The V8 Dodge Charger and Challenger’s Death Hurts, Even After 17 Years
Critics like to write off the Charger and Challenger as old and cheap. Well, that’s not wrong, but it’s also missing the point.
An official statement from Dodge Monday opened with a big confirmation: “The Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger, in current form, are coming to an end …” Most of us would say it was inevitable. High time, even. I’ll miss these cars immensely, but the second era of V8 muscle cars appears to be concluding.
Words consistently orbiting the auto industry right now are electrification and efficiency. Neither of those concepts is logically associated with anachronistic and immense personal transportation toys that excel primarily at turning gasoline into noise.
Some of those noises were truly glorious. Hellcats can raise the dead with the songs that come from their 707-hp engines. Even the more modest Hemi and Scat Pack cars derive a lot of personality from petrol. Cheap speed isn't the real reason these cars have so much staying power, though. The strong and simple designs of these vehicles have achieved an iconic status I might liken to a Coke bottle or a pair of Chuck Taylors—there's just something about them that feels fun and cool.
Base model Chargers and Challengers might not exactly be fast by modern standards, but they still carry some outlaw energy that's undeniably appealing. And perhaps more importantly: Even the two-door Challys have huge trunks and backseats. You could enjoy one of these for the look without being punished with an annoyingly small or stiff driving experience.
Practically speaking, if you want a brand-new Charger or Challenger with a howling V8, speak now or prepare to scour high-end auctions in 20 years for a barn find. That’s not a joke, I’m sure plenty of the final-batch 2023 model year cars (featuring a “Last Call” underhood plaque) will be bought and immediately mothballed as artifacts.
Beyond the honor of being the last model year of these long-running platforms, 2023 Challenger and Charger buyers will have the pleasure of ordering 14 exterior colors. These include revivals of a few older favorites: B5 Blue, Plum Crazy purple, Sublime green, and Destroyer Grey.
Dodge has posted that “The new models [2023 Chargers and Challengers] will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis at top-selling Dodge dealerships, with a list of dealerships to be shared on DodgeGarage.com.”
While the engines associated with the soul of muscle cars might be going away, Dodge is doing its best to maintain the narrative that there will still be cool versions of these in an electric future. Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis was acknowledging back in 2021 that “The days of an iron block supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 are numbered,” in a CNBC interview. Adding, “They’re absolutely numbered because of all the compliance costs. But the performance that those vehicles generate is not numbered.”
I’ve driven some really impressive electric cars and I’m optimistic that good-value EVs will eventually exist. You can also count me firmly among the Luddites who lament the loss of the V8 engine. The sound, sensation, and feeling of controlling fire for propulsion trigger primal pleasure that’s hard to replicate with batteries.
The Challenger and Charger of the mid-2000s, of course, were revivals of nameplates that first rose to fame in the 1960s and '70s. The new cars closely mimicked the originals in design and spirit which is exactly what made them awesome.
Back in the days of carburetors and the Civil Rights movement, muscle cars caught on because they had style, practicality, and performance (if you splurged for the big motor). Even high-spec muscle cars offered a decent value compared to European sports cars, though.
Fast-forward to more recent times and I’ll testify that sending an 808-horsepower Challenger Demon down a drag strip in anger remains one of the most intense automotive experiences I’ve ever had. That and other high-power variants like the Hellcat, Jailbreak, and Redeye stole headlines, but even the V6 models were true to the classic muscle car ethos of being simultaneously fun to drive and convenient to live with. I took an AWD Challenger on a ski trip once and had no issue stuffing heaps of gear into it without a roof rack. That car, in bright red, got more than a few compliments from strangers at stoplights too.
Dodge says the Brampton Assembly Plant in Ontario, Canada churned out three million cars since the modern Charger was launched in 2005. And of course, both the four-door Charger and two-door Challenger had barely any revisions over their long lifespans. The formula was right in the ‘60s and obviously still popular half a century later! Here’s to hoping the future of Dodge vehicles has that kind of staying power.
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