Dodge was never a company known for its subtlety and with this Detroit destroyer it certainly is business as usual. Packing a Magnum 440 under its vast hood, in true American style it’s a car that is heard well before it is seen; or that’s what you’d think when you hear the 50cal V8 soundtrack start ‘clack-clacking’ off the skyscrapers from over a mile away anytime you go near a city. It’s a spectacularly raw and visceral machine, something that turns every head and perks every interest. The 1968 Dodge Charger R/T is loud, proud and imperfect in many ways, yet be in its presence for a mere two minutes and you’ll yearn to own one.
But first, a history lesson. The Charger was introduced in 1966 as a B-Body stopgap between the Dodge Coronet and the more lazy full-size sedans being manufactured by Chrysler in the mid ‘60s. It was never really intended to be a sports car, but a lightweight coupe body, rear drive and a range of hot V8s meant tuners and hot-rodders quickly picked it up across the US. By its second iteration in 1968, it received a design makeover to match the spectacular drivetrains on offer. A slew of TV and movie appearances quickly sparked a following and a legend was born. Within months, demand went through the roof, production rocketed and today we’re left with around 50,000 examples of the most badass, rippling American muscle ever created.
This ‘68 R/T was born in Michigan and emigrated to the Land Down Under in 2008, where its new life and restoration began. Today, the Charger sits locked and loaded with a high-compression, highly-tuned Magnum series 440 cubic-inch V8 sourced from a wrecked ‘71 Dodge Challenger racer. With the motor mated to an enlarged Holley carb, a mild cam, high-flow intake and a high-stall transmission linked to a 323 differential, the beast has a real kick. The end product is a near 1600kg car, packing close to 550 American horses and 700ft/lbs of quivering torque, itching to break free.
There is nothing quite like a Magnum 440, and a worked one, in the body of a Charger with race-spec modifications is simply intoxicating. The torque is immense, and the power is delivered with instant brute force. You want to go fast, you want to plant your foot and you want to hear that V8 scream. You’d think you could only ever drive this car right on the limit, hovering on the edge its capability, but that’s not the case. You really don’t need to. In fact, it’s an incredibly easy car to drive.
There’s obviously more pitch and roll than what you’d experience on a modern sports car, but it certainly isn’t traditional ‘muscle car bad’ in the handling department. Considering this is sitting on archaic suspension that would be at home on an ox-cart, it’s quite a remarkable achievement. You can corner with a reasonable degree of precision despite the giant spindly wheel, which wouldn’t feel out of place on a 17th century galleon offering a similar level of communication to a drunken street mime. You’re always aware that you’ve got a mammoth amount of torque and power at your disposal and you’re safe in the knowledge that delivery will be instant.
This is a car you use to race from stoplight to stoplight. The super-light power steering doesn’t matter; cornering prowess is not the end game. When you line up on the strip, with that V8 chugging away, the whole experience comes together. You launch, the front end lifts as the rears dig, in a fight for traction. The taco begins its first-gear climb to 5000 rpm, yet already, mere seconds later you’re doing close to 60 mph and it’s time for a change. Second-gear comes, a lively chirp from the rears as that 440 shoots another shell load of torque through the drivetrain and the rear fights itself loose once more.
It represents everything that was good about the USA in the ‘60s. The power, the excess, the unashamed self-assurance. It’s a type of car that never makes sense until you slide behind its massive wheel, turn the key and fire that fantastic engine into life. It’s a car that you could feasibly enjoy driving every single day. It’s a car that makes very little practical sense in the real world, but for that reason alone, it makes it something you’ve just got to have a try for yourself. It’s brash, brutal and brilliant.