro aftermarket stereo are
While second-gen Chargers relied on simple vacuum-operated covers to conceal their headlig