Home Cars Dodge Charger History: The Bad Boy of the Muscle Car Scene

Dodge Charger History: The Bad Boy of the Muscle Car Scene

Vukasin Herbez November 7, 2018

One of the biggest legends of the muscle car segment is the mighty and famous Dodge Charger. In the last half of the century, the Charger has become one of the most popular nameplates and a symbol of American performance. With numerous appearances in popular movies, TV series and music videos, the Charger is a world-renowned muscle car. In fact, it is almost as popular as the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro.

However, the history of the Charger has been interesting and dynamic. This model started its life as a proper muscle coupe, but in the 70s, they turned it into a personal luxury car. But, it didn’t end there. In the 80s, the Charger returned as a compact front wheel drive model. And in 2006, it emerged again, and this time, as a four-door sedan.

That’s quite a ride for a car that Chrysler conceived to fight other muscle cars in the early days of this segment. Over the years, the Dodge Charger has proven itself on all the major drag strips and NASCAR super speedways. But most of all, it has proven its worth on the back streets in the hands of keen muscle car enthusiasts and numerous street racers.

  1. 1966 Dodge Charger

The Charger name first appeared in a 1964 show car as a re-bodied Dodge Polara with a roadster look and a powerful 426 Wedge engine. However, the name gained some attention. With the rising muscle car popularity, the Pontiac GTO was grabbing all the headlines. So, Dodge knew they needed a new, exciting model to attract customers looking for exciting, sporty models.

So, in 1966, they presented the new Dodge Charger as a mid-year introduction. And it was the newest model in the muscle car class. They based it on the Chrysler B-Body platform, so it shared much the of its mechanics and chassis components with other less interesting Dodge models like the Coronet. However, it came with fresh, new sheet metal and a cool-looking fastback roofline.

The design of the 1966 Charger included hideaway headlights and a big chrome grille, which completed the menacing and aggressive looks. The interior was also modern with a cool looking dashboard and four bucket seats. Also, the rear seats could fold down to create lots of trunk space.

Under the hood, Dodge offered various engines, starting with a modest 318 V8 unit. The step up was the 383, which produced up to 325 HP. However, the most powerful option was the mighty 426 Hemi. This was the first year for the street 426 Hemi, and one of the models to receive this legendary powerplant was the Charger. It produced 425 HP, but only ended up in just under 500 cars in 1966.

  1. 1968 Dodge Charger

After just two years on the market and good sales numbers, Dodge decided to introduce a new second generation of the Charger. They designed and engineered the new model to rule the burning muscle car segment. But Dodge wanted to give its premium muscle car unique looks and several features that would distinguish it from the competitors.

So, in 1968, muscle car fans were wowed by the fantastic lines of the new Charger featuring the popular “Coke bottle” styling and a big grille. They gave it a muscular shape, recessed rear glass and four round rear lights. In those days of crazy designs and aggressive muscle car styling, the 1968 Charger was in the league of its own. In fact, no other model could compete with this coupe.

The interior was also new and featured full instrumentation and a decent amount of space. Since the 1968 Charger was one of the biggest muscle car coupes they ever made, the trunk space was generous, as well. Despite its unique design, they still based the Charger on the Coronet. However, it gained new engine choices such as the 440 V8 and one new trim package, the R/T.

The R/T or Road and Track package was a popular option that included wild graphics and a beefier suspension and steering. The R/T came with the 440 engine as standard. If you wanted full power in your 1968 Charger, you could choose the Hemi, which was significantly more expensive. The 1968 Charger proved to be a huge success for Dodge, so they made over 96,000 cars in that year alone.

  1. 1969 Dodge Charger 500

Most muscle cars fans know the Charger lineup well, including the wild Charger Daytona from 1969. But, the Daytona’s predecessor, the Charger 500, was far less known and not so successful. In the late 60s, Dodge was desperate to race in NASCAR and the Charger was the perfect candidate. However, since NASCAR cars approached high speeds of almost 200 mph on newly-constructed superspeedway tracks, aerodynamics played a key role in a car’s performance and results.

With its deep grille and concave rear glass, the standard Charger wasn’t aerodynamic. So, despite the powerful engines and skilled drivers, it just couldn’t achieve the speeds required for winning. Dodge decided to introduce a limited edition Charger 500, which they named the 500 because they made that many of them. It came with a flushed grille, fixed headlights and regular rear glass to improve the aerodynamics of the car.

