Five Decades of the Dodge Charger

For some, the utterance of “Dodge Charger” stirs up images of a gloss black 1968 R/T Charger screaming through the streets of San Francisco with Steven McQueen right behind. The movie was “Bullitt” and the 1968 R/T Charger has become one of the most iconic of the second-generation Chargers because of this movie.

After many decades banished to the ranks of lower-performance “passenger cars,” today, with Dodge Charger is reestablishing itself as one of Detroit’s most significant muscle cars. With expert assistance from Columbiana Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram of Columbiana, OH,  we will take a look at the journey that the venerable Charger has traveled thru over the years.  

The First Generation

Image source

In 1964, the success of the Ford Mustang had just about every automaker in the industry rethinking their product strategy. Even though Plymouth had introduced the Barracuda just weeks before the Mustang landed, the industry shockwaves produced by the Mustang stunned everyone. Chrysler quickly realized that this new “pony car” segment was a performance and styling trend that needed to be followed. Dodge’s answer was unveiled in 1966. Larger than a Mustang, the new Dodge Charger came out of the gate swinging with four different V8 engines, including the new 426 Hemi. Chrysler was back in the game.

The NASCAR Effect

During the 1960s, NASCAR became a major American entertainment franchise, and before long it became obvious that winning NASCAR races translated into car sales. Knowing this, Dodge soon entered the new Charger with its powerful 426 Hemi motor into the NASCAR series. Problem is, racers soon discovered that the Charger’s aerodynamic profile developed significant high-speed lift making the car difficult to control at speed. More work was needed.

A Muscle Car Icon

Although they retained all the mechanics of the first-generation Chargers, the second generation, released in 1968, was a complete redesign. The coupe could now be optioned with no less than four different big block V8s, ranging from the two-barrel 383, to the 426 “Elephant” Hemi. By the end of the 1960s, Chrysler Corporation with its Plymouth and Dodge brands were at the top of their muscle car game.

The Charger Name Declines

With the early 1970s rising gas prices, insurance premium hikes, and federal gas mileage regulations all started bearing down on performance car sales. By 1975, the mighty Charger had been repositioned as a “personal luxury car.” The biggest engine available was either a two-barrel or four-barrel 360ci V8 rated at 180 and a three-speed automatic the only transmission option. After 1977, Dodge decided to pull the plug on the Charger brand.

The Name Resurfaces

In 1981, Dodge sought to inject some pizazz into the front-wheel drive Omni by reviving the Charger name as a performance package for the coupe. Called the Charger 2.2, the package included special gear ratios and a new 84 horsepower four-cylinder motor along with a handful of trim enhancements. This provided a modest boost to sales but the Charger nameplate would once again go blank after 1987.

The Sixth Generation

Nineteen years after putting the nameplate to rest, Dodge reintroduced the Charger as a new performance model for the 2006 model year. Powered by a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 putting out 425 horsepower, the new SRT model boasted forged aluminum wheels, Brembo brakes, upgraded interior appointments, and aggressive bodywork. It was hot!

The Seventh Generation

When the seventh generation Charger was introduced in 2011, things started really swing. This Charger featured a body style that borrows styling cues from the second-generation Chargers. The 2011 Charger model lineup consisted of three trims, the SE, R/T, and R/T AWD, and all equipped with a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6.

Then the Hellcat Landed

Image source

In 2015, the automotive world was shaken to the core when the Charger SRT Hellcat was released. Powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 that kicked out 707 horsepower, the Hellcat was declared as the fastest sedan money could buy when it debuted.

For model-year 2018, the Dodge Charger has nine trims to its name, a wide spectrum of engines and a wide spectrum of paint colors, some of which are from the original late 60s High-Impact Paint (HIP) collection. The Hellcat model remained and offered even more features for those that wanted pure performance.