When the Charger name first appeared, this high end trimline of the Dodge Dart was powered by a meager 180 horsepower, 273 cubic inch engine and struggled with its intended competition, the new Ford Mustang. The Charger name was popular, however, so the 1966 Dodge Charger was given a chance with a new body and soul, and eventually, a powerful new heart – the Hemi.
The gearheads of the mid 1960’s were quite taken by the “fastback” body
style; so Chrysler began with the B-body platform, adding a fastback
layout that seemed to stretch back forever over a set of long quarter
panels. The front end got a set of dual headlights that hide away under
the slotted chrome grill. The Charger was intended to be a four seat
sports car, and the interior follows that trend thanks to a four bucket
seat layout, and to add extra functionality to the sport minded seating
the rear seats fold down, allowing the trunk to extend into the
passenger area for added cargo room. The body and interior gave the
physical presence of the new 1966 Dodge Charger, but the soul was
provided by what was packed under the hood. The entry level engine of
the Charger was a 230 horsepower 318 V8, with the 383cu big block
making 335 horsepower being the first upgrade. The premium engine for
the 1966 Charger needs little introduction, as when someone says the
word “Charger,” word association will lead almost every automotive
enthusiast to reply “Hemi”.
The 1967 Hemi Charger
The Hemi engine had been introduced by Chrysler in 1951 and saw its
introduction to the Dodge lineup in 1953 as the Coronet. Measuring just
241 cubic inches and making only 180 horsepower, the early Hemi was
mild in comparison to the 426. Based on the success of the smaller
displacement Hemi engines, Chrysler began working on a high performance
model for their racing program. So in 1963, the first 426 Hemi was
tested and in 1964 the Hemi began tearing up the NHRA and NASCAR. The
1966 birth of the Hemi Charger marked the first time that the touted
426 Hemi was available in a production street car. With a stated
horsepower of 425, the Hemi was well known to be underrated from the
actual power output that was much closer to 500. The 426 Hemi option in
the 1966 Charger was a $1,000 upgrade over the $3,122 base price;
considering that high price, only 468 Hemi Chargers were made that
first year. The Charger was not just intended to be an insanely quick
street car, its use in the NASCAR program was a focus during
development due to the ban on Hemi engines from the 1965 NASCAR series.
Those efforts proved to be a success as David Pearson piloted his Hemi
powered 1966 Charger to a Grand National Series championship. The
Charger was a hit on both the track and the street, and the 426 Hemi
was a big part of that popularity. The Charger had the spirit of a
performance car, but Dodge packed it full of luxury items such as front
and rear center consoles, leather interior, air conditioning, power
windows, and full interior carpeting. It was truly the ideal car for
someone who wanted a high performance car without compromising comfort.
1967 saw the introduction of another performance engine to the Charger
lineup, as the 440 Magnum was offered as the standard engine in the
Charger R/T, but with only 375 horsepower – the Hemi was still the most
powerful engine. Other than the new engine, there were no major changes
to the Hemi Charger in ’67, but sales dropped to just 118 units. One of
the other major reasons attached to the low sales of the Hemi (other
than the 30% price increase over the 383) was the difference in the
warranty. Chrysler was one of the pioneer companies in offering a 5
year/50,000 mile warranty, but this was not available on the Hemi
Charger, which came with only a 1 year/12,000 mile warranty and there
was a stipulation on the Hemi Charger (and most other vehicles at the
time) that any evidence of abusing the vehicle (such as drag racing or
other closed circuit racing) immediately voided the entire warranty.
Chrysler was so serious about this, that company representatives were
sent to drag strips around the country to record the license plates and
vehicle identification numbers of Chrysler products at the track.
The 1966 and 1967 Charger had proven their worth on the track and on
the street, but the public wanted more sports car out of their Charger,
so Dodge was back to the drawing board with a promise of a new and
improved Dodge Charger.
The 1968-1970 Hemi Charger
When the 1968 Dodge Charger was released to the public, it was exactly
what everyone had been asking for out of Dodge’s flagship performance
car. The Charger’s projected sales figures were in the 35,000 ballpark,
but by the end of the 1968 model year over 96,000 Chargers had been
sold, which included 467 Hemi Chargers. The new body style has commonly
become known as the “coke bottle design”, and the long, flowing body
became an icon of the muscle car era. There were cues of the original
Charger, like the fastback and hide away headlights, the 1968 body
style was more rounded than the previous generation. The 1968 426 Hemi
received a few upgrades in the form of a camshaft with more duration
and stronger valve springs, as well as a revision to the oiling system,
as some owners complained of the Hemi’s heavy oil usage; but even with
these upgrades Dodge still advertised only 425 horsepower.
The 1969 Charger saw the addition of the Charger 500 trimline, which
had a different grille than the other Chargers and the rear window was
flush, was designed in accordance with NASCAR regulations on
production, and these changes had been needed for the race teams so 67
lucky buyers were able to order a 1969 Dodge Hemi Charger 500. Dodge
also introduced another race-ready model in 1969, and the Dodge Charger
Daytona has grown to be one of the most well known performance cars of
all time thanks in part to the unique front fascia and huge rear
spoiler which were both shared with the Plymouth Superbird. The
standard engine of the Daytona was the 440 Magnum, but there were 70
Hemi powered Daytona’s sold in 1969.
