In the 1960s the American muscle cars ruled the road. They were not as refined as some of their European brethren but they were bigger and stronger and fun to drive. The United States was at peace, gas was still relatively cheap and there were no pollution laws to govern engine displacement or carburation so it was an open road for manufactures. This was the time of classic cars like the Pontiac GTO, the Ford Mustang, the Chevy Camaro, the Plymouth Barracuda and the Dodge Charger.
In the 1960's the NASCAR circuit, drag strips and Hot Rod magazine were setting the scene for street racers to dream of what could be and the major automobile manufactures were competing to meet that fantasy with each new model. Every year engines got bigger and cars got lighter to meed the needs of those who cherished acceleration and speed. And when Chrysler introduced their all new 426 cubic inch engine with hemispherical heads in 1964 everybody wanted one.
The secret of Chrysler's "hemi" is that the dome in the huge heads has space for extra large intake and exhaust vales that are positioned opposite rather than next to each other. This means that the engine can "breath" better which equates to more horsepower and a central spark plug adds to the efficiency of the burn. The heads are big to accommodate the opposing valves and complex valve train is necessary to connect to the single camshaft. A compete head weighs over 100 pounds, making the engine overall size and weight a primary concern. It was offered to the racing circuit and after a year of domination Chrysler offered cars with extra large engine bays to hold what had been tagged the "elephant engine" to the general public. Chrysler called it the "Super Commando" in the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge called it the "Hemi Charger" when they offered it in the Charger.
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However as with the advent of the other muscle cars, the Dodge Charger did not start out with a big block engine. The first Dodge Charger, introduced in 1966, evolved from the Dodge Coronet in the same manner as the Barracuda evolved from the Plymouth Valiant. It had a fastback roofline, hidden headlights and four bucket seats. And like the Barracuda, the rear seats would fold down to extend the trunks cargo capacity. The engines evolved in the same way, starting with a straight six and growing through a series of V-8's until the 426 hemi was offered in 1968.
Perhaps the epitome of the classic Dodge Charger is the 1969 "General Lee" from The Dukes of Hazzard TV show. (A replica is shown above.)Everybody was captivated by the stunts and they ruined so many cars during production that today they are a considered a rare and valuable find. However after that came the new EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) rules that inhibited raw engine power and ended the Muscle Car Era. Dodge produced an all new throttled-down second generation Charger for the 1970 model year but the lack of power was noticeable and sales suffered, as they did for the third and fourth generation models that followed. A fifth generation Charger was introduced in 1982 featuring front wheel drive and that is how the cars are built today.