When the world thinks of American muscle, a fair number of cars are guaranteed to come to mind, but one of the first someone is going to think of is the Dodge Charger. The Charger is an American classic and a modern muscle masterpiece. But to really get into the Charger, we need to start back at the beginning.
Gen 1. 1966 – 1967
In 1966, the Dodge Charger was born! This isn’t the muscle car everyone knows and loves though. That comes a little later down the line.
The Charger was introduced with all the usual amenities to be expected of a car in it’s class; nice interior space, faux wood steering wheel, and other boring stuff, but the best part was under the hood. The first generation Charger was only offered with a V8 engine! Designing and selling a car with a big and loud V8 as the only engine option has to be the most American way you could ever sell a car! Now, you still had engine options of course. You could get the 5.2L, the 5.9L (later replaced by the 6.3L 383), the 7.0L 426 Hemi, and a 7.2L Magnum (added in 1967). They’d later offer an I6 engine in the next generation, but for now, it was nothing but roaring V8s.
Sadly, America didn’t want something quite as large as the Charger at first. The enthusiast driving community was in the middle of their smaller pony car craze, so the comparatively giant Charger just wasn’t cutting it for them. That was all about to change though…
Gen 2. 1968 – 1970
Enter the horsepower wars, baby! Car companies were in full swing in an attempt to make the fastest, most powerful muscle car they possible could. Handling be damned! Raw power was the name of the game, and this was a game the Charger was really good at! This new generation is the Charger’s first real foray into the muscle car era.
While the horsepower wars had been going on since earlier in the 1960’s, things began to reach their peak in the late 60’s and into 1970. Dodge saw this and improved upon the monster they built. This was the era where America got its first taste of Dodge’s Road/Track (R/T) package, and it was everything you could want it to be. This R/T package was only offered with the 6.3L 440 Magnum V8 or the 7.0L 426 Hemi V8. This wasn’t a car for momma to go to the farmer’s market in. Oh no, this was the car you’d be drag racing, doing burnouts, and pissin off Boss Hogg in! This R/T was everything that the muscle car era was all about: being fast and looking sexy as f@#k.
But Dodge wasn’t even done with just that. After having disappointing results with their Charger in the NASCAR circuit, Dodge decided to go full retard with aero designs and spat out the Charger Daytona in 1969. Now, there are two types of people when it comes to the Daytona: Those who think it’s the ugliest thing in the world, and those that would make filthy, passionate love to it. I tend to fall into the latter camp, but that’s not important. Whichever camp you fell in, you can’t deny the results of Dodge’s labor. With the new aeros, the Daytona was a serious force to be reckoned with. I’d go into a lot more detail on the Daytona, but Donut Media has a video that explains it incredibly well.
Gen 3. 1971 – 1974
The third generation Charger was more or less just a continuation of the greatness that the second generation brought. Well, at least at the start.
The third Generation Charger began it’s life near the end of the muscle car era, so it still inherited quite a few things from previous generations, including the R/T package ( later renamed the Rallye). It also kept that muscle car look and flair, but as the generation went on, many of the eye popping “Hi-impact” colors and some performance options began to be discontinued. This was the beginning of the end for the muscle car era Charger.
Gen 4. 1975 – 1978
Bearing more in common to the first generation, the fourth generation Charger came out of the factory looking like what I’d imagine the 2nd gen’s grumpy old grandfather would look like. Gone were the days of racing and sport, now it’s back to being the luxury cruiser. You could still get it with a V8, but the car was nowhere near the performance specs of it’s older counterparts. The Charger had sadly become a mostly boring daily driver that Gam-gam would drive to bingo night.
Gen 5. 1981 – 1987
In 1981, the Dodge Charger was reborn! Well, kind of anyway. The Charger nameplate returned to be a package put on Dodge’s new front-wheel drive Omni, and later replacing the Omni name all together. This Charger was nothing like it’s previous models. Where there was once a roaring V8, now sat an option of four cylinder engines to power Dodge’s new three-door.
Out of any package, trim, or model of this new Charger, the one you really need to know about is the Charger Shelby Edition. That’s right, THE Carroll Shelby had a hand in making these Chargers into actual performers. The Shelby Editions were still powered by little four cylinder, but Shelby improved and tuned the little hatchback’s suspension, brakes, and gearing, allowing the car to actually be pretty sporty. Later models of the Shelby Edition Charger would include a turbocharger with the usual handling upgrades. While this didn’t take it out of the old Charger’s shadow, it did give it enough power to stand out in the hatchback market.
Shelby also made his own version of the Charger, known as the Shelby GLHS. This was more or less a Shelby Edition Charger at its peak. Everything from the top down was specially tuned by Shelby to make this the ultimate Charger (of this generation). Sadly, this still wasn’t enough to make the 5th generation Charger one of the least appreciated incarnations of the badge.
Gen 6. 2006 – 2010
The Dodge Charger was reborn… again, but this time it was somewhat closer to the classic muscle car. It brought back the V8 engine to the Charger name, along with the classic rear-wheel drive that any true muscle car needs, but there was one big change that divided fans of the Mopar classic: the four doors.
Everyone and their uncle had something negative to say about the four door Charger. You either loved the new design, or hated it with a passion that burned hotter than 2,000 suns. There seemed to be no middle ground on this new Charger. Time seems to have shown it to be popular enough, as Dodge is still working off this same concept with the Charger, so it seems the “Yeas” outweighed the “Nays”.
The Charger didn’t just come back as some standard sedan though. It came back as the sport sedan that America needed! Yea, you could always buy the boring all-wheel drive V6 version, but this car was made to be experienced with it’s R/T package or higher, with an angry V8 under the hood and two back tires screeching The Star Spangled Banner. This is a car that tempts you to do donuts in the parking lot during your son’s little league game, which is the perfect embodiment of how the old muscly Chargers were.
There was just one teensy little problem with the new Charger sedans though. You couldn’t get one in manual. This Charger was sold solely with a 5-speed automatic transmission with a “manual shifting feature”, which STILL DOESN’T COUNT!!! Other than that, it was a fantastic rebirth of an American muscle icon.
Gen 7. 2011 – Present (2018)
And now for the current generation. In the early life of the seventh generation Charger, there weren’t a lot of major changes made from the previous generation other than mostly cosmetic changes. Not too big of a gripe. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Later on though, a big performance upgrade started moving down the pipeline. Work began on a 6.2L supercharged V8 Hemi that would power both the Charger and the Challenger. Of course, we are talking about the Hellcat.
The Charger Hellcat is the epitome of what a modern Charger should be; it is the raw power of 707 horses with the refinement of a modern sport sedan. The Charger Hellcat is the type of modern muscle car that the old 1969 Charger R/T would have wet dreams about. Yes, it isn’t as powerful as the Challenger Demon, but it is still fantastic in its own right and significantly cheaper.
There was some speculation on a potential Charger Demon in the future, but with Dodge rolling the final Challenger Demon off the assembly line earlier this June, it seems that will just be a passing dream… Until Dodge decides to make something even more ridiculous, so we can get back to the busy work of wildly speculating again.