The cars we loved.
We are truly living in the golden age of the muscle car. Today’s big American performance car comes not only the traditional coupe, but sedan and sometimes as trucks or SUVs. Of the current crop, Dodge seems to be the leader at the moment. It ushered in the current revival when the new Charger appeared in 2006. While the Charger is no longer a coupe, to the dismay of some critics, it embodies the true spirit of the American (and often Australian) muscle car.
The Charger name had been dragged through the mud during the 70’s and 80’s. At one point it devolved into a small hatchback coupe with a four-cylinder engine. While the Charger name was retired after 1987, it re-emerged as a sedan just as Pontiac was wrapping up its reintroduced GTO via Australia’s Holden Monaro. That first generation car was a successful re-interpretation of the modern American muscle car, despite being a sedan. Its aggressive macho looks were not for everyone, and with the Magnum wagon it formed the core of Dodge’s performance cars. At 425 hp, the top of the line SRT-8 was more powerful than nearly any factory muscle car from the 60s.
In 2010 a new and improved generation of Charger arrived. The refined design added curves and somewhat softer edges to come closer to the spirit of the 1969-70 cars. The rear end featured a LED bar that was reminiscent of the 70 RT. While the previous design’s thick “C” pillar added to the brute Dodge image, it was missing one of the classic Charger’s strong points, it long sloping roofline. The new model corrected this oversight to the point of really looking like a four door version of what a modern Charger should look like – at least one inspired from the golden years of Chargerdom. The front still looked like a angry groundhog, but was slightly revised to look less blunt. This was clearly one of the most attractive American sedans in recent years – at any price.
While the Charger is no 5 Series, it does offer a level of performance that is difficult to find at its price range. It came initially in three trim levels, with the 5.7-liter HEMI R/T models being the most powerful. In 2012, the ultimate Charger was released, the SRT-8. Unlike the last SRT-8, it was marketed as a SRT (sans Dodge) in a move reminiscent of BMW and its M division. SRT is all about performance, backed up by the largest HEMIs from Chrysler. In the case of the SRT-8, it’s a 6.4-liter 470 hp V8.
The rumble of today’s HEMI may sound old school, but with variable cam timing, active intake runners and other technology designed to save fuel and increase power, it clearly was not the straight-line stop light machine of the 60s.
In forcing a connection to the 60s, many Chargers were dressed in bright flashy paint schemes, mirroring themes from the past. A Super Bee edition uses similar mascot graphics as the 1968 model, but in black or white. It’s also possible to order your SRT-8 in decal free low-key hues. When equipped in such a way, it offers a bit of stealth, to the extent that a big sedan with a blackout grille, 20 inch wheels and two big exhaust pipes can be.
The beauty continued inside with better materials highlighted by a strictly business looking dash. The overall effect is nice, to the extent that a Doge can be. The Big nobs and buttons seemed designed for big people who do not see well. That being said, the navigation screen seems too small. Despite looking simple and functional, the Charger SRT-8 is loaded with kit (as any top of the line model should be). SRT specific leather seats using Nappa leather come in black or red. While the SRT-8 is no 5 Series, it does not pretend to be. The rough edge this sedan has would scare off the most pretentious M5 owner. At around $45,000, the SRT-8 offers a level of performance that is difficult to find at its price range.
While other versions of the Charger may be more practical for everyday driving, the SRT-8 is almost track car-like. It makes no compromises in its quest for performance. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a 5-speed Autostick transmission. Less powerful and more efficient Chryslers 300s use a 8-speed auto, but the SRT-8 is not trying to win any EPA awards. To keep the power in check, launch and stability control saves excessive wear on the rear tires and makes 0 to 60 times in the low 4 second range possible for any driver. Next to the BMW M5, the SRT-8’s ride is a bit rough, but it maintains composure over bumps and corners flatly, to the extent that it could easily embarrass most Mustangs and Camaros. Even with the nearly 4,000 lbs. of heft, the SRT-8 feels light on its feet.
The SRT-8, Ford Taurus SHO and to some extent the new Chevy SS represent how the curious concept of the American muscle car has evolved. The muscle car movement is alive and well in Australia also, with similar cars that carry on the unique legacy that both nations share. The ideal of a big car with an even bigger engine is not new, but today’s performance sedans manage to be comfortable, safe and with cylinder management and direct injection technology, efficient.