The 500 was better but not as good, so Dodge decided to go further and present the Daytona. The Charger 500 came with two engines, a standard 440 and an optional 426 Hemi. Since the Daytona was much more successful and interesting, everyone soon forgot about the Charger 500, except for those hardcore Mopar muscle fans.

  1. 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

The NASCAR races were one of the most important battle arenas of the muscle car wars. So, back in the late 60s, the superspeedways were places of many fierce clashes between Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth and Pontiac. The most interesting period was the late 60s when the NASCAR rules allowed some modifications to car bodies to make them more aerodynamic.

Of course, the condition was to apply those changes to regular production examples and sell a limited number of such cars to the public. Most manufacturers jumped at the opportunity and created Aero racers or specially designed cars they homologated for the races. And one of the most famous and influential was the 1969 Charger Daytona. They produced just 504 cars strictly as a homologation special.

Despite winning some races, the Charger 500 wasn’t fast enough, so Dodge decided to create a racing car with a special front end, flush rear glass and a big rear spoiler. The Charger Daytona was one of the first cars they developed in a wind tunnel. Also, they used new materials in its construction.

The Charger Daytona proved to be successful on the race tracks and even managed to do a record 217 mph run in almost stock configuration. This proved how good the design and engineering behind this project was. The standard engine was 440 V8, but only about 70 cars received the legendary 426 Hemi.

  1. 1971 Dodge Charger R/T

After the highly successful second-generation Charger which they produced from 1968 to 1970, Dodge introduced the fresh new model for 1971. The car received a new design following the classic lines but with more curvy styling. Arguably, the 1971 model didn’t look as good as the model it replaced. But still, it was a classic Dodge muscle car with a big grille, hideaway headlights and a sleek coupe appearance.

The end for original muscle cars was in sight, but Dodge kept the Charger fully stocked with 440 and Hemi engines. The R/T package was a popular choice for performance loving muscle car enthusiasts. But the best thing to choose was the Six Pack option for the 440 Magnum engine. It delivered 385 HP and came with a unique hood scoop and graphics.

They put the Hemi in just 63 cars. However, Dodge also presented the Special Edition (SE) package, which was a more luxurious version. It also showed that the Charger would become a personal luxury car in near future.

  1. 1971 Dodge Charger Super Bee

Dodge management decided to merge the Coronet and Charger lineups for 1971 to offer their B-Body models in two distinctive flavors. From 1971, all four door models were Coronets and all two-door models were Chargers. This meant that the Coronet Super Bee was now a Charger, which caused some confusion with car buyers.

The Charger Super Bee was one year only model that was kind of an entry-level muscle car. It sold at lower prices, yet had updated equipment, wild graphics and a 440 engine as standard. The Super Bee was a relatively popular proposition for people looking for a classic performance machine in vivid colors with a tire-shredding performance.

The base 440 delivered 370 HP, but the Six Pack option was capable of 385 HP. The Hemi was the only engine option, but rare because only 22 cars receiving that engine.

  1. 1975 to 1978 Dodge Charger

In a desperate attempt to regain popularity in the dying muscle car market, Dodge introduced the Charger as a personal luxury car in 1975. The design was identical to the Chrysler Cordoba, so the car was big, heavy and rather slow.

The engine choices consisted of three V8 motors, the 318, 360 and 400 CID, but the power levels were embarrassing. Dodge concentrated on the luxury aspects, offering a leather interior, T-Top roofs and a host of other upgrades. The first year sales were high at around 30,000, but by 1978, sales dropped to just around 2,000.

  1. 1976 to 1977 Dodge Charger Daytona

You are probably familiar with the original Dodge Charger Daytona from 1969. It was a big coupe Dodge based on the Charger with a pointy nose and massive rear wing. They designed it for racing in NASCAR and produced it in only 500 cars. The Daytona with its cousin, the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird, is still one of the craziest muscle cars they ever produced.

Less than 10 years after the memorable Daytona, in a terrible case of self-reinventing, Dodge decided to use this glorious name again. This time, it was on a Dodge Charger, which was basically a Chrysler Cordoba. It was a big two-door personal luxury coupe with no muscle car credentials whatsoever. However, the move was not well received since the Cordoba had a meek 145 HP V8 engine.

Dodge focused more on luxury and its well-appointed interior than the looks, performance and driving dynamics. Fortunately, car buyers punished Dodge for using the precious Daytona nameplate for a not-so-special and boring car. At the end, they only produced 250 of them, leaving this Daytona reincarnation on the margins of muscle car history.

