by Jerry Simcik. Used by permission. Copyright © 2007, Jerry Simcik.
Main Dodge Charger pages - 200x and 1966-1978
It was, and still is, one of the best looking cars ever made. Its name alone can strike fear into its competitors. Its components, descendants of a past and heritage as glorious and heralded as the finest of Triple Crown winners, cause others to lose their breath, their hearts to skip a beat, and their palms to sweat.
Hemi. R/T. Charger. Words that make car guys drool and other guys want to be car guys. Words that evoke thoughts of speed and power, of dominance, and of a style as timeless as time itself. So when rumors of the Charger’s return to the Dodge line-up first started circling around water coolers in 1999, the expectations were already high.
When production was approved for a 2005 model, many were surprised – if not upset – that the “New Charger,” as it is commonly known, was a four-door sedan rather than a two-door muscle car. That is the most obvious difference between the two generations of cars. So let us take a closer look at these vehicles, and find out just how much of the old is really in the New Charger.
The Charger was first a part of the Dodge line-up in 1966. The original Charger was a sleek fastback design. It was fast, and successful on the NASCAR circuit (then running stock cars) when equipped with the large Mopar big-block V8s. And while it was a great car, its sales were not what were expected. Dodge designers felt it was time for a change. Their redesign would bring us a legend.
Prior to the newest generation of Chargers, the most popular and most well recognized was the second generation. Starting in 1968, and continuing until 1970, the second generation of Chargers all shared a similar “coke bottle” shape, with only modest differences between each year. It had broad “shoulders” at the rear fenders that sat higher than the front, giving the car a more aggressive appearance. A full-width grille with hide-away headlights, fake heat extractors in the hood and doors, and an easy-access, quick-fill gas cap made sure there was no mistake – this car meant business. Its roof line, while from the side appearing a fastback, similar to its first generation cousins, was in fact deeply recessed, with two large “sails” surrounding the rear glass, a unique styling feature.
The New Charger, sadly, did not borrow from the legendary two-door coke bottle design of the second generation Chargers. It did, however, keep their buff shoulders, as the highest point on the car’s main body line is again set over the rear wheels. This constant rake (a term referring to the forward slant of an automobile) lends to the Charger’s appearance of perpetual motion. Its roof line, despite lacking some of the appeal of a hardtop due to its four-door design, is very similar to the old, but its rear glass is not nearly as recessed.
The New Charger sampled styles from several years. All old Chargers, despite having them hidden behind eye lid-like doors in the grille, had four round headlights. The New Charger also has four round headlights. The taillights of the 1969 and 1970 Chargers were long and narrow, and somewhat recessed into the rear. The 1968 taillights, however, were round, and there were two on each side. A look which, despite the lack of any type of recession, and the much higher mounting location of the more square taillights on the New Charger, is still noticeable at night and very subtly present behind the red lenses during the day.
Despite having only two doors previously, the new four-door Charger is actually shorter than its predecessor (208” in 1969: 200.1” in 2005). However, its wheelbase is 3” longer (117” in 1969: 120” in 2005), giving it a smoother ride. The New Charger is also narrower - width was 76.6” in 1969 and 74.5” in 2005 - but reaches 5” above its 1969 height of 53.2 inches. Even the earliest Chargers were full size. All Chargers could seat five passengers very comfortably, and even six in the older models if the center console was optioned out for a vinyl armrest/seat.
As far interior refinements go, the New Charger wins hand-down though. In 1969, features such as a rear glass defogger, front-wheel disc brakes, AM/FM/Cassette (or 8-Track) radio with 3 speakers, cruise control, a tachometer, and A/C were expensive options. Now they all come standard, along with driver and passenger side airbags, Electronic Stability Control, and four-wheel ABS systems. Options include in dash DVD/Navigation systems, 300-watt sound systems, power heated seats, adjustable pedals and loads of other neat gadgets and gizmos. But for all of its improvements, the New Charger’s interior still harkens to the past with its retro-styled dash and instrument cluster.
The second generation Chargers came in several different packages. There was the base Charger, the Charger SE (“Special Edition”), the infamous Charger R/T (Road & Track), and the rare NASCAR variants – the 1969 Charger 500 (which had a less recessed grille and a true fastback for better aerodynamics around the track), and the 1969½ Charger Daytona. The Charger Daytona was a Charger 500 with an additional nose cone and a tall wing on the rear. It was the first car to exceed 200mph on a NASCAR track and had less aerodynamic drag than most current vehicles. When the New Charger was released in 2005, it came in three different packages, the base-model Charger SE (now “Standard Equipment”), the Charger SXT, and the Charger R/T. The limited-production Charger Daytona and the Charger SRT-8 (Street & Racing Technology – 8 Cylinder) followed shortly thereafter in 2006.
In 1969, the base engine was the 230hp 318c.i. (5.2L) V8 (gross horsepower; net was approximately 150 hp). In 2005, the base engine was a 3.5L, 250hp V6. The second generation Chargers had several engine/transmission combinations available, from a 318 and a 3-speed automatic to a whopping 440c.i. (7.2L) Magnum engine with 375hp and a 4-speed manual, standard on the R/T models. The New Chargers were limited to only three engine choices, and one transmission (a 5-speed automatic), including even the purpose-built SRT models. The best thing, perhaps, about the New Charger was that it too got the legendary Hemi as an option. Of course, the standard 5.7L found in today’s R/Ts with 345hp lacks some of the grunt of the 426c.i. (6.9L), 425hp “Elephants” (as they were known) of yesteryear, but the SRT-8’s souped-up 6.1L Hemi produces 425hp as well.
The New Chargers definitely have the same attitude as the old ones, and while lacking some of the most infamous design characteristics, the lineage of this legendary piece of automotive history is clearly present. Dodge’s designers back in 1968 got it right. Prior to 2005, 1968 (the first year of the second generation Charger) was one of the most popular, and second-best-selling year model; Dodge sold 96,100 units – they had only planned on selling 35,000! Only the 1973 Charger sold more, with 108,000 units.
Bringing back a famous road name is a risky thing – expectations are always set higher for these cars – and Dodge took its fair share of flak for its new design from die-hard traditionalists. “A four-door Charger is not a Charger,” they say. But regardless of this, the Charger is one of today’s best-selling and most popular vehicles. It is powerful, it is fast, and it is sleek and sexy. And now it is also safer, and more efficient, and even more practical than it was before. It is the leading full-size car in America, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
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