NASCAR racing in the late '60s and early '70s was marked by constant innovation. The race cars were not nearly as advanced as they are today, but they definitely had a lot more character-and they also had a real influence on what was driven on the streets. Those were the good old days when stock cars were actually stock. If you couldn't buy it off the showroom floor, you couldn't race it. That's why Dodge, in an effort to keep up with the more aerodynamic Fords, created the Charger 500 in 1969. Based on the '69 Charger RT, the 500 featured a Hemi engine, flush-mounted rear window, and a flush front grille. all this for the explicit purpose of producing greater speed-and better finishes.
Lewis Summerville's '69 Charger 500 was one of the first produced, but it nearly met an untimely end on two different occasions before it was ever legally driven on the street. First, it was stolen from a dealer's lot in California. Fortunately, instead of wrecking the car, the thieves only took the engine and transmission, unbolting it cleanly from the chassis. Then, they simply left it sitting in a parking lot. Undamaged on the outside, no one knows exactly how long it sat unnoticed before the local authorities decided to check on the unclaimed Charger. Once the car was discovered, it was returned to Dodge sans the Hemi engine and transmission. But the company couldn't sell it and didn't exactly know what to do with it. One option was to scrap the car. instead, someone within the organization decided to call a friend and see if he would store the car.
That "friend" happened to be one of the great figures in Dodge's racing history. "Yeah, they called me and asked if they could bring it to my shop," explains Cotton Owens. Cotton is one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers of all time and was a team owner at the time. Owens operated a team with factory support from Dodge and Chrysler, and he was willing to loan the company a little shop space until they decided what to do with the crippled car. the Charger was fitted with a tow bar and dragged across the country from California to Owens' shop in Spartanburg, South Carolina. "So the car sat here a little while," Owens continues in his matter-of-fact manner. "Finally, they called me and said they needed it up in Detroit. It wasn't my car, so I took it up there to 'em."
Creative Industries, Dodge's hired gun for racing research and development, needed a car for wind tunnel testing. It turned out the Charger 500 was suitable on NASCAR's shorter tracks, but the car's boxy shape still left the car at a disadvantage on the series' two biggest circuits: Daytona and Talladega. Dodge, Chrysler, and Creative Industries had come up with a plan to modify the cars to make them aerodynamically superior over the competition. They were creating what eventually became the Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird, but it had yet to be tested in the wind tunnel. The Charger in Owens' shop made a perfect test mule. This Charger 500 was one of at least two to be used in that wind tunnel session to develop the Daytona/Superbird. Engineers modified the front end to accept the pointed nose cone that has made the Daytona immediately recognizable. It wasn't, however, fitted with Daytona's signature rear wing. (Apparently, the original plan included just the nose cone, but it caused so much front downforce it made the rear end light. The rear wing was added later to balance the car.) Once the engineers at Creative Industries finished the session, they removed the nose cone, as well as the front fenders and hood, reducing the car's value even further. once again, the 500 avoided the scrap heap.