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Old muscle car, new look

The Dodge Charger is coming back, but this time it's a car with a conscience.

March 17, 2004|Jim Mateja | Chicago Tribune

Harking back to the 1960s muscle-car era when performance took precedence over mileage (and gas cost less than 25 cents a gallon ), Pontiac brought back the GTO for 2004. Now comes word that Dodge will bring back the famed Charger for 2006.

The return had been considered imminent when Dodge unveiled a Charger R/T concept at the Detroit Auto Show in 1999.

But that car was derived from the front-wheel-drive Dodge Intrepid LH sedan at a time when Chrysler Group was secretly mapping plans to replace those sedans with full-size cars off a rear-wheel-drive platform for 2005. Charger would wait.

The production Charger also awaited the return of the Hemi V-8 engine at Chrysler. A 5.7-liter, 340-horsepower version that will be offered in the 2005 Chrysler 300C sedan that goes on sale late this month also will power the '06 Charger, which will bow in Detroit in January.

Chrysler Group had dropped hints that Charger would return by noting the 300C sedan and Dodge Magnum sport wagon would be the first two members of that lineup of rear-wheel-drive cars called LX.

The third member will be Charger, a mileage-minded muscle car. Thank that Hemi engine, a multiple displacement V-8 that shuts down four cylinders when not needed, such as during cruising, to conserve fuel.

The 300C and Magnum (on sale in April) initially will be offered in rear wheel drive. An all-wheel-drive option will be added this fall. No word on whether Charger will offer AWD.

Some credit Wolfgang Bernhard, the Chrysler Group chief operating officer who takes over as head of Mercedes-Benz next month, as the force behind the return of the Charger. Other insiders, however, note that Chrysler Group President and Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche, an engineer, gave the go-ahead to the project.

In response to criticism that Chrysler has an aging car lineup, Zetsche hosted a media and dealer preview late last year to unveil a bevy of concepts to show that Chrysler had plans for 25 new or redesigned models in the next 36 months.

Charger was conspicuous by its absence.

George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, a West Coast-based automotive marketing research and consulting firm, echoed the sentiment of many at the time when he said: "I'd like to see Charger in the Dodge lineup. Chrysler probably needs to be stronger in mainstream sedans with the new LXs than in limited-edition sports cars, but although Charger wouldn't sell a lot of units, it would bring people into the showroom and get them excited just like they were when [Dodge] Viper, [Plymouth] Prowler and [Chrysler PT] Cruiser arrived."

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