Carl Swanson, 76, a retired U.S. Navy officer, and his wife Dee Swanson, 75, a retired teacher, living in Virginia Beach, Va., on their 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, as told to A.J. Baime.
Carl Swanson: On April 4, 1970, I walked into the Hill-Kelly Dodge dealership in Pensacola, Fla., where I saw this Dodge Charger Daytona. At the time, my wife, Dee, and I had a 1965 Chevrolet and a 1968 Pontiac. I traded them both in for the Daytona. The Pontiac was my wife’s car, and I didn’t tell her. So when I showed up that afternoon in the Daytona, it was not greeted with enthusiasm.
Dee Swanson: We were living in this little duplex, and I was grading papers, as I was teaching at Escambia High School in Pensacola. When he pulled into our carport, the entire apartment shook. I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, so I waddled out and said, “What is that?” He said, “It’s our new car!”
Photos: Five Decades With ‘Goldie’
Carl and Dee Swanson show off their 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
Dodge built 503 customer versions of the Charger Daytona to satisfy NASCAR rules so the model could compete in stock-car racing. In 1970, a Charger Daytona became the first model to break 200 mph on a NASCAR track.
Parker Michels-Boyce for The Wall Street Journal
1 of 14
Carl: At the time, we didn’t realize how rare a car it would be. Dodge built 503 customer Daytonas, because in order to qualify the car for NASCAR racing, a brand had to build at least 500 customer cars. The Daytona won the stock car national championship in 1970. It was the first car to break 200 mph on a NASCAR track. NASCAR then changed the rules and the car never raced again. Our street car had a rare color scheme—to my knowledge, the only one ever made—and my wife and I named it Goldie.
It was our only car for years and we had some adventures. In December of 1970, we drove to Kentucky so our first child, Carla, could meet my wife’s parents. I remember driving in the Tennessee mountains through an ice storm. We pulled into a gas station and the car was covered in ice. I asked the gas station attendant if there were any hotels nearby and he said no. He said, “I’ll keep the heat on in the gas station garage and you can park there overnight.” We put a pair of socks on the baby’s hands.
Dee: Our daughter and I curled up in the back seat. Carl fell asleep in the front seat leaning against the window. It sounds like a nightmare now, but we were happy and so appreciative of that man’s kindness.
Carl: Soon after I got transferred to the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. At the time, there was this Dodge commercial with a stereotypical southern police officer—big guy, big sunglasses—who pulls over a Dodge driver. He says, “Boy, you’re in a heap of trouble.” We were driving cross-country, the baby in a bassinet in the back (the rules were different then), and we got pulled over in Arizona. The officer said, “I’m sorry I pulled you over. I’ve never seen one of these cars in the flesh!” We had a video camera. He smiled into it and said, “You’re in a heap of trouble,” just like in the commercial.
In Hawaii, my wife drove the Daytona in the heat while I was at sea. When we were transferred to Washington State, she drove it in the snow. At one time, we had three child seats in the back.
Dee: Every time we moved, I was in charge of finding us a house, because my husband spent so much time at sea. Whenever I looked at a house, I would show up with my tape measure and ask to see the garage. The real estate agent would always be perplexed. Don’t you want to see the kitchen? The bedrooms? But I would explain, if our car did not fit in the garage, there was no point in looking at the house.
Carl: We spent years in Europe with the Navy and the car stayed in the States. When I finally retired from the Navy, I got the car settled here in Virginia Beach. Since then, I have joined a couple of car clubs—the Winged Warriors and the Daytona-Superbird Auto Club. We have taken this car on plenty of racetracks: three times at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, and twice at Atlanta Motor Speedway, among others. I have gotten some autographs on the car’s wing: stock-car icons Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, as well as the Chrysler engineer [Dodge is a Chrysler brand] who headed up the Daytona project, Larry Rathgeb, who unfortunately died of Covid in 2020.
Along the way, the car finally won over my wife, Dee. We have had a great deal of fun in it. As one of my friends says, “When you have a winged car, you have no shortage of friends.” And this winged car has been with us for over 50 years.
Write to A.J. Baime at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8