New Year’s Day, 1966 – As football fans clicked on their TVs to watch UCLA battle Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, little did they realize that actress Pam Austin would soon ask them to join a rebellion.
The Dodge Rebellion.
The all-new Charger launched with a clever advertising campaign that heralded Dodge’s performance makeover, “The Dodge Rebellion,” which enticed car buyers to ditch their dull rides and get behind the wheel of a sporty, modern Mopar.
So long before Bill Hickman, Bo & Luke, and Dominic Toretto drove their second-gen Chargers into fame, it was these 1966-67 models that carried the Dodge performance flag. (Though a first-gen was Obi-Wan’s ride of choice.)
The all-new Charger was Dodge’s corporate response to the burgeoning Pony and Muscle Car segments, which was ignited with the launch of cars like the Pontiac GTO, Ford Mustang, and Plymouth Barracuda back in 1964.
Dodge based the Charger on the larger B-Body Coronet intermediate, instead of an A-Body compact as Plymouth had done with the Valiant-derived Barracuda. Using the different chassis was probably a smart decision to avoid competition between Dodge and Plymouth, and allowed Dodge to position the Charger a bit upmarket.
But while the Charger was mechanically similar to the Coronet, it had a long, sweeping fastback roofline that created a sporty silhouette. A unique full-length grill and hidden headlights also added to the Charger’s performance look.
And to further cement its go-fast resume, you could only get a Charger with a V8. In fact, buyers could check the options sheet for either the 318, 361, 383, or—wait for it—the new 426 street Hemi.
Yup, you could get the soon-to-be-legendary 426 in the 1966 Charger, though it was a pretty rare option and only a few hundred left the factory with an Elephant.
The performance vibe carried over to the cockpit too. The 1966 Dodge Charger featured a special instrument cluster that didn’t have traditional incandescent lamps, but instead used electroluminescence to make the gauges glow a super-cool bluish green at night.
A full length center console bisected the entire interior, and the rear seats folded nearly flat to create a large cargo area behind the driver.
For 1967, the Charger carried on mostly unchanged. In addition to those aforementioned fender-mount turn signals, you could get it with a vinyl roof, and the interior ditched its prominent center console to free up space inside.
The Chrysler 440 engine also appeared on the options sheet. It slotted in above the 383, which eliminated the 361.
All told, while the First-Gen Charger didn’t replicate the success Ford enjoyed with the Mustang, it did sell well enough to justify a watershed redesign in 1968—and the Dodge Rebellion’s flagship would soon rumble into musclecar history.