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Dodge Coronet: An Overlooked Classic

Produced for some 30 years, the Dodge Coronet may not have the classic American muscle name recognition of a Camaro or Challenger, but it should.

Dodge Coronet: One of the Most Versatile Muscle Cars of All Time

1949 Dodge Coronet - GR Auto Gallery on youtube.com

1949 Dodge Coronet – GR Auto Gallery on youtube.com |  Shop Dodge Coronet on Carsforsale.com

When enthusiasts wax poetic about the Golden Era of American muscle cars, household names like the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang are typically bandied about. But there were quite a few cars made back in the day that belong in the lexicon of legendary automobiles, capable of grocery getting, beach cruising and stop light drag racing. The Dodge Coronet is one such vehicle.

It’s a nameplate that probably rings a bell, which makes sense as Dodge made it for nearly 30 years starting in 1949. Upon introduction, the Coronet sat as the big-dog Dodge, a full-size, top-spec trim that was part of the company’s postwar body style. Unlike today, cars back then were simply a year and brand, a 1949 Dodge for example, with trimlines breaking out features and amenities. Ultimately, Chrysler brands – and most American automakers – would become so bloated with models that cars like the Coronet would fade. Back then, however, things were simple and the Coronet stood tall.

Early Generations of the Dodge Coronet

1953 Dodge Coronet - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1953 Dodge Coronet - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

Sitting atop the first-generation lineup that included a Wayfarer and Meadowbrook trim, the Coronet was part of a series with seven body styles – including an 8-passenger limousine – with varying wheelbases. At this point, all versions were fitted with a 230 CID straight-six motor that made 103 horsepower and could hit 90 mph. While a 2-speed automatic or 3-speed manual served traditional transmission duties, Dodge also had the fancifully named Gyromatic 4-speed semi-automatic. Living up to the futuristic name, the trick Gyromatic required clutch and shifter use to select high range, but thereafter it was the gas pedal that handled shifting up and down.

The second-generation Dodge Coronet only ran from 1954 to 1955 but it saw the first V8 included in the lineup. None other than a HEMI, this 241 cubic inch “Ram Red” mill pushed power up to 140 horses. It would go on to set over 100 land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, thereby cementing the HEMI brand in gearhead memories everywhere.

1955 Dodge Coronet - MotoeXotica Classic Cars on youtube.com
1955 Dodge Coronet - MotoeXotica Classic Cars on youtube.com

Also a brief two-year run, the third-gen Coronet sported sheet metal penned by legendary designer Virgil Exner, who took Chrysler out of the engineer-designed era and into the clay prototype approach. Amongst a host of other cars, he was responsible for designing the Plymouth Belvedere, a vehicle we highlight in this Cool Car Finds article.

Now longer, wider and lower, the 1955 and 1956 Dodge Coronet helped lift Chrysler out of near bankruptcy. After receiving a $250 million loan from Prudential in 1954 to stay afloat, the automaker repositioned Dodge in the corporate hierarchy as the mainstream brand between DeSoto and Plymouth. It’s here that the engine lineup would begin to get serious with a 270 CID Polyspheric Red Ram and 315 CID HEMI V8 newly available.

1959 Dodge Coronet - carsforsale.com
1959 Dodge Coronet - carsforsale.com

In 1957, a new D-501 top-spec Coronet would show up with a big 354 cubic inch HEMI under the hood. Dubbed the FirePower V8, this beast breathed through twin four-barrel carburetors, made 340 hp, and offered 12 different rear axle options. Shortly thereafter, the Challenger nameplate arrives on the scene for the first time as part of the 1959 Coronet Silver Challenger package that featured two-tone silver paint and a host of luxurious upgrades.

The Golden Age of the American Muscle Car

1965 Dodge Coronet - Kinion's Classics on youtube.com
1965 Dodge Coronet - Kinion's Classics on youtube.com

Between 1965 and 1970, the Dodge Coronet would participate in that aforementioned Golden Age of American muscle with serious powertrains that would have made the Dodge brothers proud. You can learn more about the performance approach to car making of these company founders here. Interestingly, this came about by way of a fairly big corporate blunder.

The Coronet nameplate was actually on hiatus for a six-year stretch in the early 1960s because Chrysler chose to downsize their full-size lineup and rename the vehicles. This was done based on faulty intelligence that General Motors was planning to do the same. They weren’t and didn’t, which left Chrysler selling an intermediate or “senior compact” sized lineup as the biggest offering. This looked a bit silly in the face of big, long vehicles from GM and Ford, and so Chrysler went back to the drawing board.

