Debuting in 1966, the Dodge Charger was originally a 2-door fastback with four bucket seats. It shared some components including front-end sheetmetal with the intermediate B-platform Coronet. It looked very similar in styling to the AMC Rambler Marlin, which priced in at $250 less than the Charger. However, it looked better and some called it a “good-looking Marlin”.
First Generation 1966-1967
The Charger didn’t initially begin with a high-performance image even though it was a fastback body…and you could get a 425 HP 426 Hemi as an option, but only 468 of those were built in ’66. Most ’66 Chargers were equipped with either the base 230 HP 2-barrel 318, the 265 HP 2-barrel 361, or the 325 HP 4-barrel 383. Unlike other sporty Dodge models, there was initially no slant-six engine option for Charger.
The front end was dominated by an “electric shaver” grill with hidden headlights similar to the Mercury Cougar that would debut a year later, and the rear sported a full-width taillight assembly with chrome CHARGER lettering. Inside was a full-length console that separated the bucket seats front and rear. The four gauges on the instrument panel were electroluminescent and lit up blue when the headlights were on.
Dodge immediately took the Charger racing in NASCAR, thinking that the fastback body would give an aerodynamic advantage on high-banked super speedways. However, the body itself generated lift and was difficult to handle at high speeds, early NASCAR Charger drivers likened it to driving on ice. Dodge fitted the trunk of the race cars with a small spoiler that gave enough downforce to make the car manageable at super speedway speeds. Due to NASCAR rules they had to offer the spoiler as a dealer-installed option, making the ’66 Charger the first US production vehicle to offer a spoiler.
There were few changes for 1967. The full-length center console was dropped because of customer complaints about back-seat entry and exit. Fender-mounted turn signals were pretty much all the differentiated a ’67 from a ’66 externally. Vinyl roofs became available for the first time. Under the hood the base 230 HP 318 became a “Wedge” engine with wedge-shaped combustion chambers. The 361 was dropped and the 440 Magnum was added, rated at 375 HP. The 383 was still available as well with a 2-barrel making 270 HP or a 4-barrel, making 325 HP. The 425 HP 426 Hemi was still king of the pack, although they made even fewer ’67 Hemi Chargers than ’66 with 118 produced.
Second Generation 1968-1970
In 1968 they completely re-designed the Charger with a more “Coke-bottle” profile and a tunneled rear window flanked by “flying buttress” C-pillars. Everyone who watched The Dukes Of Hazzard in the ’70s, watched the movie Bullitt or more recently the Fast And Furious franchise knows what this generation of Charger looks like. It is the most iconic of all the generations.
A rear bench seat replaced the rear buckets of the first generation. The 318 was dropped as the base engine in favor of the 225 slant-six. The two 383 options with two or four-barrel carbs were unchanged.
The new R/T (Road/Track) performance package was introduced that came with a standard 375 HP 440 Magnum engine with the 425 HP 426 Hemi as an option. Chrysler also began advertising “Scat Pack” models that had a cartoon bee with an engine on the back. The Coronet R/T, Super Bee, Charger R/T and Dart GTS all had the cartoon bee and “Bumble Bee” stripes across the rear.
’69 saw a center divider in the grill and longitudinal taillights replacing the round ones on the ’68. A new trim level called “SE” was introduced that offered leather front seat inserts, chrome rocker panel molding, a wood grain steering wheel and wood grain inserts on the instrument panel. The SE package offered an optional sunroof but only 260 were so equipped.
A 290 HP 383 2-barrel and 330 HP 383 4-barrel were still available in non R/T models.
The re-designed Charger with the tunneled rear window failed to beat the Fords in the ’68 NASCAR season because the window caused lift and the gaping grill induced drag. ’69 production models had the same issues, so Dodge made the window flush with the roofline and put a ’68 Coronet grill on the front of their NASCAR entries for ’69. The resulting modifications forced them to introduce a new model, the Charger 500.
The literature stated that the 426 Hemi was the standard engine as on the NASCAR entries, but in reality the 375 HP 440 Magnum was standard on the production models with an optional 425 HP 426 Hemi. Out of 392 ’69 Charger 500s produced only 67 had the Hemi, 27 with the optional 4-speed transmission and 40 with the standard Torqueflite automatic.
The Charger 500 was still not winning despite the flush rear window and different grill. Dodge decided to improve the Charger 500 aerodynamics even further by adding a drooping fiberglass nose to the front, reverse scoops on the front fenders that reduced drag by 3% and a massive 23-inch tall wing in the rear so that it would ride in clean air on the racetrack…thus the Charger Daytona was born and they quickly had over 1000 orders, but only 543 were produced, 40 of those being for Canada.
The racing Daytonas all had 426 Hemis, but production models had a standard 375 HP 440 Magnum as on the Charger 500, with the 426 Hemi as an option. The 4-speed manual transmission was a no-cost option if one ordered the Hemi.
