Ford has its iconic Mustang coupe and Dodge has its Charger coupe, which died after 1978 despite gaining iconic status as one of the slickest 1960s muscle cars -- especially with a Hemi V-8.
Dodge Chargers from the old Chrysler Corp. are valued at $104,150 with a Hemi V-8. After 1970, though, more emphasis was placed on luxury than performance for the Charger because of such things as high muscle car insurance premiums.
The Charger muscle car's reputation was kept alive partly because it was featured in the popular "Dukes of Hazzard'' television show, which ran from 1979 to 1985 before hitting the rerun circuit.
The redesigned, small sporty 2005 Mustang looks much like the 1967 Mustang coupe. But the early 2006 full-size Charger from DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler group looks nothing like the old Charger muscle car. For one thing, it's a sedan with four large, wide-opening doors.
However, Dodge says the new Charger "celebrates all that's good about American muscle cars in a thoroughly modern way.'' Regular colors are available, but nostalgic Charger buyers can get it in a few bold "high impact'' retro colors, including "Go ManGO!'' and "Top Banana.''
Most fans of the old Charger muscle car have wanted a new Charger coupe, but Dodge dealers want a large sedan. They've been waiting patiently while DaimlerChrysler's new Chrysler 300 sedan has become a hit and only had the new Magnum four-door station wagon to sell until the Charger arrived. The Magnum also has been a success, but many Dodge customers want a regular sedan. Dodge says its dealers have already placed 27,000 orders for the Charger.
This is a BIG, muscular-looking car, with the longest wheelbase in its class. Its attractive, no-nonsense interior has small sound system controls but an especially roomy back seat and enormous amount of cargo space, although the trunk opening is rather high. Folding rear seatbacks enlarge the cargo area.
To keep costs down, most components under the body are shared with the Chrysler 300 and Magnum, which is a definite plus.
"Forget about a Charger coupe. Today's buyers of such a car want four-door utility, although strong acceleration and sporty ride and handling also are desired,'' Dodge Marketing Brand Manager Mark Mallie said at a recent media preview of the new Charger at the Autobahn Country Club race track facility in Joliet.
A test of the new Charger with its Hemi V-8 at the smooth, winding, challenging track showed the car is no BMW sports sedan but can do fast laps because it has quick steering and good handling and braking, with a linear pedal feel. Most American sedans wouldn't have done as well.
I later drove the Charger V-8 on Chicago area streets and found it had a good ride over bumpy roads. Race-track-style handling is rarely needed on public roads, although my test car's steering felt a bit too light both on the track and streets.
DaimlerChrysler is well aware of the Charger's colorful history, so it has given it aggressive styling that turns heads and allows good aerodynamics. The Charger's nose leans into the wind and it has a bold "crosshair'' grille and a beltline below the windows that drops as it moves rearward -- then kicks up sharply in the rear door to draw attention to muscular rear fenders and large back tires.
The beltline also highlights the car's rear-drive layout, which was found on the old Chargers and other other 1960s muscle cars. The trunk lid has a race-car-like sheared-off tail for a no-nonsense look and improved aerodynamics, which allow little wind noise at highway speeds.
"We expect about half of Charger buyers will order a Hemi V-8,'' Malle said. "And we're not just talking about male customers. We've found that some women don't know about the power-producing features of a Hemi V-8 but associate the Hemi name with quality, which they want in a car.''
However, most Charger buyers (65 percent) are expected to be males aged 40-59 with a $75,000 median annual income. Dodge says some 75 percent will have older children or kids who are old enough to strike out on their own.
The Charger comes with a 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V-6 or a 5.7-liter 340-horsepower Hemi V-8, which kicks out 350 horsepower with the Charger's optional Road and Track performance option. (A 6.1-liter 425-horsepower Hemi arrives next year for the low-volume Charger SRT8.)
The base Charger SE V-6, which wasn't offered for testing, costs $22,320 and the Hemi-powered Charger R/T lists at $29,320. That's fully $3,810 less than the more upscale Chrysler 300C, which has the same engine.
One also can get the Charger SE with an SXT package. It has such items as aluminum wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power driver's seat, chrome grille, fog lights and an upgraded sound system.
Offered for the R/T is the Road/Track Performance option, which adds 10 horsepower to the Hemi V-8, performance steering, 18-inch all-season performance tires, stiffer suspension, automatic temperature control, power adjustable pedals and heated performance front seats.
The ultimate Charger is the $31,820 R/T with the Daytona R/T option package. It makes available the wild retro colors, flat-black graphics and decals, 18-inch Michelin performance tires on polished aluminum wheels with retro black accents and a high-performance exhaust system with an especially throaty exhaust note.
The Hemi has a four-cylinder deactivation feature for better fuel economy, which helps give it an estimated 25 mpg rating on the highway, with a city figure of 17. The V-6 provides 19 and 27.
Both engines work with a responsive five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature. Mallie said don't hold your breath for a manual transmission, which could be had in the old Charger muscle car.
"Today's car buyers want far more comfort and convenience items than did Charger customers in the 1960s,'' Mallie said. "That's why even the Charger SE has such standard items as an AM/FM/CD radio, air conditioning, tilt-telescoping steering column speed control and power windows, mirrors and locks, with remote keyless entry.
Standard safety features for the new Charger that were unheard of in the 1960s include anti-lock brakes and electronic stability and traction control systems. Also available are head-protecting side curtain air bags.
So there you have it -- a modern muscle car with everyday functionality.
As for me, I'd opt for a 1968-70 Charger R/T with a Hemi V-8.
2006 DODGE CHARGER
Available Hemi V-8. Plenty of room for occupants and cargo. Good ride and handling. Alluring option packages.
Light steering. High trunk liftover. Small sound system controls.