We thought we'd never see the day the word "Hemi" would appear on the flanks of a new production vehicle. When it did, it not only appeared on a car, but on a sophisticated fully-independent chassis with rear-wheel drive. We were, to say the least, blown over by the technical tour-de-force presented by the pair of cars, known as the Chrysler 300C and the Dodge Magnum. (For a technical overview of the new 5.7L Hemi, check out "Hello Hemi!" in the March 2004 issue of PHR.)
The components making up these LX platform mates--the new Hemi powerplant, the slick and seamless 5-speed automatic overdrive transmission (built in the new Kokomo, IN plant), the state-of-the-art suspension and classic proportions--by themselves represent great strides forward for Daimler Chrysler (DCX), but as an integrated whole represent a sea change in the way performance cars are now built.
Last fall, PHR had the opportunity to examine both the 300C and the Dodge Magnum SRT-8 up close. Once the initial shock of the Hemi twins wore off, we started asking questions about the possibility of a coupe variant--especially on Dodge's dance card. The idea of designing the Hemi engine, building a new 5-speed overdrive automatic trans, and engineering an all independent rear-wheel drive platform to stuff it into, then endowing the finished product with station wagon styling didn't make sense to us. It's like running the Daytona 500, being in first place on the last lap, and then coming in for a pit stop before the checkered flag. It's like Cindy Crawford wearing a burlap sack.
Memories of Dodge's 1999 Charger concept fresh in our head, we had the feeling that "Charger" was a significant buzzword to both DCX insiders and enthusiasts alike. Flat-out gorgeous and stuffed with all the right parts, Dodge's concept was the subject of many magazine covers and more than its share of scuttlebutt around the industry. As we now know, Daimler Chrysler was well along in its LX platform development, and the Charger show car could well have given product planners the public mandate they needed for the impressive bill of materials already coveted by engineers.
Fast forward to 2004. All the right parts end up on the LX cars, but there's no Charger in sight. Did DCX forget? Did they get cold feet? Does DCX have big plans to pull the wraps off a new Charger in the 2006 time frame? Being car guys, we're betting on this last possibility. Based on an unconfirmed rumor leaking out of the Mopar camp, a Hemi-powered Dodge Charger will be pounding pavement on a street near you and we think it could look similar to the car you see here.
In preparing this story, we contacted several DCX officials who would be in a position to confirm or deny the existence of a Charger program, but none of them would agree to publicly comment on the possibility. That's not particularly surprising, since confirming a future Charger would be against DCX policy, but we had to ask. Having said that, all the clues point to a future Charger. The overwhelming success of the 1999 Charger concept (especially in light of it being a four-door) gives the idea weight and staying power. The development of an appropriate powertrain (Hemi engine and 5-speed auto) and the design of a flexible architecture with the requisite strength and performance potential makes Charger economically feasible. But the most important clue is the strong emphasis on heritage and power in current media campaigns. Not to mention, there's our well-placed mole who told us he's seen four-door V-6 development cars.
From that point, it's only a small leap to visualize what an LX-based Dodge Charger would look like. To help us, we hired up-and-coming designer Kris Horton to work his computer magic for us. The criteria we set forth were designed to bypass the unobtainable pie-in-the-sky visions, and to focus on styling that would be functional and productionable on the current platform. We started by taking the existing Dodge Magnum SRT-8 wagon and Chrysler 300C sedan, copying the wheelbase, track width, roof height, cowl height and mimicing the greenhouse hard points. In doing so, we attempted to blend the sexy fuselage styling of the original '68-'70 Charger with Dodge's current brand identity and styling lexicon while maintaining the functionality of the interior space and relying as much as possible on the existing understructure.
The last point is particularly important because the engineering, tooling and manufacturing costs associated with changing the underlying design becomes prohibitively expensive for a production version. Translation: some compromises have to be made if real cars are to ever see the light of day. In our effort to show you what a real car would or could look like, we've taken as many "real" factors into consideration as possible.
