Outrageous. Decadent. Insane. Rebellious. All words which succinctly describe America in the waning years of the 60s. The country was feeling its oats, and industry was quick to tap into this cultural vein in any way profitable...er...possible. Extreme was in, and that went double for the automotive scene.
How and why the musclecar came to prominence during this brief span of history is a dog we dont need to kick again. The monster engines, gonzo performance, loud colors, and often garish styling spilling out of Detroit, Auburn Hills, and Dearborn between 1967 and 1973 were, simply, a reflection of the broader spirit of the times. And while the inferno lasted only briefly, the flames havent quite cooled 30-some years later.
Although shadowed by General Motors and Ford Motor Company in terms of production numbers, Chrysler played no small part in feeding the musclecar frenzy. In fact, the perennial underdog status of the Dodge and Plymouth divisions which persists to this day was present in full measure during the 60s. The Pentastars marketing and engineering gurus found interesting ways to level the playing field with their dominating competitors then, and that same dark horse spirit is still seen today in models like the Viper, PT Cruiser, and Prowler.
Chrysler was fully ready to play the horsepower game when the raucous decade dawned. The Max Wedge engines and the 426 Hemi that came online in 1964 proved that Chrysler understood horsepower and its implications as a production car seller. Similarly spicy, yet less rowdy, small-blocks like the 273, 318, and 383 were also waiting to be tapped.
Indeed, no one could question Chryslers musclecar potential in the early and mid-60s. But while the beef was in the barn, so to speak, styling was downright Victorian by the contemporary standards. By the 67 model year, Ford and GM had made considerable gains in shedding the stodgy, boxy styling still clinging to much of the automotive industry, what with such models as the Mustang and Shelby fastbacks, Corvettes, Cobras, Camaros, and Firebirds. Chrysler, on the other hand, hung onto the edgy-and-chrome thing with seeming passion. Granted, the Dodge Charger and Plymouth Barracuda showed signs of a new era dawning, but popular models like the Dart, Coronet, Belvedere, and GTX exuded a suburban white-bread persona that, frankly, seemed disparate with the youth movement. And it was the youth that sat squarely in the sights of The Big Three automakers.
Chrysler started to get its act together with the 68 model year. The Dart GTS hit the showroom for the first timepresenting buyers with a big bark for a little budget. With its standard 340 engine, the Dart GTS packed a serious punch. For a few bucks more you could opt for the 383, which turned that punch into a profound wallop. Changes were also afoot on the B-Body front. The already popular Charger received yet another design change, as did the Coronet, and the R/T versions of these two modelscoupled with the midyear introduction of the Coronet-based Super Beepresented Dodge with a stable of fresh, exciting, and honest-to-goodness groundpounders.
Hot cars all, but they needed a common thread. Thats when the marketing department stepped in. Taking a cue, no doubt, from the infamous hipsters Martin, Davis, Sinatra, Lawford, and Bishopaffectionately called the Rat PackDodge planners decided that their cadre of hot cars fit the good times, bad boy image of the original Packers quite well. With a reverent nod to the Vegas crew, Dodge fired up the coals and branded its A- and B-Body screamers the Scat Pack.
Like all good branding efforts, the Scat Pack program required an image to hold it all together. A rascally bumblebee replete with a crash helmet, goggles, and racing tires fit the bill nicely. And to make the marketing scheme more than a paper tiger, all cars pinned to the Scat Pack program received tangible dual bumblebee stripes in back (defying the traditional industry trend to run racing stripes the length of the car body).
In reality, the Scat Pack thing was strictly a promotional tool. The Super Bee did adopt the Scat Pack mascot as a tailstripe decal inset and a decklid emblem, but other than that, no specific Scat Pack references made it to the production cars. From 1968 until the marketing program ended with the 1971 model year, only print ads, brochures, a national Scat Pack club, and various promotional devices such as decals, jackets, patches, lapel pins, and the like heralded the Dodge musclecars as a specific group.
Nevertheless, the program worked, and worked well. Plymouth tried to pull off something of the same thing when it debuted the Rapid Transit System with the 70 model year, but the Scat Pack mold had already been broken. The fact that the term is still remembered and bantered around in Mopar circles over 30 years later testifies to the success of the most unique branding effort in automotive history.