Dodge Charger: Performance Upgrades Through the Years

January 26th, 2016 by

The Dodge Charger has had many ups and downs in its production history, especially in terms of performance. Thankfully, the 2016 Chargers are some of the best ones ever produced; and Dodge in Miami dealers are able to sell them with the same pride that dealers from 1966 were able to sell the first generation with. This is thanks to state-of-the-art engineering and advancement in engine design. Even though it had a rough road, it all worked out in the end for this iconic muscle car.

The story of the Dodge Charger’s performance has just as many upgrades as it does downgrades, and to give an accurate representation of how the Charger improved performance-wise overall, it’s important to recognize both.

1st Generation: 1966-1967

The first generation Charger’s stock engine was rather lackluster, and no match for the other engines on the market. This was a 5.2-liter (318 cubic-inch) overhead valve V8, and only put out 230 gross horsepower. It was paired with either a standard three-speed manual transmission, or optional three-speed Torqueflight automatic. The massive 3,500 pound curb weight didn’t make matters better, and only caused the performance to suffer even more.

Therefore, many consumers snagged one of the optional OHV V8s, which would be able to handle the weight of the massive hot-rod. These optional engines started with a 5.9-liter (361 cubic-inch) that was a two-barrel design, and it put out a slightly improved 265 horsepower. There was also a 6.3-liter (383 cubic-inch) engine that put out 270 horsepower – another 383 that put out a slightly better 325 horsepower – a 7.2-liter (440 cubic-inch) beast with a four-barrel rated at 365 horsepower; and finally the legendary 7.0-liter (426 cubic-inch) Hemi rated at 425 horsepower. In 1967, a 440 Magnum V8 engine option was offered, and it put out 375 horsepower.

The 7.0-liter Hemi was easily the best engine option for the Charger at the time, and one that could effectively push that amount of weight down the road.

2nd Generation: 1968-1970

This 2nd generation Charger is the one that became an icon, it’s the “General Lee” on The Dukes of Hazzard. The reason this is such an iconic Charger is because it’s the best looking one, and received a redesign from the 1st generation. It’s got a more blunt nose, muscular curves, and a square-cut hardtop roof with a tunneled rear window. The days of the Charger being a Coronet-looking car are over, and in its place is a muscle car in perfect physical condition.

1969 Dodge Charger R/T

1969 Dodge Charger R/T

But, what does this mean for performance? Mechanically the Charger remained relatively unchanged, and the powertrains and chassis/suspension all carried over. An R/T trim was now offered, and when equipped with the 440 V8 engine it was able to do 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which was impressively on par for its time, and was a hit in 1968.

1969 was a different story however, and the 3.7-liter engine offered in the base Charger now only put out 145 horsepower total. Another miserable downturn of events was the Charger’s design. It remained unchanged, and was still a nice looking car. But the design made it an aerodynamic nightmare; the grille added lift to the front end and the tunneled-in rear window disrupted airflow in the back, which led to instability at higher speeds.

Even the Nascar-worthy Chargers Dodge built were no match for the competition, and their design and engine combination was just enough to make the cut; but not enough to win. Not much happened in 1970, and the standard Charger sat there looking pretty and performing terribly.

3rd Generation: 1971-1974

The 3rd generation Chargers finally saw some engine upgrades, and the base Charger (out of the six models offered) had an optional 230 horsepower engine, but still came stock with the measly 145 horsepower engine from the 2nd generation. The Charger 500 started with the 230 horsepower engine, and had some V8s optional. The Super Bee had a 275 horsepower V8, 440 Magnum four-barrel, and a 385-horsepower 440 three two-barrel engine stock. The 425 horsepower and 426 horsepower Hemi V8s were optional. Finally, the R/T came with the 440 magnum, and the three two-barrel and Hemi were optional.

Things were looking good for the Charger in 1971, but 1972 saw another downturn. There were now only three trims offered, and the base engine in the SE only put out 110 horsepower, dropping from the already weak 145 horsepower. The two-barrel V8 had been reduced to a 150 horsepower, and the 400 cubic-inch V8 put out a disappointing 190 horsepower.

