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45 Years of Chargers

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by John Gunnell  More from Author

Dodge's Classic Muscle Car Keeps Getting Better

A senior citizen $2 million jewel thief named Morey Singer burns rubber in a Dodge Charger in a “Remington Steele” TV drama called “To Stop a Steele.” The then-about-15-years-old muscle car was a smoky, clattering, black-primer jalopy. Now, almost three decades later, the Charger is a classic. With the right engine and options, it might be worth as much as that jewel was in 1983.

The Charger is celebrating its 45th birthday, and though Chrysler’s Dodge Division never made a ton of them in any one year, the full-size fastbacks are getting popular with collectors. Could it be all those TV shows and movies such as “Remington Steele,” The Dukes of Hazzard, Bullitt, and The Fast and the Furious?

Chances are, the media exposure grabbed buyers who were much younger than Morey Singer. And even though the “Duke Boys” used up many of the fastbacks, those that remain are being snapped up by collectors approaching Morey’s age, who want to recapture the automotive excitement of their youths.

The first Charger was a 1964 Polara-based show car, but the production version evolved from the Coronet, one of the Dodge Boys’ “White Hat” muscle cars. This squarish intermediate had the classic “factory hot rod” formula. When it was introduced in ’65, ads teased “Why not drop a Hemi in your Coronet?”

The Charger – Dodge’s answer to the fastback craze – was a Coronet from the waist down. A big, wide body gave it a “flat” look. Dodge called the Charger a “Sports Sedan.” It was aimed at young-at-heart dads able to sell their better half on buying a “station wagon.” V-8s included a base 318-cid, 230-hp job or a 361-cid, 265-hp option. Once you got to the 383 you were talking “muscle.” A nicely outfitted 383 Charger automatic went out the door a tad over $3,100. Production of ’66 Chargers hit 37,300 units, including just 468 Hemi cars.

Dodge wanted the ’67 Charger to reflect its racing image. Standard was a 318-cid, 230-hp V-8 good for 0 to 60 mph in 10.9 seconds. Next came a 383-cid, 326-hp big-block that did 0 to 60 mph in 8.9 sec. and the quarter mile in 16.5 sec. at 86.4 mph. There was also the 440-cid, 375-hp V-8 good for 0 to 60 in 8 sec. and a 15.5 quarter mile at 93 mph. Top dog was the 426-cid, 425-hp Hemi. It went 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 sec. and did the quarter in 14.4 at 100 mph!

The 1967 Chargers were much rarer than ’66s. Only 15,788 were built. This included 118 with a Hemi, of which half were four-speeds. If you’re considering buying a ’67 Hemi Charger today, you might appreciate knowing that it gets 11.7 mpg in city driving and about 14.4 mpg on the open highway. Don’t tell that to the people who set CAFE standards. One of them might have a heart attack!

The ’68 Chargers gave up the “jumping-ramp” roof and adopted a “Coke bottle” shape. The R/T muscle version included an integral rear decklid spoiler and a competition-type gas filler. Chargers retained a 117-inch wheelbase, but the rear track was nearly an inch wider. The $3,480 R/T (TorqueFlite was standard) could move from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 sec. and down a dragstrip in 15 seconds at 93 mph. This was the only ’68 Charger that got the Hemi. The engine option cost $605, and only 475 such cars were put together. One of the most famous ’68 Chargers was the one in the motion picture Bullitt.

The 1969 Charger didn’t change much. As Motor Trend magazine put it, “That brute Charger styling, that symbol of masculine virility, was still intact.” The ’69 grille was divided into two sections, and the taillights were modified a bit. However, the fastback Dodge was basically the same good-looking beast as before on the outside. The inside also had only a few changes, like a large-faced tach and gauges done in white on black to make them stand out more.

The R/T was the high-performance Charger. A new Charger 500 was a special limited-production model based on a prototype race car. Dodge said it was available only to qualified race drivers, and muscle car fans flocked to Dodge dealers trying to buy one. Chances are good they at least drove away in another Charger or a jazzy Coronet. Charger 500 body mods were the workmanship of Creative Industries, a Detroit aftermarket firm. A minimum of 500 such cars had to be sold to the public to make the Charger race legal. The Charger 500 designation was based on that. Officially, 32 Hemi-powered Charger 500s were built, though experts have tracked down serial numbers for 35 such vehicles.

One of Chrysler’s famous “winged warriors” was the Dodge Charger Daytona. Creative Industries built 500 Daytonas to legalize the 200-mph body mods for racing. The winged cars won so often that NASCAR outlawed Hemi and wedge V-8s. Officially, 433 cars with base 375-hp 440 Magnum V-8s were built for the streets, and 70 were built with Hemi V-8s under their snout. One Daytona with 5,000 original miles has been documented as a car with a dealer-installed 440 Six-Pack V-8, although Dodge did not offer this engine as a factory option.