One area that we became mired in almost immediately is the front grill. Charger fans will no doubt miss the recessed grill and hide-away headlights of the original. Notoriously un-aerodynamic--even in its day--the front grill forced us to move in a completely different direction. (The '68 Charger body had a notoriously poor win record in stock car racing and only slightly better with the Charger 500 body in 1969 which had a flush exposed-headlight grill and flush rear back glass. Only with the advent of the Dodge Daytona did the Charger gain acceptance as an aerodynamic success.) In anticipation that Dodge's designers might try to design something more aerodynamic and in line with the current cross-hair motif in its cars and trucks, Horton and PHR agreed that this was the most likely direction. (Yeah, we love the original too, but there's absolutely no chance of that ever happening, so we didn't want to go there.) When the grill on the PHR Charger is compared to the existing Dodge Magnum grill, however, there is a distinctly menacing appearance to the Charger. It's an appropriate compromise that takes into account the needs for a more aggressive look, a style in line with current products, aerodynamics, and cooling needs.
The bodyside is almost a complete lift from the defining 1968 design by Dodge stylist Richard Sias. We felt this gave the coke-bottle look that linked it to the Charger's storied past while being relatively easy to adapt to the LX's slab-sided proportions. (That's a big plus on the manufacturing side.) The coke-bottle shape has been toned down to work with the LX platform, and one hardly misses the severe overhang present on the original. In profile, some compromise was necessary to extend the rear of the greenhouse (and thus rear-seat passenger room) for the anticipated four-door sedan version.
The biggest structural risk we took was with the wide C-pillar and tunnel-back glass, which we felt was absolutely essential if the car was to be a Charger in more than just name. (Our feeling is that if you lose the c-pillar and glass, it's still possible to do a cool car, but we can't in good conscience call it a Charger.) If given more time, we might have been able to refine the c-pillar/rear glass/trunk area for more practicality, but it appears workable in light of the 300C's profile.
Another area that posed difficulty was the rear fascia. Although not as irreconcilable as the front fascia, the rear of the '68-'70 model has a distinct rear slope while both current LX cars have a forward-facing slope. To solve the problem, Horton adapted the styling vocabulary of the early car to the forward slope and larger bumper cover of the LX. Fans of the early Charger will also appreciate the use of the '69-'70 taillight "bar". Given our compromise on the slope of the rear fascia, we didn't think it was too much to ask if we departed from the forgettable corner lenses of the Magnum and 300C.
Elsewhere, we departed substantially from the classic Charger by retaining the sexy fender flares of the Magnum and 300C. In our opinion, this is an improvement over the classic Charger design, especially with the wheels pushed out to the corners of the car--a fixed trait of the LX platform.
Pushing the wheels out to the corners is not only aesthetically pleasing, it also improves handling a great deal while simultaneously improving ride quality. This should prove to be one of the keys to the LX platform's future sales success in the mid-lux market, but buyers have been famously picky in this segment. At Chrysler, the plan for the 300C is embarrassingly straight forward: sell a better luxury car for less than the competition (i.e. Lincoln LS and Cadillac CTS). In our mind, that works. But at Dodge, the official plan to market the four-door Magnum wagon to active, often-single males is hard to swallow; we feel most of the males in this category would be considering the new Mustang, the new GTO or possibly a C6 Corvette (not to mention the 300C).
THE BUSINESS CASE
The business case for targeting a predominantly male audience with a station wagon model may just be a "Pacifica-like" miscalculation on the part of Dodge's German handlers, but we think the Dodge boys are smarter than that. The Charger so perfectly fills the male market niche that it's laughable to do anything else. So where does that put the Magnum SRT-8 station wagon? The answer to that is, "right where it belongs." A real domestic rear-drive wagon hasn't been built since 1996, and we think for traditional families on the run there's plenty of pent-up demand for one that looks and runs as good as Magnum.
Our inclusion of a four-door Charger variant makes things interesting. After hearing of Dodge's work on a four-door midway through our own design, we followed suit. It's entirely possible that the Charger could come to showrooms strictly as a four-door. We aren't strictly opposed to this; four-door performance cars are accepted--even desired--by enthusiasts these days. There is certainly enough grace in the LX's proportions to support nothing but four-door variants, and given the public appeal of the 1999 concept car, the chances are good that it could happen. Even still, with so many four-door LX models in the works (Chrysler is even planning a wagon version of the 300C called the Touring model), there's not much differentiation in the line-up. A two-door coupe would certainly address the need for a domestic rear-drive V-8 coupe. We hesitate to call it a ponycar since LX is larger, but a roomier Camaro may have indeed saved the F-body from demise. In any case, a two-door or four-door Charger would be a grown man's "Camaro," not a kid's car.
