With 797 horsepower, the 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye is considered the most powerful mass-produced sedan in the world.
By David Thome – Special to ADAMM– Automobile Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee.
A lot of us missed the muscle car era. Some were too young to drive. Others who could drive had parents who wouldn’t let them drive a muscle car. Still others already had kids of their own, groceries to haul and family vacations to take, which resulted in driveways populated by station wagons.
Fifty years later, the Dodge Charger—one of the most beloved two-door, four-seat muscle cars—is still around, but in a reimagined form as a four-door that makes it an affordable performance vehicle designed to fulfill the needs and desires of parents, grandparents and weekend hot-rodders alike.
That includes the SRT Hellcat, a car with a base engine that makes 500 hp—if you use the right key fob.
“What I see in the Charger is an economical daily driver with impressive styling,” says Eric Rzentkowski, general manager for Russ Darrow Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Milwaukee. “And, yes, that includes the Hellcat. It comes with a red key and black key. When you turn it on with the black key, it puts out 500 hp. The red key, though, makes it a monster ready for the track.”
The red key, mind you, changes some engine parameters to tack on 217 more horses.
Auto reviewers are uniformly impressed with the power, handling, styling and comfort of all trim levels of the generation of Charger that launched in 2006 and got a facelift in 2011. Sales pros like Rzentkowski and Howard Robinson, sales rep for Ewald Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Franklin, agree that it’s fair to call it a muscle car for families.
Says Robinson, “It’s advertised primarily as a muscle car, but it’s not just a muscle car. It appeals to people who want power, but also need to fit in two car seats.”
Hellcat is at home on the straightaway, but Charger traveled a long and winding road to where it is now. Born during the muscle car mania of the 1960s, it morphed into dowdy luxury sedan and then a small, inexpensive economy car before disappearing — only to roar back two decades later with retro-muscle car looks and performance, luxury sedan comfort, good gas mileage and a price tag that’s below the average for a new vehicle.
Some automotive historians note that Chrysler Corp. starting building its muscle car cred in 1955 with the Chrysler C-300, which boasted a V8 with twin four-barrel carbs and a racing spec camshaft that put out 300 hp. It was fast, but like today’s Charger, also luxurious and comfortable.
The Charger made its debut 11 years later. Designed in a wind tunnel, it was a fastback with “Coke bottle curves” and hidden headlights that gave it a menacing visage. Its interior, with four bucket seats split by a full-length center console, broke convention. Engine choices ranged from a modest 145-hp six-cylinder to massive Hemi and “Magnum” V8s that cranked out 400+ hp.
“The sound of the Hemi is unmistakable,” Motor Trend wrote at the time. “It isn’t really loud, just powerful. It gives goose pimples to enthusiasts and fits to the competition at the track.”
The hemi only lasted until ’71, a victim of, on one hand, stricter emissions and fuel-efficiency standards and, on the other, waning interest in muscle cars. With its frog-eyed front-end and faux-convertible landau top, the next gen, which debuted in ’74, didn’t even look like it came from the same family. After four dull years, Charger went on hiatus for the first time.
A new iteration introduced in 1981 was another step down. It was based on the subcompact Dodge Omni, had front-wheel drive and a base engine that generated all of 70 hp. You could upgrade—all the way up to 107.
The Charger seemed dead forever when it disappeared from Dodge’s lineup in ’87. But it reappeared in 2006 looking like a retro, rear-wheel drive champ with a menacing grille, low-slung roofline and “Coke bottle curves” fitted with 21st-century safety, handling, comfort and performance upgrades. Engine options ranged from a 178 hp six-cylinder to a 425-hp 6.1-liter Hemi V-8.
Like the local dealers, reviewers say the 2021 Charger is a comfy, roomy family sedan with a dual personality. Most agree that even the base V6 versions supply enough oomph to provide most contemporary drivers a thrill.
But wait—there’s more! If you’re more interested in beating snow-bearing blasts of arctic air on I-94 than scorching other drivers at the track on a hot summer night, you can get a Charger with on-demand AWD.
If, on the other hand, your corral has room for more than 717 hp, you can opt for a Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye, which jacks the power up to 797 hp, more than any other available production sedan worldwide. According to BuzzDrives.com, it’s the fastest muscle car ever, with a top speed of 199 mph and a zero-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds, “putting it in a class with supercars like Ferrari and Lamborghini.”
The Redeye lists at $78,595—about a third as much as your typical supercar. The rear-drive 2021 SXT with a 292-hp V6 lists for $29,995. Starting at $36,995, the R/T is the lowest-priced Charger with a V8. The Scat Pack is $41,095, unless you want the “Widebody” version, which adds $5,000. KBB calls the SRT Hellcat “a performance bargain” at $69,995.
KBB also says Charger’s high marks for safety, comfort, a large rear seat, front and rear legroom and “capacious” trunk make it a fine choice for families.
“Families, or anybody,” Robinson says. “You might be someone who says, ‘I like going fast, but also might like to have my friends along with me now and then.”
Rzentkowski adds that though Chrysler strayed from the muscle car formula to meet market demands 40 years ago, the company has returned to Charger to its timeless roots.
“The Charger today,” he says, “sticks very close to what made those cars special.”
[Editor’s note: These stories are provided to Wisconsin Hot Rod Radio by the journalists at the Automobile Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee without monetary compensation.]