1969 Dodge Coronet - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1969 Dodge Coronet - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

Emerging in 1965, the newly mid-sized Dodge Coronet would work off the platform Chrysler mistakenly ran with a few years earlier. It was a dramatic styling departure from the prior generations with a squared-off modern vibe representative of the muscle car era. It was also a big hit. Featuring some 17 different models including coupes, sedans, convertibles, and station wagons, the fifth-generation Coronet was now Dodge’s most popular model. They sold nearly 200,000 in 1968 alone.

The highlight reel on this late 60s generation of the Coronet is deep, which makes it all the more head-scratching that these cars fall into the unsung and forgotten muscle car categories, something we talk about here and here. This generation kicked off with a base Coronet, along with a Deluxe, Coronet 440, and Coronet 500 trim. Interestingly, the 440 and 500 do not denote engine displacement, though it didn’t exactly hurt from the salesman perspective.

Dodge Cornet Special Editions: Powerful Engines and Performance Cars

1966 Dodge Coronet 426 HEMI - carsforsale.com
1966 Dodge Coronet 426 HEMI - carsforsale.com

In 1965, there was a short run of A990 Coronets built with race engines and unique wheel spacing. Only 101 of these cars were made for NHRA drag racing, but they gave rise to the term “funny car” thanks to that oddball wheel layout. That same year, the Coronet could be had with a 225 CID Slant-Six or all manner of thumping V8s, up to a 426 cubic inch HEMI.

For one year only, 1966, customers could order a Dodge Coronet with the 426 HEMI in any body style, including a station wagon with the newly available 4-speed manual. Can you say Ultimate Sleeper? The following year, Dodge unveiled the Coronet R/T that was fitted with Chrysler’s largest V8 available – a 440 cubic-inch beast that made 375 horsepower and was dubbed the Magnum. 1968 brought a full redesign of the B-Body platform on which the Coronet and Plymouth Belvedere rode. It also brought the Coronet Super Bee.

1968 Dodge Coronet Super Bee - carsforsale.com
1968 Dodge Coronet Super Bee - carsforsale.com

So named for its big-time power on the B-Body, this companion to the Plymouth Road Runner played up its name with a rear tail decal blending a bee into a car, replete with wings, tires, and a helmet. It’s about as 60s-tastic as it gets. Adding the A12 package created the ultimate Dodge Coronet thanks to a 390 hp variant of the 440 V8. It was fitted with triple 2-barrel Holley carburetors and a SIX PACK graphic on the ram-air hood accordingly.

Coronet R/T models are rare, with fewer than 2,700 ever made. The Super Bee, with all that power, heavy-duty suspension, steel wheels, and a black fiberglass hood held in place by pins was, ahem, super rare. It would be the Coronet high water mark as the sixth generation arrived in 1971 with more sedate styling and only two body styles offered, a sedan or wagon. You could still order one with the big motors but innovations like “TorsionQuiet”, designed to tamp down the noise, changed the character of the Coronet.

1975-1976 The Final Years of the Dodge Cornet

1976 Dodge Coronet - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

1976 Dodge Coronet – media.stellantisnorthamerica.com |  Shop Dodge Coronet on Carsforsale.com

Sales began slipping under 100,000, which is attributed to factors ranging from the fuel crisis to the inflated number of Dodge and Plymouth models, along with a growing overlap within the Chrysler family. Badge engineering is a killer. The final generation ran from 1975 to 1976 with a squared-off body and brief return of the 2-door hardtop. By 1977, the mid-sized Dodge Coronet was renamed the Monaco and that was that.

The good news? Today, you can find yourself a sweet vintage Dodge Coronet, for far less than the crazy money being spent on the big name American cars of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, which makes the Coronet a perfect candidate for this list of Affordable Classic Muscle Cars. With so many generations, there are no shortage of Coronet options to choose from, in fact there are nearly 100 available right now on CarsForSale.com. I’m already browsing.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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2 Comments

  1. Randall Allhands September 10, 2022

    Great article, great car. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  2. Anonymous September 11, 2022

    I owned a 1949 dodge when I was stationed in Hilo, Hawaii back I 1963 and I rolled it over several times on New Year’s Eve Dec 1963.That car was a true tank.Lots of fond memories.

    Reply

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