The Charger Daytona was only produced for 1969 as the decision was made to make the similar Plymouth Superbird variant of the Road Runner the only winged car for 1970. 1969 Daytonas were still raced in the 1970 NASCAR season and one was the only legal car to run over 200 MPH that year, a record that stood for over 13 years. Only one Daytona raced in 1971, in the Daytona 500, because the Daytonas and Superbirds were so successful and the designs were exceeding the tire and safety technology of the time. NASCAR decreed that winged cars would be limited to 305 cubic inch displacement for 1971, rendering them uncompetitive against big-block equipped rivals like the Ford Torino Talladega.
The 1970 Chargers has a wraparound front bumper and the center grill divider was gone. The headlight doors were now electric instead of vacuum-operated. High-back bucket seats graced the interior and the ignition switched was moved to the steering column from the dashboard. The glove compartment now had hinges on the bottom instead of the top. A pistol grip shifter and bench front seat were optional. “High Impact” colors with names like Top Banana, Panther Pink and Plum Crazy became available in ’70.
A new engine was offered: a 390 HP 440 Six Pack with three two-barrel carbs, previously used on the ’69 Dodge Super Bee and Plymouth Road Runner. Other engine options remained the same.
Third Generation 1971-1974
The Charger was re-styled again for 1971 with a more fuselage-like design shared by the remodeled Plymouth Road Runner and Satellite Sebring and a split grill again. The hood featured a pop-up hood scoop above the air cleaner controlled by a vacuum switch under the dash. A 1971-only Citron Yella “High Impact” color was also offered.
The 500, R/T and SE trims were carried over from 1970 but higher insurance costs and rising gas prices killed R/T sales, with only 63 being sold with Hemis and 2,659 with other engines. This was the final year for the 440 Six Pack as well for the same reasons, as well as the Super Bee. The Super Bee was offered with a 235 HP 2-barrel or 275 HP 4-barrel 340 cubic inch engine as an alternative to the lower-compression 300 HP 383.
The 290 HP 383 2-barrel and 330 HP 383 4-barrel were still available, but a 383 Magnum engine utilizing a different cam profile and different valve springs as well as a windage tray in the oil pan became available. The modifications only gave a 5 HP advantage over the 383 4-barrel. Both engines used the 440 Magnum’s Carter AVS carb and larger exhaust manifolds.
In 1972 the new “Rallye” option replaced the R/T and the 383 was replaced with a lower-compression 255 SAE Net HP 4-barrel 400 engine. The 440 engine was still available but with lower compression and 280 SAE Net HP. Hardened valve seats on all engines permitted the use of unleaded fuel or regular leaded fuel instead of the premium leaded fuel required by previous engines. A 440 Six-Pack was advertised, but in reality it could not meet the more stringent 1972 emissions laws and only a handful were produced by September 1971. A pistol-grip Hurst 4-speed manual could be had with the 340, 400 and 440 Magnum engine.
The only remaining “High Impact” colors were Hemi Orange and Top Banana.
The 1973 Chargers looked similar to the ’71-’72 models but were in fact longer, wider and slightly taller. The hidden headlights were gone, replaced with four open headlights with squared-off bezels and the front bumpers conformed to the new Federal 5-MPH crash standard. The SE trim featured a canopy-style vinyl roof with three small opera windows on each side. The 318, a 2-barrel 360, a 260 HP 400 and a 280 HP 440 engine were available; the 340 was only available in Rallye trim. 60% of 1973 models sold had non high-performance engines.
1974 saw few changes except the 340 was replaced with a 4-barrel 360 as the small-block “performance” engine. All other engine options remained the same. A four-speed manual transmission was still available with the 440 engine.
The Charger was becoming less of a performance car and more of a personal luxury model. 1974 was the last year for performance engine options until the 2006 re-introduction.
Fourth Generation 1975-1978
In 1975 the Chrysler B-Body received a heavy restyling reflecting the end of the performance era and the beginning of the personal luxury era for the Charger. It now shared a body with the more upscale Chrysler Cordoba, and the SE trim was the only one offered. The standard engine was the 180 HP small-block 360 2-barrel, but was available with a 150 HP 318 and three versions of the 400 cubic inch big-block, each making only 190 HP.
1976 saw the Charger range expanded to four offerings; the base Charger, the Charger Sport, the SE and the Charger Daytona which was an appearance-only package and bore no resemblance to the 1969 model of the same name. It was available with a 360 or 400 cubic inch engine.
In 1977 the base Charger and Charger Sport morphed into the Dodge Monaco and were dropped from the Charger line, leaving only the SE and Daytona.
1978 was the final year for the B-Body Charger as the Magnum replaced the Charger as Dodge’s personal luxury car. Only 2,735 Chargers were produced, likely in an effort to use up leftover 1977 parts.