So will Dodge build the Charger and capitalize on the vacuum left by GM's cancelled F-body? We give it better than a 50 percent chance. But even if market conditions and the current financial woes of Daimler Chrysler prevent a Charger from becoming reality, we are hot rodders and are constantly inspired by the possibility. The LX platform has the potential to be fodder for many cool projects. If nothing else, maybe we can inspire craftsmen to build a new Charger out of a 300C or Magnum.
Since there is no verified confirmation of an actual Charger, we can only guess about performance and cost. The first--performance--we have a little better idea. With a 345hp Hemi under the hood, a close-ratio automatic gearbox and weighing roughly 3,600 pounds, the Charger would be good for mid 13s in bone-stock trim at sea level. With good tires, gears, headers and an aftermarket exhaust, this could easily dip into the 12s. We would expect the Charger to be squarely in GTO territory, both in performance and price. That means an MSRP somewhere in the mid- to low-30s. If an entry-level 3.5L V-6 version (rental, taxi and police fleets) finds its way into the mix, we're looking at something in the Dodge Intrepid R/T range, both price-wise and performance-wise. Quarter-mile performance with a 242hp V-6 should be in the 15s with a price in the high 20s.
What do you think about the PHR Hemi Charger concept?
Should Dodge build it? Would you buy it? Are we crazy to even suggest it?
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When Dodge unveiled its Charger...
When Dodge unveiled its Charger concept car in 1999, it was the topic of much speculation and media attention. It featured a propane-powered V-8, rear-wheel drive, fully independent suspension and four doors. Styling was derivative of the classic Charger, with coke-bottle styling and killer looks, but no serious move was ever made to produce it. Based on the appearance of the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum, we're very positive this will change within the next few years.
A Hemi-powered Dodge Charger...
A Hemi-powered Dodge Charger like this concept by Kris Horton could easily be produced on the upcoming rear-wheel drive LX platform. PHR and Horton attempted to copy the proportions of the upcoming 300C and Magnum and translate them into this Charger concept. The idea was to blend classic Charger styling with current customer needs, address aerodynamic concerns and adhere to the LX's dimensions.
Currently, the Magnum station...
Currently, the Magnum station wagon is the only vehicle Dodge freely admits it will build on the new LX platform. Featuring a 5.7-liter Hemi, a new five-speed automatic, IRS and rear-wheel drive, the only thing missing from the equation is sexy styling. The proportions of the LX architecture are handsome, so building a better-looking Charger on it would seem practical.
Chrysler's LX variant, known...
Chrysler's LX variant, known as the 300C, has a sedan roofline. Comparing the greenhouse and wheelbase of both the 300C and Dodge Magnum gives a general idea of the variation possible on the LX architecture. A Charger like Kris Horton's is well within the design envelop of these production models.
The new Hemi makes 345 hp...
The new Hemi makes 345 hp and 375 lb.-ft. of torque with just 345 cubic inches, an iron block, one cam, pushrods and two valves per cylinder. It's every bit the equal of GM's Gen III (LS1)--all it needs is beautiful sheetmetal wrapped around it. The 73-acre Saltillo, Mexico assembly plant can pump out 440,000 Hemis per year. We're biased, but we think it'd be a shame for all of them to end up in trucks and mommy mobiles.
During the production of this...
During the production of this story, we heard an unconfirmed report that Dodge was working on a four-door Charger with a V-6 powertrain. We immediately got working on a base variant of our Charger concept with four doors. Dodge's original four-door concept artfully concealed the two extra doors, and that's exactly what we've attempted here. Our conclusion: Charger can indeed work attractively as a four-door.
This two-door Charger SRT-8...
This two-door Charger SRT-8 in black shows a full-width three-piece spoiler, classic bar taillights and quad exhaust tips. The V-6 four-door had no spoiler and a single exhaust tip.
From above and behind, you...
From above and behind, you can see how the classic Charger roofline was retained. Here, the trunk stops at the rear glass, but a hatch version could be implemented (as on the Magnum) without upsetting the body lines.
A yellow SRT-8 model would...
A yellow SRT-8 model would definitely work well.
The Charger's nose takes styling...
The Charger's nose takes styling cues from current Dodge truck and car models. If you squint, there's also a little bit of Mercedes in there too. The classic '68-'70 nose is far too non-aerodynamic to make production and the rendition shown is an acceptable compromise to us.
We thought it would be cool to give you a web-exclusive glimpse of some of Kris' art while under construction. Kris was also kind enough include some of the completed images with different colors and backgrounds than what are included in the April 2004 issue of Popular Hot Rodding magazine.