The heart of the Dodge Charger is a cross between an evolutionary family car and primal muscle car. In a way, it was an accident of history which occurred when Dodge had the right ideas as the muscle car phenomenon was taking off. Rather than messing with their lineup, Dodge put their existing Dodge Dart/Coronet designs to work in a new name. From the 1966 version to current models, it has represented the spirit of American car culture. It was driven both by innovation in car design. And by the ability of enthusiasts to take stock vehicles and make them their own. Much of the Charger story is people developing their personalized versions for show or competition.
The Dodge Charger has had so many lives with both successful and mediocre generations. This beast sticks in the mind's eye of people around the globe. Even if you've never seen any of the varieties of Charger up close, you surely know one from TV and film roles including the Dukes of Hazzard and The Fast and Furious.
Continue scrolling to keep reading
Click the button below to start article in quick view
The Charger's design evolved based on a starting point in the early 1960s. Looks that evolved as part of the muscle car era were incorporated into it along with the "fastback" styling which gave an appearance of speed and added aerodynamic advantages. As Dodge flirted with the racetrack, the styling of the Daytona look joined the Charger family. The Daytona name returned in the mid-70s and early 2000s to grace specific models of the Charger and special styling trends. Attempts to anticipate market trends resulted in strong styling changes - sometimes bringing the Charger to the edge of extinction as sales dropped, something which has happened at most American car companies in their chase for the fickle car buyer's desires. When Charger returned to its heritage of clear character, simple lines and impressive power, the magic returned which has kept it going for over 50 years, with a few gaps.
There's a mix of aggressive head-down attitude, sleek aerodynamic lines and the clear indication that something powerful is under the hood and under the control of the driver that adds up to the muscle car mystique. Funny, though, how some cars like the Rambler and Nova didn't go all-in for the look and still took important places in the muscle car pantheon. This may have been one of Charger's strengths. It has been many things over five decades and embraced by many generations, all for the love of power and how it's delivered to the road. From a basic 60s mid-sized car to the L-body subcompact of the 1980s and now the full-size modern pavement grabber, it has captured the imagination.
The Charger did show some attitude, but another side to its design was the playful color choices, especially in the distant past and recent years. Modern Chargers are flamboyant with color, even in the engine compartment. The interiors are powerful with bright colors and designs, and the advent of LED lighting has allowed night-time light bursts as well. Early Dodge Chargers along with several Plymouth models such as the Roadrunner used paint schemes. Orange (Go Mango) was a classic Charger color along with Plum Metallic and Light Blue Metallic, Lime Green Metallic and Burnt Orange Metallic. Bright Red was a staple as well. Other more subdued colors such as Beige were available. Designers played with body lines and kept redesigning the front end and grille so that a Charger fan can usually tell what year he or she is looking at with a glance. Certain years such as the 1969 model hit a sweet spot and captured the national imagination when they were featured in media.
This Dodge Charger 500, an early model, shows the strong dual-headlight front end looks powerful in daylight and raises sweat at night when it pulls up behind another car. The grille looks like a large boxy mouth, rather than a simple array of chrome with two innocent headlamps looking out. When the headlights were brought out and the grille outlined in chrome in the 1973 model, some of the aggression was removed. At the time, Charger sales peaked but interestingly, 60 percent of sales were the non-performance model. The Charger was entering a more "fashion-conscious" period.
As if V-8 muscle car power wasn't enough, the Ice Charger from the movie The Fate of the Furious added flame-ejecting turbine power similar to that of the 1960s TV Batmobile. Mods for performance and resto-mods in which the car is restored and also modified to fit the restorer's fantasies have produced many unusual and amazing Charger variations. Stock restored Chargers have long been in starring roles including Bullitt, The Dukes of Hazzard and more. Recently, the new generation of Charger appears in film and TV, with repeating cameos on the new reboot of Magnum, P.I. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, over 700 hp strong, especially seems to capture filmmaker's imaginations.
The modern Dodge Charger with its aggressive look and comfortable interior makes an excellent police cruiser as the Dodge Charger Pursuit. It's not the only FCA (Dodge's parent company) product which is sold in a police package: the Durango and other vehicles are as well. The Michigan State Police reportedly tested competing vehicles and listed the Charger as the fastest American police car. That was before special versions of the Charger SRT Hellcat were created for police pursuit use.
Powder blue, comfortable, with room for an average family, the Charger of the 1960s was also a potential family car. It's important to remember that many of the muscle cars of the time were crossovers from full-size family sedans and even a few station wagons. The modern Charger was reviewed by USA Today in 2015 as "A Family-Size Sedan with a Real Personality." It seems a sensible conclusion -- Euro-style performance sedans, wagons and SUVs or crossovers from BMW, Audi and others present the same question of whether a child seat belongs in a vehicle with that much horsepower and handling.
The Charger is well-instrumented for effective driving in special situations, but in the spirit of good engineering, keeps things only as complex as they need to be. It gives the car a clean look from the driver's position, provides dynamic feedback about the performance, and has easily accessible controls. What's interesting is that, in the modern Charger, the new electronic controls and instruments have the same kind of clean, focused performance-and-power look. Nothing added just for visual effect here.
