Early aero warriors head to auction in Auburn

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The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 (L) and 1969 Ford Torino Talladega. Photos by Alex Stewart, copyright and courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.

By 1968, aerodynamics had become as important to NASCAR teams as horsepower, forcing Mopar and Ford into what’s now referred to as the “aero wars.” To beat the ’68 Ford Torino on superspeedways, Dodge created the ’69 Charger 500, while Ford countered with the ’69 Torino Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II. All were available in new car dealer showrooms, and on Labor Day weekend, the early aero wars are reborn at RM Sotheby’s Auburn Fall sale, where a 1969 Dodge Charger 500 will once again do battle against a 1969 Ford Torino Talladega, this time in a different sort of arena.

1969 Dodge Charger 500.

Popular opinion is that the Ford Torino fastback, which debuted in 1968, fired the first salvo. Dodge responded with the reshaped ’68 Charger, which certainly looked aerodynamic to the naked eye, but wasn’t tested at high speed in a wind tunnel. The Charger’s recessed grille created turbulence and lift at the front end, while the inset rear window and sail panels did the same at the rear. A rear spoiler helped to partially mitigate this, but the Charger still proved to be a handful for drivers on the fastest tracks, and as a result, Ford products (including Mercury) won 27 of the 1968 season’s 49 races.

1969 Dodge Charger 500

In June 1968, Dodge introduced a new version of the Charger to the gathered media. Called the Charger 500, its body was redesigned specifically to counter the aerodynamic advantages of Ford’s Torino. Up front, the Charger 500 used a flush-mounted grille, borrowed from the ‘68 Coronet, while out back the body was reshaped in more of a fastback style, eliminating the standard Charger’s flying buttresses. To meet NASCAR homologation rules, a total of 500 were planned for production, though ultimately, somewhere between 392 and 580 – depending upon source – were built for consumers.

1969 Dodge Charger 500 1969 Dodge Charger 500 1969 Dodge Charger 500 1969 Dodge Charger 500

Ford wasn’t idle while Dodge reworked the Charger. In response, it created the Torino Talldega, which used a longer and lower nose (increasing the length of the car by five inches), also with a flush-mounted grille. Beneath, a new bumper – actually a repurposed and slightly reshaped Torino rear bumper – even served as a crude air dam, reducing front lift at high speeds. A Mercury version, dubbed the Cyclone Spoiler II, was also created for NASCAR teams and showroom customers, and in total, roughly 750 Torino Talladegas and approximately 351 Cyclone Spoiler IIs were assembled for retail sales.

1969 Ford Torino Talladega

1969 Ford Torino Talladega.

The first real showdown between the new Mopars and Fords came at the 1969 Daytona 500, in February. In the first qualifying heat, Ford ruled, with David Pearson (Ford), Cale Yarborough (Mercury) and Donnie Allison (Ford) on the podium. For the second qualifier, it was Dodge’s turn, with the first three spots taken by Bobby Isaac, Charlie Glotzbach and Paul Goldsmith, all driving Dodge Charger 500s. The race itself didn’t disappoint (unless, of course, one was a fan of GM), with the Fords, Mercuries and Dodges battling for the lead throughout. On the last lap, thanks to fresher tires, Lee Roy Yarbrough managed a pass on race leader Glotzbach, who tried valiantly to recapture the position off of turn four. After 500 miles, it was Yarbrough who won by less than a car length in his Ford, followed by Glotzbach (Dodge) and Donnie Allison (Ford).

1969 Ford Torino Talladega

The result was not what Dodge expected, and shortly after its loss on the high banks, a new Charger would emerge in NASCAR competition. Dubbed the Dodge Charger Daytona, it sported a pronounced proboscis, tapered for optimized airflow, combined with an oversize “basket handle” rear wing. Plymouth would get its own variant, called the Superbird and based upon the Road Runner, and its introduction was enough to lure Richard Petty back to Mopar for 1970, after his self-imposed exile with Ford in 1969.

1969 Ford Torino Talladega 1969 Ford Torino Talladega 1969 Ford Torino Talladega 1969 Ford Torino Talladega

The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 to be offered in Auburn was built in September 1968 and originally sold through a dealership in Illinois. As ordered, it came with the 375-horsepower, 440-cu.in. Magnum V-8, mated to a four-speed manual transmission. Options included the Track Pak with 3.54:1 gearing; power brakes; woodgrain panel and console; bucket seats; driver’s side remote mirror; tachometer and an AM radio with an 8-track tape player. At some point in its history, it was restored in its original red finish and equipped with a 426-cu.in. Hemi V-8, and in this configuration sold at a 2006 Pebble Beach auction for $139,700. Today, equipped with the proper 440 V-8, RM Sotheby’s expects the Dodge to sell between $65,000 – $80,000 when it crosses the block in Indiana.

The 1969 Ford Torino Talladega to be sold was built in January 1969, at Ford’s plant in Atlanta, Georgia. Finished in Presidential Blue, the Ford came powered by the 428-cu.in. Cobra Jet V-8, rated at 335 horsepower and mated to a C6 three-speed automatic transmission. Like all Torino Talladegas, it came with a black interior, a vinyl and cloth bench seat, and an AM radio. RM Sotheby’s expect this restored example to fetch between $45,000 and $55,000 when it heads across the auction stage.

1970 Plymouth Superbird

1970 Plymouth Superbird.

Fans of the later Mopar aero warriors won’t be disappointed, either, since the sale also includes a restored 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird, with a 440-cu.in. “Super Commando” V-8 mated to a 727 TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission, expected to sell between $100,000 – $125,000.

The RM Sotheby’s Auburn Fall auction takes place from August 30 – September 2 at the Auburn Auction Park in Auburn, Indiana. For additional details, visit RMSothebys.com.

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