Dodge is one of the most recognizable American car brands. Founded in 1900 by Horace and John Dodge, the Dodge brothers started out manufacturing engine and chassis components for the burgeoning car industry, including Henry Ford's Model A. In fact, they provided so much of the car that all Ford needed was the bodywork, wheels, and tires to complete the cars.
The first complete Dodge vehicle rolled onto the road in 1915 as an upscale competitor to the Model T, and John Dodge promptly came out with the first Dodge vs. Ford owners burn. He's quoted as saying, "Someday, people who own a Ford are going to want an automobile."
Since then, Dodge has become part of Chrysler and gone on to make some historically important cars and trucks and, more importantly for Americans, remained a quintessentially American automaker. Even now, they make what's generally understood to be that last true American muscle car in the form of the Dodge Challenger. It's hard to nail down the best of Dodge's offerings without writing a book, but this list represents the highlights of the highlights.
The Dodge Viper
The Dodge Viper is a brutal machine in any form. The original idea from Chrysler president Bob Lutz was to build a modern version of the Cobra. However, rather than shoehorning a V8 into an existing chassis Shelby style, Chrysler owned Lamborghini at the time and charged them with building the prototype V10 engine while 85 selected engineers started development of the new chassis.
In 1991, the first generation Viper was unleashed with 400 horsepower and 465 lb⋅ft of relentless torque. What put it over the top as being one of the strongest performance cars of the time is that it weighed just 3,284 lb and would pull close to one lateral g in corners.
The Viper was no "look what we can do!" car that would have a limited run then be consigned to the history books and show up once in a while for crazy money at auctions. It may have the hallmarks of an Italian supercar, but it came with minimal reliability issues and ran, with just a three year break, through five generations from 1991 through 2017.
The Dodge Ram
The Dodge Ram has been so popular and enduring that the Ram name was spun off into its own brand, RAM Trucks. The Ram name was first used in Dodge pickup trucks from 1932 through 1954 before returning again, and in its now recognizable guise, as the 1981 Ram and Power Ram models.
Ask any Dodge Ram believer, and there are many, why they love the Ram and most will tell you its because they are durable and reliable and get the job done. Like the best kind of watches, they're great value and just keep on ticking. A lot of that has to do with engine options that include the legendary Hemi motor and, for over 35 years now, diesel Cummins lump for those that need to pull a house down.
Ford may have gained the largest market share in trucks with their F-Series platform, but the Dodge RAM has been a relentless workhorse for decades now, and picked up its fair share of awards including being named as Motor Trend magazine's Truck of the Year six times and one of those awards being for the current fifth generation Ram 1500.
The Dodge Charger (1966-1974)
Anyone with the vaguest interest in cars knows that shape, and many people with no interest in cars know that shape. The first three generations of the Dodge Charger are iconic, whether it's amongst petrol heads or throughout decades of pop culture. It was the the chase car in Bullitt, the star of the Dukes of Hazzard, and Domonic Turretto's personal car in the Fast and Furious franchise. The Dodge Charger made the Ford Mustang look cute, and has since become associated with freedom and rebelliousness. The Mustang might have been America's darling in the 1960's, but the Charger was America's badass.
It came about due to Dodge finding themselves needing a car that would appeal to youth. They had become staid and stodgy design-wise and the second generation is where Dodge nailed it. A young designer named Richard Sias unofficially started work on new styling, and built a clay model that, in an unprecedented move within Dodge, was green-lit without having to go through the usual vetting process. Unfortunately, history has largely forgotten Sias's name and credit usually goes to Dodge Studio head Bill Brownlie.
Sales went through the roof and the Charger was a true muscle car to its pony car brother, the Challenger, and engine options went all the way up to a 7.2 liter V8. It all went wrong though when Dodge attempted to rebrand and redesign the Charger as a luxury car amid the fuel crises and emissions regulations of the mid-1970s. There's a reason you probably can't remember what it looked like, and we look back so fondly on the first three generations.
The Dodge Neon
Wait! Seriously, wait! The Dodge Neon was, in fact, one of Dodge's finest. It was inexpensive as a base model, it wasn't flashy, but it did something few other American cars achieved. It was cheap to run, versatile, and had the reliability of a Japanese compact car. Seriously, it genuinely had a lack of serious issues. You still see them on the road now because, even with wilful abuse, and in full 10-year-old shitbox spec, they are very hard to kill.
That isn't quite enough to claim Dodge nailed it though, and the sting in the tail here is the fact it was a motorsport monster. Sure, it was hammering around Daytona for 24 hours, but it was successful in SCCA racing, rallying, and spent an inordinate amount of time ruling the sport of autocross.
It was successful enough in autocross that Dodge even built a version specifically for sanction SCAA Autocross called the Dodge ACR. Dodge stripped out air conditioning, fog lights, sound deadening, and the radio to make it lighter for you. Dodge then added better suspension, thicker anti-roll bars front and rear, four wheel disc brakes, better cooling and a faster steering ratio. All you had to do was fit a roll bar and go embarrass sports cars on the clock.
The Dodge Dart (1967-1976)
Something that echoes through Dodge's history is the word versatility. The Dart came in everything across the spectrum from base grocery-getter spec to GTS 440 440-cubic-inch “Magnum” V-8 sleeper spec. With With 375-hp and 480 lb.ft of torque, the GTS 440 was about as close as you could get to a road legal drag car on the road at the time. Something that echoes through modern Dodge history.
The GTS 440 is the petrol heads weapon of choice, but the 1968 two-door coupe and two-door sedan with Dodge's Slant Six engine and a three-speed automatic TorqueFlite transmission was everyday sweet spot for those loved a nice car but didn't want to watch the fuel dial drop as the revs peaked.
1967 was the fourth generation of the Dart. Originally, the body was designed by the Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia, but it wasn't popular. The new redesign not only gave the Dart a new look, but Dodge also revised the steering system, gave it a wider front track and frame rail spacing, and then redesigned the K-members in a wilful decision to let the Dart have room those huge engines.
That decision makes the Dart one of Dodge's lesser known heroes.
Dodge Challenger (2008-Present)
America's last true muscle car is a testament to Dodge's willingness to double down on America's love affair with raw horsepower. While the Charger name was brought back and stuck on a questionable 4-door sedan body over the Chrysler LX platform, the Challenger is a modern incarnation of the Charger at its 1960s peak of badassery. Like the muscle cars of old, the modern Challenger laughs at the idea of corners, but will eat up a long road across country and then snack on anything foolish enough to try and beat it from a green light.
The modern Challenger looks at sports cars and replies, "Oh, you can do the Nurburgring in under eight minutes? That’s nice. What’s a Nurburgring?”
The V6 option is for those that want the bad boy or bad girl image, but the V8s are where any red-blooded American will put their money. There's quite a range between the brute force of the R/T version all the way up to the widebody SRT Demon with a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that lays down 840 horsepower and 770 lb.ft of torque on 100 octane fuel. In any form though, it's about as subtle as using a sledgehammer as a golf club to send a brick through library window.
The Challenger doesn't really make sense in any other country except, perhaps, Australia. It needs big roads to make sense and a chunk of culture to buy it that will defend the V8 until the last drops of petrol run out. This is the last of the true muscle cars, and Dodge has truly nailed it.