The Dodge Charger - Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review - Muscle Car

The Dodge Charger – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

Car Models


Written by Elise

1st October 2020

The Dodge Charger – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review
Blog   >    Car Models   >   The Dodge Charger – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

The Dodge Charger – Classic Muscle Car 2020 Review

By Lucy Hotchkiss

The classic Dodge Charger has been held as a pristine example of what American muscle cars mean for years; a glossy, thunderous exterior contrasted with the raw power of a high-performance engine has captivated a long lineage of car lovers globally. But how did a mere concept car become the muscle car? And how does it compare to other Dodge gems?

A Failed Rebellion

When the first generation of Dodge Charger emerged in mid-1966, it had a pretty frosty reception. Arising from difficulty competing with Ford in sale numbers, the first Dodge Chargers were essentially a fastback version of the already-existing B-body Coronet and for a higher price. 

Proclaimed the “Leader of the Dodge Rebellion” at its Rose Bowl Parade debut, Dodge’s high hopes for their new model quickly fell flat. In the first year, only 37,344 Chargers sold. In 1967, this number slipped to a dismal 15,788. 

With America’s adoration focused on hugely popular pony cars such as the Ford Mustang, the clunky Charger was a mere stranger to many. The Charger found itself friendless at Nascar races too, with drivers claiming “it was like driving on ice” due to the body’s tendency to generate lift. 

Soon after it had started, the ‘Dodge rebellion’ had failed. 

Lower, Leaner and Meaner

1968 marked the beginning of the Charger’s second generation. 

After the disappointment of the first generation, Dodge looked to one of their most popular racing cars, the Charger Daytona. Born from months of research and development after the 1968 Charger 500’s mediocre Nascar performance, the six-metre-long, 375hp Charger Daytona was capable of reaching up to 205mph on the tracks. 

Such engineering feats came with a pretty unconventional appearance, too. Upon viewing it, Dodge’s styling team began to panic, fearing it looked too extreme and would be unattractive to potential customers. But when the team met with sales chief Bob McCurry to express their concerns, he simply told them to “back off”’ and that the Daytona was a prioritisation of function over finesse. Unfortunately, despite its impressive power, prestige and flurry of favourable media attention, the Daytona never caught on with the general public due to its pretty extortionate price.

The Daytona’s menacing appearance pushed designer Richard Sias to ditch the Charger’s ‘upmarket’ look in favour of long term double diamond ‘coke bottle’ styling (a style which was affected even by Chevrolet for the 1966 Malibu Chevelle), with the Dodge Charger becoming lower, leaner and meaner. Sales shot up almost six-fold in response!

At long last, Dodge managed to establish their own niche between the compact Mustang and the opulent Ford Thunderbird. The most iconic of all, the Charger’s second generation encapsulated the slick fusion of performance and style, with the 1968 Charger radiating uniquely American performance and muscle. 

The Dodge Challenger

Meanwhile, the agile second-generation Chargers weren’t the only cars clawing back the market Dodge had lost to Ford’s huge popularity: the Charger’s cousin, the Dodge Challenger, was beginning to gain traction. 

First released in 1970, the Challenger was available in two different series: the Challenger and the Challenger RT. RT (Road & Track), was a high-powered trim featuring Brembo brakes, HEMI engines, better suspension and improved tires alongside features to make the car more aerodynamic, such as hood scoops and rear spoilers. 

The glaring difference between the Challenger and the Charger is the Challenger is a two-door coupe whilst the Charger is a two-door hardtop. The Challenger was much like a Charger ‘Lite’, if you will – compact but with the same power, weaponised as Dodge tried to take further swipes at Ford’s dominance over the booming pony car market. 

Some could argue, however, that the Challenger was perhaps a little too late, coming out in 1970 when love for ponies was edging past its peak.

How Does a Charger Stand up Against a Challenger?

Let’s take the year 1970 for both models.  

In 1970, the Charger found itself in the final year of its revered second generation. Compared to previous models, the Charger now had a hefty wraparound chrome bumper, electric headlight doors and comfy high-back bucket seats – the 1970 Charger SE (special edition) was even more luxe with leather and vinyl bucket seats, a shiny pedal trim, turn signal indicators built into the car hood and a woodgrain steering wheel. 

