DODGE DISCOVERS MUSCLE CARS
Like everyone else in the business, Dodge was caught flat-footed in 1964 when the big “one-two punch” hit. First Ford launched its stunning new Mustang, kicking off the Pony Car Wars, then Pontiac debuted its GTO starting up the Muscle Car Era. Dodge didn’t have either. They were sitting on an inventory of stodgy “old mans’ cars”. What they did have was a long history of engineering excellence in the form of powerful, sophisticated engines, transmissions, running gear. “The Dodge Boys” (as they became known in 1960s-era TV commercials) had always been forced by limited capital to be resourceful, so they quickly mobilized to create their own fleet of muscle cars from the hardware they had on the shelf.
DODGE MUSCLE CARS EVOLVE
The Coronet was quickly spruced up and a big block V8 installed to create the Coronet R/T (short for Road & Track) and they sold well. By 1966, a new fastback roofline and custom grille was grafted on, creating the first-generation Dodge Charger. Throughout the late 60s, the Coronet platform continued to work hard for Dodge, morphing into the Superbee. By about 1968, Dodge had hit its stride with the introduction of the highly-successful second-generation Charger. But still no Pony Car. But that all changed in 1970 with the drop-dead-gorgeous Dodge Challenger in coupe and convertible, with everything under the hood from a lowly Slant Six to the fire-breathing Hemi. Unfortunately, the muscle car market peaked in 1970 and was collapsing by 1971 under the combined pressure of new smog regs, the introduction of low-lead/low-octane fuel (which forced a reduction in compression ratios, greatly reducing engine performance), and rising insurance costs. By about 1973 it was over, and the new ‘big market’ was personal luxury cars, not muscle cars.
DODGE MUSCLE CAR ENGINES
What made Mopar muscle cars unique was the staggering array of engines that could be ordered, and that the best of them were among the fastest, most powerful engines on the planet! Their V8s fell into 2 basic families: The small blocks (aka: LA-series), which included the 273, 318, 340 and 360; the big blocks (383, 413, 426 Wedge and 440), and in a class by itself, the 426 Hemi. The small blocks were sturdy and made good power. There was even a 340 Six-Pack. The 440 Magnum big block V8 was already a bruiser at 375hp with a single 4-barrel carburetor. So what did they do? Put on three 2-barrels on a special Edelbrock aluminum manifold and boost it to 390hp. And at the top of it all was the “Elephant Motor”, the one-and-only, the almighty 426 Hemi, conservatively rated at 425hp. It was probably more like 500. Today, Dodge has resurrected the Hemi name for a whole new family of modern engines. They are not otherwise related to the classic 426 Hemis.
When the Mustang came out in ’64, Dodge hastily grafted a clunky fastback onto their Coronet, creating the first Charger. It wasn’t until ’68 that it really came into its own & remains one of the quintessential muscle cars of all time.