The 1970 Charger used the ’69 body with minor trim changes. The hi-po R/T had a new grille, a new loop-style front bumper, two hood scoops, big bolt-on scoops with R/T badges on the rear quarter panels, and a choice of longitudinal or bumble bee racing stripes. A new interior and wild exterior colors were offered. Charger, Charger 500, Charger R/T, and Charger Special Edition models were marketed. The Charger 500 had no aerodynamic enhancements.

New-for-1970 options included a pistol grip shifter and an electric sunroof. The biggest engine was the 383 four-barrel V-8. An optional version used the 375-hp Dodge Magnum cam, freer flowing heads, and a new cast iron intake with a Holley four-barrel. Dodge built 42 R/Ts with the 426 Hemi. In addition to 13 standard exterior colors, Charger buyers could special order Plum Crazy, Sublime, Go Mango, Hemi Orange, and Banana Yellow paint.

The third-generation Charger of 1971 (Dodge built 82,681 of them) adopted a Coke-bottle shaped body, a split grille, and a choice of regular or hidden headlights. A new semi-fastback rear window blended into the trunklid and a rear spoiler was used. Underneath the car was largely a carryover, except that Dodge cut a couple of inches off the wheelbase, giving it a 115-inch stance.

Models included the Charger, the Charger 500 hardtop, the luxury Charger 500 SE hardtop, the muscular Charger 500 Super Bee hardtop, and the top-of-the-line R/T. You could still get the slant six, and V-8s included the 318-cid 230-hp option, which was standard in 500s. The Super Bee started with the 383-cid, 275-hp V-8 and offered a 440 “Magnum” with 370 hp, a 440-cid 385-hp “Six-Pak” and the 426-cid, 425-hp Hemi. R/T V-8s started with the 440 Magnum and also offered the Six-Pack and Hemi options. Car and Driver tested the Charger 500 SE with the 440 Magnum and did the quarter in 14.8 seconds at 95.7 mph.

With few external changes, the ’72 Charger was in coupe or hardtop styles. The latter came with SE or Rallye trim. Engines were de-tuned to meet emissions rules, with the 440 Six-Pak surviving, but the Hemi biting the dust. That climbed to 119,318 units in 1973, when Chargers got a new grille with exposed headlights only, a three-segment opera window treatment, and new taillights. The 105-hp slant six or 280-hp 440 Magnum V-8 went under the hood.

The last early-’70s Charger was the ’74, which was nearly a clone of the ’73 except for a pair of super-sized bumper guards designed to satisfy government crash standards. The 440 Magnum was down to 275 hp that year.

The Gen IV Charger SE bowed in 1975, looking like a Chrysler Cordoba with a Dodge grille. It kept the previous car’s underpinnings, but grew by about a foot in overall length. Gone was the fastback roofline. Buyers could pick from two versions of the 360-cid V-8 – a 180-hp two-barrel or a 200-hp four-barrel – linked to a three-speed automatic transmission. At midyear, a two-tone Daytona was released, but it did little to boost sales, which topped out at 30,812 cars.

In 1976, a 318-cid V-8 replaced the 360 and a base Charger was reinstated. Sales peaked at 52,761 units. A revised grille and some tweaking of trim packages marked the nothing-new ’77 model, which came only as an SE and fell to 36,204 sales. The Charger became the Magnum in ’78.

Dodge’s fifth Charger was based on the Dodge Omni 024, the first front-drive, efficient, subcompact five-door hatchback in America. The Omni 024 was introduced in 1979. Its features included a transverse four-cylinder engine, a manual or automatic transaxle, McPherson strut front suspension, and a coil-sprung, beam-type rear axle. Though unexciting, Omnis were around a long time.

In 1982, Dodge added a larger 2.2-liter, single overhead cam four with 21 additional horsepower (84 total) and dubbed it the Omni Charger 2.2. Buyers got dummy hood and side scoops, Charger graphics, and a choice of a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transaxle. They bought 14,420 Chargers.

Only the Charger name was used the next season and they came with both the original 1.7- or 2.2-liter four. At midyear, a 1.6-liter, 62-hp engine replaced the 1.7-liter job. Also expanded were shifting choices, with a four- or five-speed manual or three-speed automatic.

A Shelby Charger, with a 107-hp high-compression version of the big four, was added in 1983. Former race driver Carroll Shelby sold Dodge on this car, which had upgraded underpinnings, big 15-inch aluminum wheels, a special rear quarter roof treatment, and silver-and-blue body and interior treatments. The Shelby Charger could do 0-to-60 mph in 9.6 sec. and ran the quarter in 17 seconds.

Dodge redid the ’84 Charger’s front end with new dual headlamps (not used on Shelbys) and jettisoned the dummy scoops. A new touch was a rear spoiler. Shelbys got a ground effects package, and a revised cam boosted output to 110 hp. This year the paint scheme used silver on blue. In ’85, the Charger was nearly unchanged, but the Shelby added black and red finishes and a 146-hp turbo 2.2 with EFI. As tested, it ran 0-to-50 mph in 5.3 sec. About the only big 1986 change was a high-mounted brake light.