Fifth Generation 1981-1987
In 1981 and 1982, the Charger name returned as a performance package for the subcompact L-Body Dodge Omni 024 with an 84 HP 2.2 liter engine as opposed to the 70 HP 1.7 liter in the 024. In 1983 the 024 was renamed Charger and kept the 2.2 liter engine and graphics, with racer and car builder Carroll Shelby developing a 107 HP sporty version later in the year, the Dodge Shelby Charger.
1984 saw quad headlights further differentiating the Charger from its Omni origins. The Dodge Shelby Chargers got a new turbocharged engine in 1985. In 1986 the previous 107 HP Shelby engine was available in base Chargers.
1987 was the final year for the Omni-based Charger with the Shelby Charger Turbo (not Dodge) getting a real performance engine (by ’80s standards, anyway) in the form of a 174 HP “Turbo II” powerplant, of which 2,011 were produced. The GLHS Special version of the Shelby pushed the turbocharged, intercooled 2.2 liter engine to a staggering 289 HP and 274 ft. lb. of torque. That mill drove the sub-2,500 lb. Shelby from 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, not bad for the ’80s.
I never drove the Shelby Charger but a Navy shipmate did buy a Charger 2.2 in 1983 and let me drive it. It was a fun little car despite its lack of horsepower and handled decently. He still had it 14 years later. I was able to rent a Dodge Shadow-based Shelby CSX in 1988 with the same 174 HP turbo engine as the ’87 Shelby Charger (not the GLHS). It was a rev-happy little hot rod that I was very sad to give back after 3 days because I had to return to driving my little 45 HP, 1.3 liter ’72 VW Beetle.
Sixth Generation 2006-2010
The re-designed Dodge Charger was introduced at the 2005 North American Automobile Show and debuted as a 4-door sedan rear-wheel drive 2006 model, the first rear-wheel drive Dodge since the 1989 Diplomat. It was available as a base model with a 178 HP 2.7 liter V-6, an SE and SXT model with the 250 HP Chrysler 3.5 liter V-6 or an R/T model with the 340 HP 5.7 liter Hemi V-8. The Charger Daytona featured a 350 HP version of the 5.7 liter Hemi and could be had in colors like “GO MAN GO!”, “TOP BANANA” and “TOR.RED” that were an homage to the bold “Hi-Impact” colors of the early ’70s. Two of those “Hi-Impact” names were resurrected in 2007, “Sub Lime Green” and “Plum Crazy Purple”.
2007 saw the introduction of all-wheel drive. A Super Bee version also debuted this year in “Detonator Yellow” with “Super Bee” graphics on the rear fenders reminiscent of the ’70s logos, limited to 1000 units. In 2008 the color changed to B5 Blue, and in 2009 the Super Bee color changed again to Hemi Orange. The 2008 model was again limited to 1000 cars, but in 2009 only 425 Hemi Orange Super Bees were produced. In 2010 the SRT8 model featured a 6.1 liter, 425 HP Hemi V-8, the same engine that debuted in the Super Bee 3 years earlier.
Some NASCAR teams raced a car with the same sheetmetal as this Charger from 2005 to 2012.
Seventh Generation 2011-Present
The 2011 model got a makeover with a new front fascia, new taillights and single large scallops on the doors reminiscent of the twin scallops on the second generation cars. It could be had in base, SRT8, Super Bee and R/T trims. Engine choices were the 292 HP 3.6 liter V-6, a 370HP 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 and 470 HP 6.1 liter Hemi V-8 in the SRT8, Super Bee and R/T. Charger Police vehicles were now being sold to LE fleets around the country.
Penske Racing built 2 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars for the 2013 season but they ultimately switched to Ford. Dodge was unsuccessful in interesting other Sprint Cup teams on the design despite positive track testing and reviews in the press.
In 2013 the Charger Daytona version of the R/T was back with corresponding badging on the rear and a choice of 4 colors: Daytona Blue, Bright White, Billet Silver and Pitch Black. An all-wheel drive version of the SXT, SXT Plus, R/T and R/T Plus versions debuted this year also.
2014 saw the previous Daytona-only colors of TorRed and Plum Crazy available on all Charger models as well as Header Orange. Also available was a Scat Pack version with a cold air intake, cat-back exhaust an “optimized” 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 and appropriate badging.
2015 saw a facelift in the form of a rounder nose and grill and rounded LED headlights. The 3.7 liter V-6 and 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 were the only engine options on standard Chargers. A new SRT Hellcat version got the same 707HP supercharged Hemi as the Challenger SRT Hellcat. The new Charger SRT 392 got a 485HP 6.2 liter Hemi V-8, as did the R/T Scat Pack which took the place of the Super Bee.
For 2020, the Widebody package included wider fender flares, Bilstein adaptive suspension, larger brake rotors with 6-piston calipers and stiffer anti-roll bars
For 2021 a SRT Hellcat Redeye version was introduced with a 797HP supercharged 6.2 liter Hemi V-8, essentially the same engine as the 808HP Challenger Demon. An upgraded ZF 8-speed automatic gets all that power and torque to the rear wheels.