Dodge Charger History: Quick Background on a Fast Car

The Dodge Charger is one of the most beloved V8 muscle cars in the world. Moreover, it is one of the few sacred cars to stick to its promise, namely to be a silly, tire-shredding time capsule. After over fifty years of Dodge Charger, it is only fitting that we pay tribute to the history of this larger-than-life American icon

The first-generation Dodge Charger was a big, bad car with bigger, badder attitude

Dodge Charger History: Quick Background on a Fast Car and a V8 Muscle Car like this 1966 model
A 1966 Dodge Charger leans at a corner | Getty Images

In the mid-sixties, great American manufacturers were already producing V8 muscle cars in a coupe and convertible platforms. Ford shocked the planet with its pony car, the Mustang, which the company released as a 1964 ½ model. Furthermore, Pontiac had marked success with its GTO, and Chevrolet had a dominator in the Chevelle. So what did everybody’s favorite Mopar muscle car maker do? Dodge created the 1966 Charger on a Coronet chassis. 

The car was an instant hit, featuring four V8 engine options and a sporty, sloping fastback roofline. Specifically, the first generation Dodge Charger offered a 5.2L V8, a 5.9L V8, a 6.3L V8, and a massive 7.0L Hemi V8 producing 425 horsepower. Mopar Connection Magazine says that Dodge followed the Ford initiative of using motorsport victories to boost sales. The Dodge Charger would make history at NASCAR. 

When did the first Dodge Charger compete in NASCAR?

In Dodge’s 1966 venture into NASCAR with the Charger, the big muscle car won 14 times and took the Grand National Championship. However, even with the spectacular wins under its belt, the 1967 model year saw a sales slump that worried Dodge executives. 

The second-generation Dodge Charger is one of the most famous silhouettes in cinema

Dodge Charger History: Quick Background on a Fast Car like this Charger in Bullitt
A Dodge Charger jumps a San Francisco hill in Bullitt | Getty Images

Armed with timeless coke-bottle lines, a fastback roofline, and that sinister hideaway headlight front fascia, the 1968 Dodge Charger came out swinging. The second generation, running from 1968 to 1970, is the immortal Hollywood star of movies like Bullitt and The Fast and the Furious. Given the menacing aesthetic, it makes sense that filmmakers would opt for the villainous Dodge muscle car. 

However, even more intimidating than the styling, the Charger now packed an optional 7.2L V8. Furthermore, V8 muscle car fans could rejoice at the inception of the Dodge Charger 500 and eventually the unmistakable Charger Daytona. The Daytona would famously smash an oval racing record by rocketing to over 200 mph. 

The Charger is dead, long live the Charger

After a short tenure, Dodge seemed to be hit pretty hard by the global oil crisis of 1973. Producing and owning proper V8 muscle cars seemed untenable. In a parade of model years that MotorTrend calls “Meh,” the Charger appeared to phone it in. Finally, in 1978, Dodge put the iconic vehicle out of production. 

The 1980s brought several attempts at more economical Chargers, including a collaboration between Lee Iacocca and the American motorsport royalty himself, Carroll Shelby. The team-up produced several small-engine Chargers, including a turbocharged variant. However, 1987 saw the Dodge Charger recede into history again, this time for a count. 

When did Charger come back?

The 2006 Charger saw a rebirth of the iconic V8 muscle car
A red 2006 Dodge Charger | Stan Honda, Getty Images

The Dodge Charger’s history continued with a vengeance in 2005. At first, DaimlerChrysler dreamt up the Charger sedan to accompany the Dodge Magnum wagon. However, it soon became clear that the reborn Dodge Charger had a market of its own. The cascade of horsepower started with an R/T model and an SRT8 producing 425 angry ponies from a 6.1L V8. 

Dodge Charger History: Quick Background on a Fast Car and a V8 Muscle Car
A Dodge Charger Hellcat | Roberto Machado, Getty Images

Dodge started kicking things up to the levels we now know and love in 2011. Bigger and bigger powerplants made their way into the stable. Additionally, along with a redesign in 2015, the Charger met the Hellcat. The Dodge Charger made history with a from-the-factory 707 horsepower V8 for the first time. If that wasn’t enough, the latest Chargers, like the Hellcat Redeye, will destroy all tires with nearly 800 horsepower. 

The Dodge Charger is more than a four-door sedan or muscle car. It is an American institution. 

Scroll down to the following article to read more about a recent Dodge Charger that stays true to its roots. 
RELATED: Safety: Is the 2022 Dodge Charger a Deathtrap?