Car Lust--1971-1974 Dodge Charger
I'm featuring the 1971-1974 Dodge Charger today, but, after a lot of thought, I'm not dubbing it a poseur muscle car. This edition of the Charger, with its macho looks and fading power, would seem like a perfect companion for overstuffed luminaries such as the Ford Gran Torino and the Chevy Monte Carlo SS. But at the risk of offending those who are concerned with trivial concepts such as "consistency," "fairness," and "rational thinking" I'm going to hold up the Charger and laud it on its own merits. Heck, everybody already knows I'm inconsistent, unfair, and irrational.
So, let's break down the Charger's qualifications for poseur muscle car status.
I have alway thought the '71-'74 Charger was one of the handsomest cars of its time. It took the timeless styling cues of the classic, lean 1968 Charger and added some visual bulk and more aggressive front and rear treatments. The effect is like adding 40 pounds of upper-body muscle to a marathon runner.
Visual horsepower is the name of the game for both poseur and bona fide muscle cars, and on this score the 1971-1974 Charger comes up big. The twist here is that the Charger also adds some elegance to the mix.
While the look was excellent, the changes under the pretty sheetmetal were a little less exciting. Detroit's early-1970s struggles with emissions standards and the fuel shortage have been well-documented, and the Charger was not immune to the effects.
The previous Charger was an all-time muscle car great, and the 1971 Charger came out of the blocks strong, with the Hemi and 440 Six Pack available. However, this was at the trailing edge of the muscle car boom, and by 1972 both the Hemi and the Six Pack had been discontinued. The regular 440 carried on, but with more and more restrictions, resulting in less and less power. Meanwhile, Dodge counteracted with style and trim packages--including, horribly, a Brougham.
The whole effect conspired to make the Charger less war horse and more show pony.
So, if the Charger was more sizzle than steak, why isn't a poseur muscle car? Well, the Charger, while muscular, was still somewhat subtle and never resorted to the ostentation of the poseurs. And unlike the poseurs, this generation of Charger could actually boast some real muscle at some point in its history.
Besides, and here's the clincher for me, Dodge didn't try to pass off the weaker Chargers as something they weren't. Unlike the Mustang II Cobra II or the '79 AMC AMX, Dodge didn't try to cynically play off of former glory. Instead, as the nature of the Charger changed, Dodge changed the marketing to fit. The Dodge was billed as a stylish cruiser, similar (but infinitely preferable) to the Chevelle Laguna S-3 454.
Besides, the Charger still made its mark on the NASCAR circuit. Somehow, those classic early 1970s Charger lines looked just right in STP day-glo blue and red. I still consider the Charger the definitive Richard Petty mount--its brutal looks were somehow the perfect complement to Petty's dominance.
The 1971 Super Bee on top is a photo from user TorqueOmata (a fantastic user name) at Autocult.com.au. The pretty black coupe comes from a South Dakota student's gallery of "sweet cars," and the advertisement comes from a delicious collection of ads from 1971-1974 Dodge Charger.com. As you'd expect from the name, it's an excellent source of photos and advice. The Petty photo is courtesy of Serious Wheels and is only one of several photos from a Petty appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed--a glorious vintage racing event in the UK.
The video below is pretty nondescript--the Charger just idles around the parking lot--but man, does that lumpy idle get my blood pumping.