  1. 1983 to 1987 Dodge Charger

Although the Charger from the late 70s was slow and threatened to kill the muscle car reputation of the late 60s and early 70s, Dodge felt the name deserved another chance. In those days, the Chrysler Corporation was all about the K-platform front wheel drive cars. So, Dodge introduced the Charger as an option on the compact yet boring Dodge Omni for 1981.

However, the appearance package proved somewhat popular. In fact, it was enough to convince Dodge to try it as a separate model for 1983. And that is how the L-Body Charger was born. Despite the famous name, the 1983 to 1987 Charger was just a sportier version of those Chrysler compact models. With four-cylinder power, front wheel drive and no particular performance, the Charger was just a model to fight the import compacts.

  1. Dodge Shelby Charger

The L-Body Charger was a forgettable car that wasn’t especially popular or fast. But when Carroll Shelby, who was involved with Chrysler in those days, introduced the Shelby Charger, the car finally gained some respect.

Shelby’s recipe was simple: turbocharge the existing 2.2-liter four-cylinder to deliver 175 HP and equip it with a close ratio five-speed manual gearbox. He also wanted to stiffen the suspension and improve the braking. All those changes turned the boring Charger into a Shelby Charger which delivered a vivid performance.

It could even outrun most production muscle cars of the period. They sold the Shelby Charger alongside their regular models in Dodge dealerships. However, Shelby bought the last 1,000 of them and turned them into the Charger GHLS. They were similar to the Shelby Omni GHLS with the same engine and platform.

  1. 2006 to 2010 Dodge Charger SRT8 LX

Although the Charger went away in the late 80s and Chrysler retired the nameplate, the legend of the glorious muscle car model never disappeared. During the 90s with the rise of pickup trucks and the SUV market, Dodge presented several concepts to keep the fire burning. Muscle cars fans were hopeful that Dodge would reincarnate their favorite muscle car. And they did just that in 2005 with a thumping V8 under the hood and rear wheel drive.

However, they put it in a four-door guise, which raised a few eyebrows. The new Charger sedan debuted in 2005 as a true American four-door with a rear wheel drive platform. All-wheel drive (AWD) was optional and it had the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine as the top engine choice. The aggressive muscular design reminded buyers of the Charger’s heritage and history.

Almost immediately, it was a fantastic success since it combined modern technology with retro styling and Hemi power in one package. It wasn’t what the muscle car fans asked for, but it was the proper performance car they needed. The engine choices started with the 3.6-liter V6, but buyers could get also get the new 350 HP 5.7-liter Hemi.

But, Dodge didn’t forget the burning muscle car market. So soon after the introduction of the regular model, they released the Charger SRT-8. Under the hood was a 6.1-liter Hemi with 425 HP. It delivered a fantastic performance that connected with Hemi Chargers of the past.

  1. 2014 to Present Dodge Charger Hellcat

Ever since they released the four-door Charger it became a popular model, even with law-enforcement agencies. So in 2011, they introduced the second generation with a fresh design and more options. However, the platform and engine choices remained the same. Dodge kept the SRT model in the lineup and several interesting performance versions, too. But everybody knew the Charger was capable of much more.

So, finally, in 2014, the car community went crazy when Dodge released the Hellcat Charger and Challenger models. After all, they expected such a reaction. The 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with 707 HP is a proper monster of a muscle car. But, Dodge did just that, allowing the public to buy one of the fastest, most powerful muscle car they ever built. Despite being overpowered in every aspect, Dodge Charger Hellcats are surprisingly easy to drive.

Surprisingly, they can be docile at low speeds. When you press the throttle to unleash the fury of those supercharged horses, you’ll feel the brutality of the Hellcat package. The 0 to 60 mph times are in the high three-second range and the car can top 200 mph. This is proof that the Dodge Charger will keep the muscle car segment interesting in the 21st century.

  1. Dodge Charger 500 “Fast and Furious”

The young generation of car enthusiasts got its first taste of the magic of Dodge Charger by seeing it in the cult car movie, Fast and Furious, in 2000. This was the hero car driven by Dominic Toretto, depicted by Vin Diesel, one of the main protagonists throughout the series of films.

The black 1970 Charger 500 was obviously heavily modified with racing slicks, full racing cage and supercharged engine with a blower hood. Despite the movie being full of JDM cars, the black Charger became an even bigger legend of the silver screen.

