The 1968 Dodge Charger Wasn’t Built for You

In a sea of Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, Chevelles, and Darts, there’s nothing like a second-gen Dodge Charger. It’s aggressive and refined, brutish and elegant, sinister and righteous, all at the same time.

That goes deeper than the surface, too. The second-generation Charger was Dodge’s chosen warhorse on the performance front, and it saw the culmination of all of its best efforts at the height of the horsepower wars. Even with modern Hellcats and Demons stealing the spotlight today, nothing quite matches what went down all those years ago. 

It’s an icon in every sense of the word. Both in the history books and on the silver screen, the Dodge Charger is a force to be reckoned with and will forever be one of the most iconic cars—if not the most iconic car—to ever leave Detroit. 

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review
Hank O’Hop

It all started in 1968 when Dodge introduced the coke-bottle body style. For many, the second-gen first-year ‘68 model is a dream car. Unfortunately, the passage of time has vastly reduced the number of good examples that remain, driving prices through the roof and the chances of owning one out the door for many. 

I recently had the opportunity to drive a fully restored 1968 Dodge Charger R/T. Nearly everything, down to the inspection marks, is as it would have been the day this car left the assembly line. It’s far from an overly-plushy restomod that we’re far too used to seeing. It’s also not a pristine example of a personal luxury car that was ordered with every box checked. This is a rare example of real muscle. Driving it is brutal, unforgiving, and takes a lot of effort, but mastering it is an experience like no other.  

1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Specs
Base Price (1968 USD)$3,997
Powertrain440 cubic inch V8 | 4-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
Horsepower375 @ 4,600 rpm
Torque480 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
0-60 mph6.1 seconds
Seating Capacity4
Quick TakeOne of the best-looking, hardest-driving cars you’ll ever get behind the wheel of.
Score9/10

Right away, some of you are going to ask how I dare call this real muscle when it doesn’t have a Hemi. Long before marketing teams bastardized the term by using it to describe anything with a hint of aggressive styling, it was tied to American cars with a high-performance V8 under the hood, rear-wheel-drive, and little more. Anything that didn’t help haul ass didn’t get to go for the ride. 

The Charger, in general, isn’t the truest to form in that regard. The 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner, by contrast, is an example of a pure muscle car with very few bells and whistles, and just two engine options to work with. Chargers were flashy cars designed to compete with the Ford Mustang, with versions available for just about every purpose, few of which were actual R/T cars. However, this Charger is about as raw and ready for action as a factory-optioned version is going to get. 

Of the 92,000 Chargers that were produced in 1968, only 17,000 were the performance R/T versions, and little over 2,700 of those were outfitted with a 440 and a stick. This is one of them. It’s also factory-optioned with manual brakes and manual steering. It’s hard mode on wheels. 

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review
Hank O’Hop

Though it doesn’t have the coveted Elephant under the hood, the 440 is an absolute freight train at lower rpm, and you’re anything but unaware of its power when driving it. The R/T badge also indicates the inclusion of heavy-duty suspension, and a Dana 60 with 3.55 gears to the rear holds everything together when that clutch engages. 

This car was subject to a show-level restoration back in the early 2000s. The original owner had painted the car B5 Blue, and the second owner, knowing how rare R/T 1968 Chargers are, opted to return the car to its original hue. While the new Champagne Gold color isn’t the factory JJ1 Gold, it’s a near-perfect match. 

The restoration is almost painstakingly accurate with only the interior being left untouched. On an appearance level, everything is as it should be and damn close to how Dodge originally sent it out into the world. Again, even the inspection marks on items like brake drums and the throttle return spring are present. It’s an inspiringly beautiful job throughout, one the builder should be immensely proud of. 

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review
Hank O’Hop

That’s not to say everything is factory-accurate. Upgrades were made where they made sense. The 440, for example, was rebuilt and outfitted with .030 over Keith Black slugs, and though the cam, intake, and exhaust were left stock, this will make a difference in power. It’s also been upgraded to an electronic ignition system. Though, it is a factory-style unit that you’d find on 1973 model year cars. 

Inside, the sound system was updated with an aftermarket head unit mounted to the bottom of the dash. Last but certainly not least, the car is sitting on aftermarket wheels and tires, which are way better than the undersized combo these cars came with. 

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review
Hank O’Hop

Rough, Raw, and Everything You Signed Up For 

The first time I drove my personal 1969 Dodge Charger was a rough experience. My legs trembled as years of excitement had built up to that moment. It was hard to command the car physically, let alone focus on all of the sensory cues as butterflies filled my stomach, and my mind darted to a million places at once. 

I relived that moment as I was handed the keys to this car. The difference is that this is a prime piece of history. The pressure not to screw it up was immense. That feeling lasted no more than a few seconds, though. As I began to move, the amount of effort it took to actually drive the car drowned out anything else.

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review

The car is completely unfiltered. It does nothing to deceive you. It’s not softening anything up to make you feel safer or like a better driver than you are. Everything. Every gear change, every brake, every turn, the smoothness and safe operation of every last input rests solely on your shoulders. It’s as though the weight of the responsibility is what pushes you back in your seat, not the might of the engine. Though that may be overwhelming at first, true bliss lies just ahead. The reality of what it takes to drive this car heightens your senses, melding you entirely with the machine.

The beautiful roar of the 440 is unphased by uncertainty. It’ll continue to wind up and bend gravity against you. Your only choice is to give in to its might as it pulls you out to the deep water. When you do, the unmatched euphoria of commanding the old warhorse sets in entirely, complemented by the sounds, smells, and sheer force of days forgotten by the modern world.

