On April 5, 2005, the reborn Dodge Charger entered production in Brampton, Ontario. It has stayed in production since, receiving updates for 2011 but remaining the same four-door muscle car at heart. That means that on April 5, 2023, the Charger turned 18: It’s officially old enough to join the U.S. military, and blow its enlistment bonus on a brand-new 2023 Dodge Charger.
Jokes aside, how Dodge’s muscle sedan reached this point is worth revisiting now that the venerable four-door approaches the end of production. It was born of (and sustained by) a combination of once-in-history phenomena that we’ll probably never see repeated. When the Charger goes, it’ll leave a hole in car culture that can’t be filled—not to mention bring to an end the car’s unique relationship with the U.S. military.
The association between the Charger and the military was explored in depth by our sister site Task & Purpose, where Haley Britzky explained the “played out” but widely acknowledged link. In short, young men sign up for the military and find themselves with the first disposable income of their lives—plus signing bonuses of up to $50,000. With minimal cost of living and maximum testosterone, they often find their way into irresponsible purchases, sometimes with help of predatory dealers near military bases. (It’s no new phenomena; Mother Jones ran an exposé on shady dealers targeting recruits back in 2009.)
That can sometimes land them in a Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang, but they’re chiefly Charger people. So much so, in fact, that when news of the Charger’s discontinuation broke, it was a huge deal to the military community—Task & Purpose’s Facebook post on the matter drew more than 1,000 comments.
“Muscle cars in general” are a much older affiliation according to retired Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Kyle Gunn (now T&P’s social media editor), who remembered them being “a fixture around barracks parking lots.”
“These are two recruiting commercials from the 1970s which feature muscle cars prominently. The Charger is definitely a favorite these days, because they're easier to get, not that expensive, and look cool. The [Ford] Mustang is another popular choice, but now things like [Chevy] Corvettes are out of reach.”
The Dodge Charger and the two-door Challenger are also the only two true muscle cars left, as the Mustang and Chevy Camaro fall into the smaller category of pony cars. It’s a major reason why the Charger boasts one of the longer production runs in automotive history, along with the related Chrysler 300.
Both emerged in the mid-2000s at the height of the neoclassical car fever, which saw the rollout of retro designs like the Ford GT, Toyota FJ Cruiser, and Chevy SSR. Though Daimler-Chrysler had the Plymouth Prowler, it was playing catch-up by the time it rolled out the 2005 Chrysler 300. It was on the 300’s LX platform that the Charger would be based, repurposing some elements from the 2003 Mercedes-Benz E-class (W211). There’s a widespread misconception that the Charger is based on the 1995 E-class (the W210), but that’s not the case according to one of its lead engineers, Burke Brown.
“We basically modeled our suspension after that new [W]211 with a couple of things that we did differently,” Brown said in an interview on Allpar. By that, he means Chrysler mirrored its double-wishbone front suspension and multilink rear, also borrowing its differential, but adapting it for an S-class scale full-size application. It also used cheaper steel instead of aluminum parts, according to a 2004 Autozine article, allowing Dodge to reestablish itself in the rear-wheel-drive sedan segment on the cheap.
Eventually, the LX platform came to underpin the Dodge Charger, Magnum wagon, and later the Challenger with a shortened wheelbase. While the 300 was initially the bigger hit, it was the Charger and Challenger that ended up on top.
In the Charger’s first full year on sale in 2006, with hype at an all-time high, Dodge sold 114,201 Chargers. In 2022, with the sedan market decimated, pandemic supply-chain issues still bubbling up, and inflation surging, Dodge still sold over 80,000 of them. And though the 300 and Charger technically moved to an updated “LD” platform in 2011, mechanically speaking they’re still largely the same cars they were 18 years ago.
Not that the Charger has had much reason to change—it stuck to the formula that made it a success, and outlived every last one of its American rear-drive sedan rivals. That formula is at its most distilled in the 797-horsepower Hellcat Redeye: a visceral, but comfy, manageable experience. Almost approachable, if a six figure-scratching price is no obstacle.
The Charger has also been buoyed along the way, of course, by its popularity with rental fleets, police departments, and naturally, members of the military. In fact, the Charger is so popular with servicemembers that near Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia that they make up the majority of Charger buyers at the local Liberty Dodge, according to sales manager Gadson White Jr.
Home to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart had a population of 8,821 as of the 2020 census, making it about a fifth as populous as nearby Hinesville and surrounding areas. Charger and Challenger sales have always been strong in the region, but it’s hard not to notice when the majority of their buyers wear uniforms.
“The majority would be military,” White said of Charger sales at Liberty Dodge, which offers active duty and retired servicemembers $500 on the hood. “It’s definitely a lot more military members that’re buying them than civilians. But it’s now probably close to neck-and-neck.”
This mainstay with members of the military however can only remain one for as long as it stays in production—and the end is in sight. A Stellantis spokesperson told us the Charger will only be produced “until the end of 2023” alongside the two-door Challenger. After that, would-be Charger customers will have to find other sources of (semi) affordable performance. There will always be performance cars for recruits to ruin their finances with, but it’s hard to imagine any one vehicle replacing the Dodge Charger as the enlisted’s favorite.
That’s in large part because there probably won’t ever be another car like the Dodge Charger as we know it. Sedans—especially full-size and rear-wheel-drive four-doors—have been in decline for decades, while tightening emissions laws mean Dodge will trade Hemi V8s for batteries in the Charger Daytona SRT EV. Even if it had a V8, it’d still be subject to soaring new car prices that’d make it unaffordable to E-1s.
In fact, the Dodge Charger was only within their means in the first place because it stuck around so long. It’s a living link to an automotive past; a moment of the mid-2000s that managed to last well into the 2020s. That moment is almost up, but it’ll be remembered as long as Hemi V8s echo across cities as they race between lights.
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