The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is drawing a lot of attention from unexpected quarters. Utah armored car specialist Armormax usually has to add performance upgrades to vehicles which carry their heavy armor plating and bulletproof glass. With over 700 horsepower in the Hellcat version, the Charger fit the bill quite nicely. The company provides police pursuit vehicles using this platform with an array of options including B7-level bulletproof protection, explosion protection, smoke screens, individual protection of key car elements such as battery and ECM and specific VIP and driver protection. Basically, they make a police car designed to catch up to the bad guys and take nearly anything they dish out in the process. Not a bad use for a Charger -- but then again, it's already been done plenty of times in the movies.
Since the 1966 introduction of the first generation Dodge Charger, Hemi engines have been an option. And one any serious buyer had to have. Actor and comedian Jon Reep did a 2004 commercial which introduced the classic question, "that thing got a Hemi?" In the commercial, it's the Charger being towed by a Dodge Ram pickup that's the subject of discussion. It turns out the Ram has one too. This reference to a classic engine design with hemispherical combustion chambers caught on for a while to the point where computer guys were putting "yeah, it's got a Hemi." bumper stickers on their PC cases and farmers were putting them on their tractors.
The shuttered headlights featured on other cars of the time, including the Lincoln Continental, found their way into the classic divided oval front end of the Charger. Given the need to protect headlight glass during racing, this is a practical design as well. It's hard to say which is the chicken and which is the egg, but as muscle car design evolved, Charger was certainly one of the more notable models, defining the basic lines and becoming iconic over time.
A series of movies which began with The Fast and the Furious chose to include among several classic vehicles a "blown" 1970 Dodge Charger with a fierce appearance. This has brought classic Charge style and power into the mainstream two decades into the 21st century, putting a 50-year old car into toy shops, on posters and in the hearts of young gearheads.
One modern variation in the Charger line is the Scat Pack R/T, a throwback to the late 60s along with the Super Bee variation. It's been revived in recent models as a name for a not-quite-hellcat horsepower level of the Charger. Dodge was famous for odd naming such as the Dart Swinger and Demon in the 60s -- Demon was revived recently for another high-end horsepower offering.
This 1967 Dodge Charger shows key changes from the styling of, say, a 1964 Plymouth Fury. The front end of the car still holds on to the boxy, squared-off appearance but from the windshield on the back, the roofline, fastback, even door and quarter panel lines all start to take on a life of their own and follow a windblown direction. The car color isn't a nice soothing aqua blue or seafoam green; it's bright and definitive red. The wheels and tires are aggressive, and the windows have a touch of the privacy which opera-style rear windows give. Rather than a car for transportation, for the whole family, Charger looks ready to run. The sound and the acceleration would provide even more evidence that this is a car whose changes created a feeling which carried forward through fifty-plus years. There have been generations of new ideas, styles, engines, responses to government restrictions and fuel shortages and new power technologies which all have traced back to when this model broke free of the staid foursquare car of the early 60s.
The simple addition of proportionally larger rear tires emphasizes the head down expression of the Charger. From the classic Chargers of the movie The Fast and the Furious to modern Hellcats and Demons, quarter-mile times are another part of the car's history. This is where owners and mechanics put their expertise into the stock engine and drivetrain and produce the best results they can. Newer high-power models such as the Hellcat include launch control which helps achieve zero-to-sixty times as low as 3.5 seconds. The variety of available Chrysler engines have encouraged owners to customize their Dodge Charger for the performance tests of their preference.
In a way, this 2016 Charger interior is not that different from the 60's interior photo shown previously. The car is available with electronic gauges now but features just the ones the driver needs along with well-placed controls. In contrast to the arcade-style impression that status indicators often take, the complex electronics of the 21st-century Charger keep the driver's mind focused.
Thanks in large part to the movie The Fast and the Furious, the classic Charger is making a comeback. The thrill of powerful machines and the skilled men and women who operate them and maintain them continues. This particular toy was found in a store in Asia -- many of the other photos in this list are from throughout the world as well.
If the 1969 Charger and Charger Daytona were not immortalized enough in so many ways, the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp ca. 2013 portraying this car in all its glory. Like Elvis, the Space Shuttle, Marilyn Monroe and many Presidents, it is preserved for collectors to remember.
Certainly, the exterior has received some amazing paint jobs and is available from the factory in dazzling colors with metallic components which draw and scatter light, but the engine art is amazing. In the process of restoring older Chargers, owners usually clean and correct the engine compartment but this nearly-neon display of equipment and connections is amazing.
The Dodge Charger has been idolized in movies and TV and lovingly restored in private garages around the world. The Charger's many lives have inspired generations to love the car. And not just from afar. One of the most important aspects of this car's long life has been how personal it is for many people. The memories, the work they've done on it, the competitions they've driven in, even just owning and polishing any of the seven generations -- the Charger won't ever be handed down in the same vein as your grandmother's heirloom China, and it rightfully shouldn't be. The Charger belongs in garages and on posters ready to tear down the blacktop. Your grandmother's heirloom China only comes out for Christmas, and it'd be useless on the road.