Manual steering means you’d better be ready to crank on that boat-sized steering wheel, especially at low speeds. There’s no roll-control or hydraulic assistance on the clutch. The brake pedal is as hard as a rock, and there’s no ABS to save you if you can’t combine grace and power during application. Let’s not forget that this is also well before the days of traction control. It’s tough, but that’s the beauty of it. 

I won’t make driving this car out to be anything it’s not. Even as you get past all of the user-input troubles, it’s still a 1968 Dodge Charger. It’s not the most graceful thing in turns, and it won’t stop on a dime.

You also don’t need to jam the throttle in a straight line to enjoy what this car brings to the table, though. The factory tune has this engine absolutely humming at any speed. There’s no lugging or struggling to get it moving if you’re in too high of a gear. If you want to, you can throw it into fourth and plug around windy back roads with no problem. And at highway speeds, it absolutely floats. 

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review
Hank O’Hop

I’ll tell you from experience that these cars set up with power steering and decent brakes are a dream to drive. That’s just not what this model is all about, though. It’s given up its soft edges in favor of simplicity and barreling to top speeds, which it does well. Scarily well, in fact. It’s when you’re really getting on it that you become all too aware of its braking and steering limitations. It takes a special blend of guts, brute strength, and a dash of stupidity to dance on the edges of where this machine can take you. 

The rough and raw nature of this car is exactly what makes it so special. Once you find yourself in a rhythm of manning the wheel, modulating the brakes, and rowing gears with proficiency, you become a master of machines. The demands it places on the driver create an engaging experience you won’t find anywhere else. Even if you could emulate this exact drive with something else, not having the Charger’s iconically sculpted sheet metal surrounding you would make it that much less special.  

The Interior 

The interior is very much a product of its time. There’s no navigation system to get lost in, nor is there a learning curve to controlling anything inside that doesn’t provide forward motion. That’s not a bad thing, at all. It only further increases your bond with what matters. 

It’s a beautifully designed cockpit that features the legendary Rally dash. While that piece might seem pretty standard from a modern standpoint, the large circular speedometer and clock paired with your water temperature, oil pressure, and voltage gauges are a big step up from the large sweeping speedometer dashes typical of the era. Interestingly enough, this particular model did not come with a tachometer. That means knowing when to shift gears is dependent entirely on feel and sound.

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review

Unlike modern cars that mold the dash around the driver and spam the immediate area with all kinds of controls, this is a barren, flat panel that spans the width of the vehicle. Everything you need is clearly visible and well within reach. Of course, “everything” in this case includes just a few items that are mostly aesthetic pleasers for you to glance at when you’re at a traffic light. The only switches you’ll ever really touch are for the headlights and wiper motor. This car didn’t come with air conditioning, so even the climate control is every bit as simple as it should be. 

The bucket seats are also nicely designed, but very basic in nature. There’s no bolstering, lumbar support, or power controls. They’re seats, and they work just fine. And though this car does have a center console, it’s just there for looks. It doesn’t serve as an armrest, and you’re not going to store much of anything in there. So it really is a good thing that it’s pretty. 

The second-generation Charger is 17 feet long and has plenty of interior space because of it. Still, it has a way of feeling snug and not overly vast. Even my personal car with a stripped interior feels cozy; throw in a rear seat and door cards with armrests, like what this offers, and you’re in business. 

The car’s interior fades in and out of existence as you motor along. It doesn’t really come into your reality until you get on the highway, toss the car in high gear, and just hum along. When you get there, though, that’s when it becomes something truly special. The lack of complexity feeds into the appreciation of what you’re driving.

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review
Hank O’Hop

The Virtue of Hardships

Driving older cars is an incredibly special experience. The moment you get behind the wheel, your worldview changes. As opposed to being another shapeless blob flowing with traffic, you become an individual, cutting through time and space with a sense of purpose. 

This car’s visual statement certainly factors into that, but there’s more to it. Today’s cars are comfortable to a fault. The benefits of being set up in a way that anyone can get behind the wheel come at the cost of personality. 

You might not be able to pass the keys of this 1968 Dodge Charger to just anyone. The first time you get behind the wheel of anything with manual brakes, manual steering, or a manual transmission alone is intimidating enough, let alone when they’re all stacked together with a 440 running it all. But learning to command it is an honor. The process of mastering this combination is almost like a sacred rite, making the moment you can proficiently pilot it a religious awakening. You’re just not going to get that with a car that’s built to make life easy. 

1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T Review
Hank O’Hop

A Moment of Personal Reflection

The funny thing about this car is that it belongs to a man who lives in the same rural part of Pennsylvania I call home. As a matter of fact, he owns a piece of property within a mile of my childhood home. That property has trails that run right to the old homestead, directly to the driveway where I started the restoration of my own 1969 Charger. He’d regularly drive by on his side-by-side and start a conversation while I worked on my car. His name is Mark, and he’s become a personal friend of mine that I truly cherish. 

The first time I saw this car was when I first got my learning permit. I was driving along with my mom when the golden 1968 Dodge Charger appeared on the road. Its presence, even from the other lane, left a massive impression on me and fueled my passion. That experience helped me stay motivated prior to pulling my Charger from the field I found it in just about a year later. I never thought I’d get the chance to drive it regularly, let alone get to write about it for work. But here we are. Believe in your dreams, kids.

Got a tip or question for the author about the ’68 Charger? You can reach him here: hank.ohop@thedrive.com

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