1970 offered the US a new grille design, with a partition running
horizontally along the center of the grille where in ’69 id had run
vertically. The Charger 500 was no longer a “race model”, as it was not
used in NASCAR any more with the success of the “wing cars”, so the 500
dissolved into the base model as little more than an upgrade package.
The 1969 Charger Daytona has become a legend, but at the time the car
struggled on the street with handling and overheating issues, so it was
only offered for one year, as in 1970 Plymouth took the RoadRunner and
added similar modifications to fix the prior issues. This left the
Charger R/T as the premium performance model, with a new 440 “six-pack”
making 390 horsepower, but even with the extra power the 426 Hemi was
still the king of the Charger lineup. The high price of the Hemi
Charger, as well as competition from everywhere (including other
Chrysler products like the Hemi RoadRunner) slowed sales to just 42
units in 1970.
The Final Hemi Charger?
When the 1971 Dodge Chargers rolled out, they had received another huge
facelift. The front end featured a wrap around integrated bumper,
similar to those seen on the Pontiac GTO during that era. Power was
down with all of the engines except the 426 Hemi, as a looming fuel
crisis and climbing gas prices combined with new government
restrictions on engine emissions to suffocate the performance market.
Ford and GM adapted their performance cars with vehicles like the
Camaro and Mustang going the route of 4-cylinder models found in the
70’s. Chrysler would eventually opt to remove the models altogether but
not without a fight.
The 1971 Hemi Charger had an even fuller look than the previous
generation Charger and the options of the R/T and Super Bee, either of
which could be selected with the Hemi. There were a total of 85 Hemi
Chargers sold in 1971, with 13 of them being automatic transmission
Super Bees; 9 being 4-speed manual transmission Super Bees; 33 being
automatic R/T’s; 30 being 4-speed manual R/T’s. The fastback style had
become even less extreme, and was nearing a coupe more than a fastback,
but overall, the original look of the 1966 Hemi Charger was preserved
through the 1971 Hemi Charger, and these cars, although low in
production, made a name for themselves that will never fade.
The Charger would go on with production in 1972, but without the Hemi.
By the 1978 model year, the Charger’s most powerful engine was a 200
horsepower 4 barrel carbed 360 small block. The Charger would next
return as a front wheel drive compact in the 1980’s; once those faded
away, the Charger name seemed to simply go away.
The New Hemi Charger
Amidst rumors of a Dodge Charger renaissance in 2005, the Chrysler
Corporation announced that the mighty Charger would be returning to the
lineup. A few years prior, the Hemi had returned in the form of a 5.7L
motor in the Dodge Ram, and portions of the news of the new Dodge
Charger included a Hemi model. Then it was official: the 2006 Dodge
Charger would return to the world as a Hemi Charger.
The 2006 Dodge Charger was offered with a 2.7L and 3.5L V6, but the
most commonly chosen engine would be the 5.7L Hemi making 345
horsepower. Some Mopar faithful were unhappy about the fact that the
Charger was offered only as a sedan, but that hardly slowed sales any.
Following the vintage theme through the trimlines, the Charger Daytona
offered 350 horsepower, with current spoiler sitting some 3 feet lower
than the original. Also featuring a suspension and tire upgrade, the
2006 Hemi powered Dodge Charger Daytona R/T was offered in Go Man Go!,
Top Banana, and TorRed. The biggest news for the 2006 Charger was the
SRT-8 trimline, which, like the original Hemi Chargers, came packed
with a 425 horsepower Hemi. Now measuring 6.1L (the 426 measured 7.0L),
tests have proven that the 425 rating is still fairly low, and even
though this new Charger is a sedan devoid of a manual transmission
option, the 2006 Hemi Chargers quickly made a name for themselves among
the top performance cars of the day.
2007 gave us another classic trimline as the Charger Super Bee
returned. Packed with the SRT-8’s 6.1L Hemi, this 425 horsepower beast
featured the classic Super Bee badging, along with interior, exterior,
and brake system upgrades. Offered only in Detonator Yellow, all 1000
units are identical to each other. The Daytona R/T was back for 2007,
this time offered in only Sublime and Plum Crazy, with the same options
as the 2006 Daytona models.
The 2008 Dodge Charger brought more of the same, with the SRT-8 Charger
leading the way as far as performance. The popularity of the Charger
grew even with continuously climbing gas prices. The Daytona R/T
returned, offered strictly in Hemi Orange, and the Super Bee in B5
Blue. Dodge also hinted at the future of the Hemi Charger, when
attention was directed at the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT-8, which
offered almost all of the options of the Charger in a coupe form.
Only time will tell what will happen with the Dodge Charger, which has
managed to stay popular even during long periods of non-production. And
thanks to the powerful Hemi engine, the Dodge Charger has become a
sought after car in the American muscle car market once again.- Patrick Rall