  1. Dodge Charger Daytona 2006

The new generation of the Charger on a rear wheel drive platform with the famous Hemi engine inspired Dodge to offer several interesting versions. And the best of them was the Daytona, which they sold from 2006 to 2009.

The Daytona package didn’t include an enormous spoiler. But, it did come with special paint and trim details, R/T stickers and interior pieces. Dodge limited the production, though. However, the best part was the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that delivered 350 HP. That was a slight upgrade over the standard output.

  1. Dodge Charger Pursuit

After decades of using the Chevrolet Impala or Ford Crown Victoria, many law enforcement agencies in America turned to the Dodge Charger in 2006. For over 12 years, it was one of the most popular police cars in America. In fact, Dodge even exported the Charger to several foreign markets. And even though you may see this car daily, it is undeniable this is one of the best police cars in the world.

The specs of the latest models are simply unbelievable. Fleet buyers have the choice of a 3.6-liter V6 engine or the fantastic 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Buyers can order Chargers with rear or all-wheel drive for demanding road conditions. All cars come with special chassis reinforcements, front bull bars and heavy-duty components.

That includes the suspension, braking, cooling and electrical system for running advanced communication equipment and computers. Also, the Charger Pursuit comes with bullet-resistant front door panels, which could save lives of officers on the job.

  1. Dodge Charger Concept 1968

The success of the Charger is what inspired the Chrysler designers to develop the idea of a Dodge performance model. The original Charger had power, performance and countless racing wins, but it was still a big, heavy and not an aerodynamic muscle machine. However, the 1968 Charger III concept was something different.

The Charger III was no longer a muscle car, but a pure two-seater sports machine. It had compact dimensions and a low profile. Also, it was lightweight and had several unusual features. There were no conventional doors, but the whole top of the car opened to allow access to the interior.

The steering column tilted, along with the steering wheel to make entry more comfortable. On the back of the car were massive airbrakes similar to ones on the airplanes that deployed under heavy braking. The whole car was extremely futuristic, and that doomed it from any real production.

  1. Dodge Magnum R/T

Dodge never built Charger station wagon or factory Charger convertible and this model was always a two or four-door car throughout its history. However, if you have an irresistible urge for a station wagon Charger there is a way to enjoy the power of the Hemi engine with the practicality of a long roof body. Simply, look for Dodge Magnum R/T.

Equipped with 6.1-liter V8 Hemi engine pumping out 425 hp and glorious soundtrack through twin tailpipes, the SRT-8 was a really fast and capable long roof. The design is typical Dodge and since the rest of the mechanics is identical, this car can be considered a station wagon Charger.

    1. Dodge Charger Concept 1999

Charger purists were shocked in 1999 when Dodge presented the first four-door Charger R/T concept. Until then, most Mopar muscle cars were strictly two-door models. In fact, nobody even thought of the possibility of a muscle car heart in a sedan.

However, despite the controversy, the 1999 Charger Concept was a highly-successful and inspired Dodge that brought buyers the current Charger. Of course, the original concept came with a 4.7-liter V8 since the modern Hemi was not available yet.

      1. Dodge Charger from “Fast Five”

In the fifth installment of the popular movie series, Fast and Furious, the Dodge Charger was once again the star of a film. But this time, it was not the classic 1970 Charger but the current version. Dodge specially prepared it for the crazy stunts they featured in the movie, Fast Five.

This dynamic movie was filled with excitement and driving scenes. It features numerous black Chargers, which they equipped with bull bars, heavy-duty suspensions, tuned engines and off-road tires. In fact, the mind-blowing action scenes became the standard of the genre, making the Charger an even more popular car.

      1. Dodge Charger GT AWD

A proper muscle car should be V8 powered and rear wheel drive, right? However, the new Dodge Charger GT AWD breaks that mold as a 300 HP sedan with intelligent, all-wheel drive and sublime driving dynamics.

Since the AWD system requires more space underneath the engine and cabin, the Dodge engineers could only install a V6 engine, which is still good for 300 HP. But the handling characteristics and usability puts this muscle sedan on another level. Not only does the Charger AWD lack any domestic competitors, but it is also more than capable of beating many imports, as well.

This is a list of Dodge Charger history. It was and still is the bad boy of the muscle car scene. Which one was your favorite? Hopefully, you’ll be able to find one at a reasonable price and in top-notch condition.

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