The Real Reason the Dodge Charger Daytona's Wing Was So Huge
Even the wing's designer says it had nothing to do with the trunk being able to open. Myth busted.
I have studied the development of the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and the 1970 Plymouth Superbird for more than a decade. These are, of course, the "Wing Cars" of Chrysler, so named for the huge wing which towers over the back ends of the cars. I have always loved these outlandish cars, but one maddening topic pops up over and over again whenever I talk or write about them.
People tell me that the reason the wing was placed so high above the deck lid was simply to allow the trunk to open. This "fact" is even repeated on Wikipedia, where they attribute the concept to an "admission" by an engineer in the '90s. The footnote for the factoid sends the reader to another webpage which supports the notion thus: "Some wrote that it's three feet tall so the trunk can open."
When I try to explain to people how that is not the case, they often get irate: "This is what I heard, and it makes sense!" Of course, that is not how history works. And these cars and their development are history.
How would you set out to determine why the wing was placed so high in the first place? Well, someone put it there. Why not ask him? The man who first conceived of the wing-and the nosecone as well-was John Pointer. Pointer was a rocket scientist who came over from Chrysler's missile division and was asked to make the 1968 Dodge Charger "go faster." When told he could do anything he wanted, he drew a crude outline of a car and plastered a nosecone on the front. Over the decklid, he placed a giant wing-the top of which was roughly at the roofline of the car.
John Pointer was also the engineer tasked with making the first working models of the wing, and he spent quite a bit of time at the Chelsea Proving Grounds refining it. He has since passed away, but I interviewed him several times over a decade ago. I asked him specifically about the wing and why he placed it that high in his first drawing.
To put it into "clean air," was his response. I asked him about the trunk-opening theory, and he looked at me oddly. Who cared about the trunk? They had asked him to make the car go fast. No one said anything about the trunk. He told me the topic of "the trunk" and whether or not it would open never came up.
I asked him if the trunk ever entered his thought process. He repeated his statement about going fast. The trunk was not his "problem."
Now, it is true that the trunk does open on the Dodge Charger Daytona as well as the Plymouth Superbird. But that does not mean this was the initial design criteria. If anything, it is a lucky coincidence. Many people tell me that "NASCAR rules required the trunks to open," as if anyone arguing with me has actually read NASCAR's rulebooks from 1969 and 1970. I have.
The only rule which addresses the trunks reads identically in each year: Rear deck lids must have operating original type hinges. Deck lids must be equipped with a self-holding device so as to keep lid up when open. Deck lids must be fastened with 2 pins-one on each side.
Have I mentioned previously that I am also an attorney? Dissecting rules is something I do for a living. The NASCAR rule above can be broken into its component parts. 1.) The deck lid must have hinges. 2) The deck lid must be able to hold itself up when open. 3) The deck lids must be fastened with pins when closed.
Nowhere does it say the lid must be capable of opening fully.
But that is beside the point: When Pointer first thought of the wing, he envisioned it high above the trunk, and later, when it was tested on a track and in a wind tunnel, that height worked well. What if a lower height had worked but would have blocked the trunk? Obviously, they could have attached the wing to the deck lid and put in stronger "self-holding" devices to restrain it when open.
For what it's worth, I interviewed Richard Petty not too long ago, and we were walking around one of his winged cars from the 1970 campaign. We were discussing how he and his crew had worked closely with the engineers from Chrysler while setting up the Superbird for the big NASCAR tracks. We stopped by the wing and he asked me, "Do you know why the wing is up so high?"
I was frightened: What if he was going to say it was so the trunk would open? I stalled. "I think so. But what did you hear?"
He held his hand up at the height of the roof. "To get it into clean air."
"That's what I heard too," I said.
So, the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird wings were not placed absurdly high simply so the trunk would open fully. It was put there to get it into clean air. The fact that the trunk also happened to open at the height is happenstance. And if you want to argue with that, go ahead. You're not arguing with me. You're arguing with the engineer who put it there, John Pointer, and The King, Richard Petty.
Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow, and Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird: Design, Development, Production and Competition. He also has a podcast where he talks about these things.