The mini-Charger’s last year was 1987 when regular models were again mostly unchanged. Shelby Automobiles introduced a 175-hp Euro-tech Charger that it called the GLH-S. The car’s features included a special Shelby intake plenum, a larger radiator, a Shelby Electronic Logic Module, bigger fuel injectors, a larger air control body, and a bigger Garrett turbocharger. Those rare GLH-S Chargers were real collector cars, good for 15-second quarter-miles at 94 mph.

The Charger name stayed out of circulation until 2006, when it re-appeared on a muscular sedan using the new RWD Chrysler 300 architecture. This Charger had something no other did – four doors. But otherwise, it was a world-class performer. It came as an SE or an R/T. The former featured a 3.5-liter, 250-hp V-6 and lots of standard equipment, plus an SXT luxury package. A 5.7-liter, 340-hp V-8 roared under the R/T model’s hood. It also had big brakes, a dual outlet exhaust system, leather seats, and huge 18-inch wheels. A 350-hp Daytona option for the R/T added black-out graphics, decals, spoilers, a Hemi Orange engine cover, load-levelers, thicker sway bars, re-tuned steering, upgraded brake pads, performance tires, specific wheels, and luxury seats.

Chargers with a 2.7-liter, 190-hp V-6 and a four-speed automatic were the standard issue in 2007, plus you could get four-wheel drive with SXT and R/T models. A redesigned dashboard and center console were among changes for 2008. Buyers were also offered new wheels, side air bags, a music storage hard drive, Sirius “Backseat TV,” and optional headlights. In addition to adding a Super Bee in 2009 (in yellow or orange), the Charger engine could be ordered with 368 hp or a cylinder-de-activation system for enhanced fuel economy.

The 2010 Charger was basically a carryover model. The four-door sporty model comes in 12 trims, ranging from base to SRT8. A 2.7-liter, 178-hp V-6 and four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive are standard. The SRT8 uses a 6.1-liter, 425-hp engine that achieves up to 19 mpg on the highway and has a standard five-speed automatic transmission with overdrive.

The 2011 Charger marks the nameplate’s 45th year. It was released in October 2010. Chrysler says it’s “spiritually inspired by the iconic second-generation Charger from the late 1960s.” It is an E-segment sedan with a new “split crosshair” grille, a sculpted body, and better aerodynamics as a result of wind tunnel tests. Aero changes include a lower hood line, faster windshield, raked headlights, tighter wheel openings, a lower body sill, and a flat underbody.

The base Charger engine is now a 292-hp V-6. Chrysler says it should provide better acceleration than most “original”V-8-powered Dodge Chargers. Zero-to-60 mph is in the low six-second range with the 2011 Hemi Charger. The Dodge Charger SE comes standard with the 292-hp V-6. The SE Rallye and Rallye Plus add 18-inch polished wheels, leather trim, a power passenger seat, and more. The Rallye is $28,245 and the Rallye Plus is $29,995.

The 2011 Charger R/T and R/T Road & Track add the 5.7 Hemi with 372 hp, HID headlights, and a rear spoiler. The R/T AWD includes all R/T equipment plus 19-in. twin-spoke wheels, a lowered suspension, and an active transfer case with front axle disconnect for better gas mileage. The Charger Police Pursuitis a fleet version intended for use by law enforcement agencies.

Like many muscle cars, the Dodge Charger has gone through good times and bad in its 45 years. Luckily for its die-hard fans, the new Charger is a bright spot in its history, and it gets brighter every year!

The first year for the Dodge Charger was 1966.

Changes for ’67 included fender lights and redesigned center console.

The ’68 Charger gave up the “jumping ramp” roof and adopted a “Coke bottle” shape.

The 1969 Charger’s design was very similar to 1968.

Car star Charger in The Dukes of Hazzard turned many on to the fastback.

Charger Daytona was built to resemble superspeedway racing cars.

For 1970, the Charger had only minor updating of the ’69 model.

Volo Museum’s ’70 Charger starred in The Fast and The Furious movie.

Panther Pink from the Pink Panther movie was an unusual color for the ’70 Charger.

The last year for the Hemi Charger R/T was 1971.

The ’72 Charger came as a hardtop (as shown) or a coupe.

Dodge said the ’73 Charger was for hard-driving men, but it was actually pretty tame.

The ’74 Charger had an integral rear spoiler and multi-segmented taillights.

The 1975 Charger Special Edition was based on the Chrysler Cordoba.

A spring release was the two-tone ’75 Dodge Daytona with sporty, two-tone paint.

This 1976 Charger ad shows a $3,736 sticker price for a dressy enough car.

A new Charger based on the Omni 024 sub-compact is seen next to a Shelby model.

The Charger model name was revived in 2006 for a nicely-thought-out Dodge sedan.

Illustration by Michael Leonhard
An artist’s rendering of a new Charger coupe. Could this be the future of Dodge’s Charger?

The 2011 Charger Pursuit includes a special law enforcement package. The new models continue to inspire legions of Charger fans.


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