What’s more, the already high-powered Chargers had now been put on steroids. For the first time, Chargers could now boast the 440 Six-Pack Magnum engine that clocked in at a whopping 390hp. For an extra $1,128, the 1970 Charger could now have a 426 Hemi, nicknamed the “elephant engine” due to its sheer size and power, with a rating of 425hp. 

Owing to its hemispherical shape, the Hemi engine’s small surface area meant less heat escaped during combustion, resulting less fuel economy but more power overall.

These engines undoubtedly put the Charger on a whole new tier of muscle car, quickly becoming the Schwarzenegger of the automobile world. On the Nascar tracks, the high-powered 1970 Charger had more wins than any other car, giving driver Bobby Isaac the Grand National Championship.

A Game of Specs

In the way the 1970 Charger was based on the Daytona, Dodge took huge inspiration from the Plymouth Barracuda when designing the Challenger. Introduced in the autumn of 1969, the Challenger was also available in two series (RT and non-RT) with an almost perplexing number of different trims to choose from. Intending to beat the cantering sales of the Ford Mustang, Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird, the smaller E-body Challenger was marketed by Dodge as the most potent pony car ever, aimed at younger, affluent buyers as an affordable rival to the 1967 Mercury Cougar. 

A crucial difference between the 1970 Charger and Challenger is the Challenger’s weight. Its lighter body gave it a big advantage in terms of speed, allowing it to go from 0-60mph in around six seconds, eclipsing the Charger by around 0.4 seconds. 

However, given that both are pretty powerful cars, unless drivers plan on racing at Nascar this difference has little significance at legal speeds and will not have much impact on your driving experience. 

Torque, however, will. The Challenger has a torque of 425 lb-ft- not as good as the Charger’s 490 lb-ft, but given the average car has a torque of 400, it’s still pretty good. The interior size for both are comparable, too; whilst the Charger has a slightly larger interior than the Challenger, both can seat five people. But with only two doors, you may have to play a game of human Tetris if you want to use the seat as well – especially in the slightly smaller Challenger. Not quite the family sedans of today!

No Stranger to Hollywood

It would be naive to think that the classic Dodge Charger’s impressive specs were the only things that first charmed the public over forty years ago. 

1968’s Bullitt was one of the first films to feature a Dodge Charger; a cult classic and one of the most eminent muscle car films, cop Frank Bullitt (played by the one and only Steve McQueen) ends up fervently tracking down hitmen in his Mustang. A car chase that resulted in both McQueen’s Mustang and the bad guy’s 1968 Dodge Charger RT hitting speeds of 110mph (obviously) ends up with the Mustang gaining speed on the Charger, but not without showcasing the Charger’s glossy glory through the streets of San Francisco. 

The dark, smooth, seductive silhouette of the 1968 Charger is enough to bewitch even the staunchest Ford lovers into rooting for Dodge’s masterpiece.

Unforgettable was the Charger’s other starring role: Fast and Furious. Protagonist Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has the privilege of owning a beautiful black 1970 Dodge Charger R/T that he’s terrified of driving, due to its wild and ungovernable 900hp engine. The adrenaline-inducing end car chase demonstrates the Charger’s total brilliance and vigour until, in the typical spirit of Fast and Furious, it gets completely annihilated. 

A Car Drenched in Nostalgia

The Dodge Charger arrived on the market during the muscle car’s heyday, with a market dominated by huge, well-established and well-known brands. Against the odds, Dodge ultimately managed to carve their own niche into an already bursting trade now looked back upon with immense nostalgia. 

Whilst a classic Dodge Charger will lack the power you might find in a 717hp Challenger SRT Hellcat, 707hp Challenger SRT Demon or 807hp Challenger SRT Super Stock, it is the opinion of this 2020 review that it embodies the most quintessential taste of Americana the muscle car market has ever seen.

And from Dodge’s point of view, the classic Charger must be nice to be known for, and the 2020 Dodge Charger certainly a worthy legacy for the line.

Author: Lucy Hotchkiss

Muscle Car UK is the UK’s leading specialist Mustang and Muscle Car dealership. We import American muscle cars from the US, restore them here in the UK, and re-home them with our delighted customers.

For more updates, news and tips, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

All cars on our feeds are available and up for sale. Looking for something specific? We can help.

We also provide service and restoration on any car, classic or otherwise.

Ask for a quote

Liked This Article? More Like This:

Pontiac GTO – Muscle Car 2020 Review

Ford UK MD Visits Leading Classic Mustang Dealership – We’re Still Reeling

Don't forget to share on social media!

Related Articles