Car companies frequently put wraps or fake body panels on new cars when testing them. The idea is that this camouflage will hide the real shape of the car before it debuts, so it can be tested in the real world without prying eyes seeing the whole picture. They can go from mundane to extreme, each automaker using its own techniques to keep its new products secret.
One of the strangest camouflage schemes had to be when Chrysler painted one of its factory test cars to look as if it was raced by Bobby Isaac. From a distance, corporate spies peering into the Chelsea Proving Grounds just saw a red blur with the number 71 painted prominently on its side. In reality, the car was codenamed “DC-74,” one of two test cars Chrysler used in the development of the 1969 Charger Daytona.
At the end of the 1960s, the “aero wars” heated up in NASCAR as Ford and Chrysler each competed to make slipperier cars after realizing that streamlining was just as important as horsepower. When the Charger 500 failed to dominate in early 1969, Chrysler pulled decided to go full-aero and fitted the Charger with a nose cone and wing, among other modifications. But how could engineers test the car when there were corporate spies watching every move?
When Chrysler aero engineers rolled the first mockup of a Charger Daytona onto the big oval at Chelsea, they knew they could not keep it from being seen. And the car companies were not supposed to be directly involved with NASCAR, lest the sport seem as if it was not really “stock” cars being raced. How quaint.
DC-74 was painted “poppy” red, the color of Bobby Isaac’s cars, and had a white 71 applied to its doors. From a distance, it looked as if it could be a car run by K&K racing. But up close, the car gave away many of its secrets. How good were telephoto lenses in 1969?
The wing on the back of the car is quite different from what would go into production. The team had not settled on the shape or height of the wing at this point. Mounting flanges on the nose cone were in place to hold a pitot tube–another tool of the engineers working on the car.
The scoops over the front wheels were shaped differently than what went into production. Holes in the nosecone appeared to be in place so the headlights could be used while the nose cone was in place (and the test car did not yet have the flip up headlights the street cars would have). Presumably, this was to abide by rules the proving grounds had about cars running over a certain speed had to have their headlights on.
No one knows how well the spy-versus-spy camo worked for the Daytona program. As you look at pictures of NASCAR Daytonas, be sure to watch for the funny-looking one which looks like Bobby Isaac’s. It is not his car and that’s not him behind the wheel. It’s simply some shenanigans Chrysler got up to while trying to get ahead of Ford in NASCAR.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.