It's no longer a muscle car now.
From when the Dodge Charger first launched in 1966 until 1974 there was a continuous theme throughout – its muscle car status. But sadly that all came to an end in 1975 when the fourth generation model debuted. Gone was the era of the muscle car, only to be replaced by, well, nothing. Performance cars were no longer being sought after by a majority of buyers. Sure, there always was and always will be performance enthusiasts, but the public, in general, had gone soft. How come?
For starters, the US government began to apply more strict fuel emissions standards and those powerful V8s drank gasoline by the gallon full. The second issue was the gasoline itself; there was an oil crisis going on at the time. The combination of both, along with rising insurance rates for performance cars, caused a shift from sheer horsepower to something else.
And that something else was branded as a "personal luxury coupe." What does that really mean? Isn’t luxury, whether personal or not, simply luxury? Whatever it is, it worked. Young Baby Boomers wanted to look good while attracting the opposite sex. It was the 70s. People wore open shirt collars and men’s chest hair became disturbingly fashionable. Women wore platforms and disco fever soon became all the rage. And the new Charger was designed to reflect that. Chrysler product planners wanted a Charger that could compete against the likes of the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ford Thunderbird, Buick Riviera, and the Oldsmobile Toronado.
Sharing the same B platform as the Chrysler Cordoba, there was only one trim level for the new Charger: SE, or Special Edition. A number of engines were offered, all of which were V8s, but the highest output was only 245 hp. Seriously. The entry-level engine was a 360 two-barrel 5.9-liter V8 with only 180 hp. If fuel economy was on your mind, then you’d want to go with the optional 318 with 150 hp. The best you could get (with that aforementioned output) was the 400 cubic inch four-barrel 6.6-liter V8. The exterior styling of the ’75 Charger was, well, square. Like really squared off. As mentioned in yesterday’s third-gen article, NASCAR teams couldn’t work with the new Charger because, for lack of better words, it aerodynamically sucked.
An agreement was made where they could still use the previous generation’s sheetmetal instead. That deal lasted until 1978 when the Dodge Magnum hit the race track. However, there was a new Charger Daytona, but don’t get too excited here. Remember, disco fever. This Daytona was nothing more than an appearance package. The car’s body came with a two-tone stripe and decal and that “high-performance” 400 cu in V8. That’s it. A proper Charger Daytona wasn’t again seen until 2006. For 1976, Dodge added expanded the Charger to four trims, base, SE, Sport, and Daytona. However, the lower two trims didn’t even have the same body as the other two; they were nothing more than a rebadged Dodge Coronet coupe.
Its sedan and wagon variants were discontinued altogether after ’76. In terms of interior features (personal luxury after all), the new Charger featured an electronic digital clock, shag carpeting (no joke), and improved sound insulation. So how did this redesign/rebranding reflect in sales? At first, the numbers weren’t good. In 1975, less than 31,000 Chargers were sold but that number increased to nearly 50,000 in 1976. As for the base Charger and Charger Sport, less than 18,000 units were sold and Dodge decided to discontinue those trims. 1977 saw a few new features added such as a high-efficiency, low-slip torque converter, upgraded batteries, and a slight drop in weight thanks to an aluminum transmission case and lighter fans.
The bucket seats also now came with thinner backs for improved passenger space and there were a few new color options. But again, sales continued to decline with only 36,000 moving off dealer lots. 1978 was the fourth-gen Charger’s final year (thankfully) with only 3,000 Charger SEs sold. That makes sense because that was the same year the Dodge Magnum was introduced. NASCAR officials were probably thrilled. In fact, ’78 Chargers consisted of leftover parts from the ’77 model year. And so the Dodge Charger came to an end. Compare this 1978 Charger to what the model was a decade before is both shocking and saddening.
Looking back, it probably would have been best if Dodge had simply retired the nameplate after 1974 when the third-gen ended production. But it didn’t. A rear-wheel-drive Charger wouldn’t happen again until 2005. We say RWD because in the middle of 1981, the Charger name came back, only this time it was for a front-wheel-drive economy car with a Volkswagen engine. Welcome to the 80s, everyone.