Kevin Shaw: Can Dodge Build The Charger That Charger Lovers Crave?

The circumstances were less than ideal for an interview. Thankfully, amid wildly spiraling multicolored spotlights and thumping hip-hop music booming through the overhead sound system, I was still able to make out every heavily accented syllable.

Standing roughly eight inches over the Mopar CEO, Pietro Gorlier was lean, of slight build and immaculately groomed. Looking at his crisp slacks and starched polo, I felt like another unkempt American tourist noisily shuffling through the Louvre in cargo shorts and flip flops. I could’ve bothered to iron my shirt, I thought regretfully.

It was early November of last year at the annual SEMA show. I had interviewed Gorlier earlier that year, but not in person, nor even on the phone, but through a sequence of emails. Again, the circumstances were less than ideal, but the changing of the guard at Chrysler was still fresh at the time and certain persons were intent on keeping the media a safe distance away from its newly appointed brass.

“I’m very sorry we weren’t able to talk in person,” Gorlier apologized, pumping my hand. “But I enjoyed the article. You did a great job.” He was friendly, amicable and very happy to take a couple minutes to walk me around the “Moparized” Red Line Edition ’11 Charger.

“What do you think?” he prodded. I quietly sneered at the grille and openly applauded the 1970-esque door scallops embossed with R/T emblems.”Y’know,” Gorlier confessed, “There are lots of people afraid of the Italians coming in and ruining Mopar…”

As his words trailed off, he motioned over at a solitary engine on display.

“…I promise you,” Gorlier vowed. “That will not happen.”

The motor was Mopar’s new all-aluminum Generation III HEMI. 426 cubic inches. 540 horsepower and better fuel efficiency than my warmed-over ’05 Dodge Ram. While passersby ogled the classic HEMIs on display, little attention was given to the late-model 7-liter. It went, for the better part, unnoticed. So it was significant that amid all the items on display, Gorlier walked me over to this engine.

Richard Dreyfuss’ voice from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” echoed in my head, This means something…

In the first article I ever wrote as a professional automotive journalist, I had to give my two cents on how I, as an owner of a classic Second Generation Charger, felt about the introduction of the then-new '06 Charger. Aware that the decision to name the car 'Charger' was an 11th hour marketing move, I noted how ill-fitting the title was for the sedate four-door sedan.

Three months later, I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles at the LA Auto Show. After all the flummoxed reporters, freelance photographers and jabbering auto journalists cleared out, I stood alongside him staring at the production ’11 Charger R/T.

“Whattaya think?” he leaned in with a smirk, obviously proud of the brand’s new flagship.

“As an owner of a ’69, I think you got this car perfect…from the A-pillar back,” I confessed.

We talked about the new Charger’s strong resemblance to the legendary Second Generation Chargers while not being wholly retro (something I’m OK with), the future of the car as a the “Face of Dodge,” and the hardcore Charger fans who’ve berated the car since 2005. It was obvious he was testing to see where I stood.

“I think people will forgive the extra two doors if you just got the nose right,” I concluded.

While I love Mopars, I specifically coo over Chargers. It was that split-second when that triple-black ’68 stamped on the gas, leaving Frank Bullitt in the dust that first did it for me. It was the grainy image of Dick Landy’s ’69 yanking the wheels that sparked the theme for Killer Kong. It’s that long, razor sharp shoulderline running from the door scallop all the way to the upturned rear lip that makes the three-year-run the car’s best.

In fact, the first published article that I wrote as an automotive journalist was a short blurb on the announcement of the first ’06 Dodge Charger. My Editor strolled into my office, saying, “Hey, you own an old Charger. Why don’t you write something from an old Charger owner’s perspective on the new one?” My first draft likely would’ve gotten me fired. My second draft – which was published – earned us a nasty phone call from corporate.

I’m very protective of this particular car, as are many others. And while there are national registries, online forums and fan sites dedicated to all years of the Dodge Charger, there simply aren’t the numbers large enough to sway Auburn Hills like we’d wish.

In 2005, when the new Charger was released, people were upset at a four-door sedan being christened after one of the brand’s most iconic muscle cars (a vehicle that carries more lasting screen presence than any other automobile ever), but not enough to make a difference. The market for a performance-oriented four-door sedan eclipses that of a full-sized, two-door coupe, and since Dodge is in the business of selling cars, it only made sense to a build car that met the need of the largest number of potential buyers.

Nonetheless, the argument continues today. Contenders argue, “Why would Dodge build a two-door Charger when they have the Challenger?” Unfortunately, the two – in most Charger enthusiasts’ eyes – don’t coincide. The original Chargers and Challengers weren’t interchangeable, so logically, today’s wouldn’t either.

To those who revere the original, a true modern Charger must retain its full-sized wheelbase, spacious interior, hard top, B-pillar-less roofline, and two-door architecture. So, is this car to remain the daydream of thousands of car enthusiasts? Thankfully, a feasible solution is attainable.

The LX-platform is still derived from the Mercedez-Benz E-Class, a platform which has a two-door, hardtop variant. The engineering has been done. The proven architecture is there. And Dodge has it. And while Dodge CEO Gilles admitted that future Chargers will still retain the crosshair grille, it won’t be the truckish-looking nose that’s been the Charger’s styling hurdle thus far.

When first seeing the new '11 Charger, I was immediately - and obviously - taken by the color choice. Of course, the similarities didn't end there. The dual hood scallops, door scallop, wide taillight panel and newly exaggerated shoulder line all screamed that Dodge was truly making an effort to tap into the Second Generation Charger's DNA.

Believe it or not, some key chess pieces have been moved that could make a true, retro-inspired two-door, manually-shifted, 426-cubic-inch Charger a reality. Government CAFE standards require a 36mpg brand average, meaning that cars like Chevy’s Volt offsets Chevrolet’s CAFE average, making a 638-horsepower Corvette still available.

As the new 8-speed ZF transmissions find their way into more RWD Chryslers, as well as Fiat’s 500, C-segment compact and subcompact cars start trickling into Dodge’s American showrooms, cars like a naturally aspirated 540-horsepower Charger (or Challenger, for that matter) become all the more possible. It would seem that the future of big horsepower coming from the Big Three depends on the success of compacts and hybrids…

The last hurdle left for a two-door Charger is again, numbers. It’s got to make fiscal sense for Dodge to spend the money on tooling, testing, marketing and servicing a two-door Charger.

A bitter pill for us hardcore enthusiasts to swallow is the reality that Dodge will never scrap the four-door Charger in lieu of a coupe, but may offer a limited run of two-doors, like a Special Heritage Edition if say, a concept vehicle was campaigned around the national car shows and through the media that was met with substantial fanfare.

Moreover, a limited run of coupes would likely be offered at a premium, particularly if Dodge’s bean counters find a way to have existing four-doors converted over to coupes off-site, similar to Kar Kraft building the fabled Hurst HEMI Darts and Barracudas. Either way, expect a coupe to cost a pretty penny over the sedan.

Ultimately, all of this conjecture is merely an exercise if Dodge can’t successfully sell its new high-mileage gas sippers. If and only when these high-efficiency cars pick up can us more inefficient horsepower lovers can have our day in the sun.

Light ’em up,

About the author

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a self-proclaimed "muscle car purist," preferring solid-lifter camshafts and mechanical double-pumpers over computer-controlled fuel injection and force-feeding power-adders. If you like dirt-under-your-fingernails tech and real street driven content, this is your guy.
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