The Hemi disappeared altogether, just becoming a fond memory. And the Charger now only did 0-60 mph in 11.5 seconds, and a quarter mile in 17.6 seconds; topping out at a depressing 76 mph. For 1974, it remained relatively the same. If anything, the Charger’s performance got worse. The base engine dropped down 5 horsepower, and the higher-end engines trudged along unperturbed about the state they were in.

4th Generation: 1975–1977

The 4th generation Chargers got a new redesign, and the engineering was not suited for performance. It was even less sleek than before, and therefore the aerodynamics were thrown even more askew. It was now being piloted as a much more formal looking vehicle, and lost the cherished fastback styling.

This was such a bad generation of Charger, that nothing but the legendary name was the same. With a new bland look, and engines that remained again unchanged, this fourth generation Charger literally fell off the market. It’s such an abysmal vehicle, they have essentially been swept off the roads.

5th Generation: 1982-1987

1985 Shelby Charger

1985 Shelby Charger

This 5th generation Charger was introduced during the 1982 model year, and it was completely different. It was now a 3-door hatchback, and a far cry from what it used to be in terms of design, but performance actually improved. This Charger equipped with a 2.2-liter engine was able to do 0-60 mph in 9.7 seconds, which is a significant difference from the 3rd and 4th generation Chargers.

In 1983, the Shelby charger was introduced, and was more aesthetically appealing and better performing. The same 2.2-liter engine was now putting out 107 horsepower, which is still a low number, but at least it’s starting to improve. The Shelby Charger also had a new suspension to improve the ride, and bigger 15-inch aluminum wheels for improved handling. It was able to do 0-60 mph in 9.6 seconds, only 0.1 second better than the standard Charger being offered.

The base Charger remained relatively unchanged until 1985, and only the Shelby variant was upgraded. It was now quicker, thanks to the turbocharged and electronic fuel-injected version of the 2.2-liter engine. The Shelby Charger made 0-50 mph in 5.3 seconds when tested by the NHRA, and was a big improvement compared to the previous generations.

At the beginning of ’87, the Shelby Charger was able to do 0-60 mph in 7 seconds flat, which is the best time its received in years. The Shelby Charger is still well-respected, but the base model is considered a black mark on an even darker history. There wouldn’t be another Charger until 2006.

The Start of the 6th Generation: 2006

2006 marks the return of the Charger, and it was now a four-door sedan design. It received both praise and scorn, and some people liked the idea of a Charger sedan. Regardless of opinion, what’s most important was the performance of this new machine; and it was better than ever.

The 2006 Charger had two trims: base SE and the performance-oriented R/T. The SE came with a 250 horsepower 3.5-liter V6, which is one of the strongest engines on a Charger seen in over twenty years. The R/T had an engine that was even better, and the Hemi returned as a 5.7-liter V8 that put out 340 horsepower. The R/T with the Hemi was able to do 0-60 mph in only 6.2 seconds, which means this four-door Charger is just as quick as the 1969 R/T that had the Magnum V8 in it.

Later in the model year ,the SRT8 Charger was launched,  and it had a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 option that put out 425 horsepower. The SRT8 was able to do 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds, and put the previous Chargers to shame. Over the years, the fuel economy went up for the Chargers, and they continued to improve.


2006 Dodge Charger SRT8

2006 Dodge Charger SRT8

Present: 2016 

Now, the 2016 Charger SRT Hellcat has a 6.2-liter Hemi V8 engine that puts out 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. This Charger SRT Hellcat is not only the fastest Charger the world has ever seen, but also the fastest sedan ever produced. The SRT Hellcat is able to do 0-60 mph in just 3.4 seconds, which is an earth-shattering new record for the Charger name.

This 2016 Charger SRT Hellcat is a true testament to how far engineering has come, and the start of the sixth generation finally got the Charger its respect back. While some die-hard Charger fans still like the look of the older models, even they can’t deny how powerful the Charger has become. It’s one of the only cars in history that’s gone from a pure muscle-car to a full-fledged four-door sedan; and its one of the only sedans that can keep up with the other muscle cars on them market.

Posted in Dodge in Miami