The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona was under-appreciated in its prime. The sloped nosecone and soaring rear wing made for a polarizing sight in Dodge showrooms even as its racing counterpart dominated the contemporary NASCAR field. Since then, it's morphed into a six-figure collector car, more likely to spend its days in a pampered garage than roaring down the road. Unless it's owned by Sean Machado.
A picture of the southern California resident using his 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona to tow a second Charger Daytona popped up on Facebook earlier this month with the simple caption "America" and immediately sparked a frenzy—and some blazing questions. Who was this mystery man trundling down the highway in a patriotic tableau? Are those real '69 cars? Why don't more people enjoy their pricey things with such abandon?
Wonder no more. The Drive learned Machado was the wheelman and reached out to bring you the story of a guy who sees the Charger Daytona's 440 V8 engine and solid rear axle as the recipe for a perfect tow vehicle. Yes, both of those cars in the picture are real, and it turns out this wasn't a one-off thing. Machado's actually been using his Daytonas to haul car trailers around for years—just like his father did with his own Charger Daytona decades ago. You might say it runs in the family.
"It's in my blood," Machado told us. "Dad used his to tow many cars from the east coast to the west coast in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. [It's] my turn now."
Locals in the scrubby, heat-soaked Coachella Valley east of Los Angeles are always shocked to see the six-figure land train rolling down the road. Machado notices strange glances from onlookers when he pulls up to the gas pump to feed his thirsty slice of iron-blocked freedom; he'll overhear comments from people who are simply astonished at what they're witnessing.
Yes, that really is a Daytona towing yet another Daytona. A Double Daytona. Day-tow-na. There's no end to the giddy wordplay inspired by such a sight. Machado picked up the family legacy years ago after he acquired the red-orange car in 1991 and the white car years later—neither came with a factory tow hitch like dear ol' Dad's Charger, but Machado got his hands on the stock hardware and installed it himself. He also added a 3.23 rear axle, a lock-up torque converter, and an overdrive gear to boost its towing abilities. Plus, he's got a spare.
"If the red car breaks down, I can take the hitch off it and put it on the white one and continue on my way," he said.
The drop-deck trailer he uses weights 1,320 pounds empty—add in the 3,700-pound Daytona, and you're looking at a healthy 5,000 pounds. Not that the 440 is bothered in the slightest. It's underrated at 375 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. The biggest concern is wear on the rear suspension, something Machado's father got ahead of by installing airbags out back to level the ride, though so far Machado's car is taking it like a champ. He's joked on Facebook that he "possibly could hook up a 5th wheel. I'd have to probably cut the back window out though." So where's he going with such precious cargo? Racing.
Machado's hauled his Daytona duo to local race tracks in SoCal like Chuckwalla Valley Raceway and Buttonwillow, two challenging road courses where his cars make for a surreal sight both in the parking lot and hurtling through the curves.
"I have nothing but old cars and don't like pickups much. So that car gets to do the dirty work." Machado told us, referring to the Hemi Orange model. "Besides...ice cold AC."
That "dirty work" extends beyond hauling its fraternal twin sibling. Machado presses it into service whenever its needed to haul an old car or three, missions that always draw attention on the dusty highways and byways of San Bernardino County. Photos of the load-bearing Daytona pop up like paparazzi shots of a local celebrity.
But rest assured that it also gets driven like the proper muscle/race car hybrid it is—German car magazine American Classics did a rolling photoshoot with Machado and the car last year, and the publication wrote on Facebook that its team was "still flabbergasted about the way [he] threw his winged warrior during our photo shoot in the curves of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains."
Auction prices and 19-foot length aside, the Charger Daytona is nothing if not a capable car. The car's entire raison d'être was to take the checkered flag in NASCAR—but it didn't get there overnight. In 1968, Dodge was fed up with losing race after race to Ford and reeling from the resulting departure of a young Plymouth driver by the name of Richard Petty. The company eventually tapped on the shoulder of a Chrysler rocket scientist (yes, seriously) named John Pointer and asked him how to make a first-place Charger. His answer? Aerodynamics.
Such was the birth of the Chrysler-branded "Winged Warriors." Pointer prescribed a large rear spoiler (though its two-foot height also conveniently clears the open trunk lid on the production model) to help keep its butt planted and the large nose cone with retractable headlights to move past the square-o-dynamics of typical late '60s designs. With a drag coefficient of just 0.28, the Charger Daytona was so fast that it became the first NASCAR stocker to break the 200 mph mark.
And boy, did those modifications work. Dodge debuted the Number 99 Daytona in September 1969 at the inaugural Talladega 500 and took home first place with ease. It would go on to win six races over the next two seasons, though not its namesake Daytona 500. Its sister car, the Plymouth Superbird, grabbed eight victories in 1970. Chrysler had to make at least 500 production units available for the public to buy to satisfy NASCAR's homologation rules at the time, and it obliged with 503 units of the Charger Daytona and just over 1,900 examples of the Superbird.
The only problem Dodge had was actually selling the cars. Dealers had a difficult time convincing a skeptical public that never quite warmed to its unorthodox design. Despite having a sticker price of only $5,900 (that's $40,515 in 2019 dollars), more than a few wasted away on dealer lots for years on end. And if that wasn't enough, its dominance on track helped spark regulation changes in NASCAR that would effectively force it and the other aero-bodied cars out of stock car racing after the 1970s season.
As late as the mid-1980s, a nice example could still be had for well under $10,000—a surprising thought given that low-mileage and restored examples sell in the six figures today. Wise people like Machado then bought them up over the years before prices climbed to astronomical levels, and his use of the original Dodge Charger Daytona as a tow rig is both a joyous sight and a strong statement we'd all do well to hear: Don't be afraid to be different.
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