The years 1969 and 1970 were the glory days for American muscle cars, and few of them were as purpose-built and narrow-focused as the Dodge Charger Daytona. It was made to do one thing: go around in circles—or more properly, storm around NASCAR ovals. And it was designed with bodywork and power to dominate the competition during its brief, one-year model run. This rare, red-over-red example will be among the featured lots at Mecum Auctions’ upcoming sale, which will run from November 10 though 12 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The Daytona was developed in response to the unsuccessful NASCAR record of its predecessor, the 1968 Dodge Charger 500. That was also the same season that NASCAR hero Richard Petty left Plymouth for Ford. The Daytona’s design brief was simple: win NASCAR races, which it did, twice in 1969 and four times in 1970, the year during which its successor and close 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 modifications that made the Daytona much more competitive than its flat-fronted, wingless predecessor. To maximize aerodynamic efficiency and speed, Chrysler actually enlisted Saturn V engineers from the company’s rocket production division in Huntsville, Ala. The rocket scientists’ aero-trickery included a comical, almost two-foot-tall rear-wing stabilizer on the rear decklid that recalled a giant basket handle. In the front, a crudely fabricated metal nose cone sliced the air, while the rear backlight, which was elegantly recessed on the Charger, was reworked to lay flush with the roofline.
All of this was done to optimize aerodynamic efficiency, stability and top speed, which—in full race spec—exceeded 204 mph at the Chelsea Proving Grounds in July of 1969. But both the Daytona and Superbird were ultimately doomed by their own extreme specifications and speed, and NASCAR executives banned aerodynamic accoutrements on cars with engines larger than 305 ci for the 1971 season.
There weren’t many Dodge Charger Daytonas made—just enough to homologate the car for competition—and today there must be fewer than the original 503 examples due to attrition, blown engines, rust and disrepair. After all, these were just “old used cars” throughout the intervening years. And when new, some even sat on dealer lots, the odd rear wing conspiring 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 three-speed automatic Torqueflite 727 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 made 375 hp, but could be equipped with the Six-Pack option, which used three two-barrel carbs and developed about 390 hp. A total of 433 examples with the 440 ci engine were produced. Hard-core racers could order the 426 ci (7.0 liter) Hemi V-8, a $648 option whose underrated, “official” output was 425 hp. Only 70 examples of the Daytona were so equipped. One such car established a new auction record for that model in 2022, selling for $1.2 million. And while that sale was an outlier, there is no question that any Dodge Charger Daytona is at the top of the American muscle car pyramid.
The Daytona being presented by Mecum, delivered new in R4 Red with a red bucket-seat interior, was comprehensively restored to its original specification in 2016. It has the 375 hp, 440 ci V-8 mated to a four-speed manual transmission and the A33 Track Pack with 3.54 gears. It also comes with its rare, original broadcast sheet, which lists the codes for the specific parts that assembly line workers fit to the car. Offered at no reserve, this American performance icon will cross the auction block on the final day of the sale, and it’s anyone’s guess how far into six figures it will go.
Click here to see more photos of the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona being presented by Mecum Auctions.