Since Chrysler as we know it came together over 90 years ago, it’s been Detroit’s underdog. And while General Motors may have always been known as having the largest brand portfolio of the Big Three, the company now known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles really isn’t that far behind. Throughout its history, the Chrysler brand has been joined by Dodge, Plymouth, De Soto, Fargo, Imperial, Valiant, Jeep, Eagle, SRT, and Ram. It used to be a partner of Daimler-Benz, along with all of its subsidiaries, and since 2011, it’s been Fiat’s partner, and is now linked to Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and Ferrari. It’s a long list, so to keep it from getting too confusing, we can lump most of them (save for the Italian and German brands) under one handy umbrella called Mopar. That name has been used as Chrysler’s original parts brand since 1937, and has been adopted by fans of the brand to cover just about everything the company makes. There may be just Plymouth, or Dodge, or even De Soto guys out there, but at the end of the day, they’re all Mopar guys.
And there are a lot of Mopar guys out there. While GM and Ford have tended to play it safe in the past, Chrysler has always taken chances. There were the aerodynamic Airflows of the ’30s, the wild “Forward Look” cars of the late ’50s, and the Hemi-powered brutes that dominated the dragstrip in the ’60s. Throw in the now-iconic Viper of the ’90s, the recent SRT cars, and the mind-blowing 707-horsepower Hellcats of today, and you’ve got one hell of a long list of icons.
Advances in design and engineering aside, no one has done “Big engine in a small car” quite like Chrysler either. The iconic Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger were specifically designed to fit the Hemi V8 under the hood. The Viper used the massive V10 engine from a Dodge Truck, and the Hellcats could be the best performance bargains on the planet. There have been a lot of fast Mopars over the years, and with FCA’s commitment to performance, it looks like they’ll only be getting faster.
We could make a list of the all-time fastest, but it would largely be made up of the current Charger, Challenger, and Viper variants, and would likely be knocked of by the next generation as early as next year. So to keep things interesting, we’ve taken a look back at Chrysler’s long and complex history, and come up with 10 models that absolutely dominated in their day.
1. 1955 Chrysler 300
It may look quaint today, but Chrysler’s 300 car was one of America’s first true sports cars. Stylistically, the 300 was a mash-up of Chrysler parts: front clip from an Imperial, body from a New Yorker, and rear quarters from a Newport. But beneath it all, it was designed from the ground-up to dominate in a new racing series called NASCAR. With its 331 cubic inch, 300 horsepower V8, the 300’s top speed of 127 miles per hour earned it the tag line “The world’s fastest stock car.” For ’56, it became the 300C, got an optional 354 cubic inch engine, and could reach a then-mind-blowing 140 miles per hour. It was more than enough to make Chrysler’s 300 cars legends.
2. 1968 Dodge Dart L023
While the muscle car was taking America by storm, manufacturers were also fighting a brutal covert war on the country’s drag strips. And while casual racing fans may know about straight-line legends like the Ford Thunderbolt and Corvette ZL-1, the Dodge Dart L023 has been nearly (and unfairly) lost to time. Largely built by the performance company Hurst, L023s started life as base-model ’68 Darts (above), but got modified 426 Hemi V8s, fiberglass fenders and hood, plexiglass windows, acid-dipped doors (to thin the steel), and lightweight bumpers. Everything that could be spared – from carpeting to the horn – was removed to keep weight down. These flyweight Darts cranked out upwards of 535 horsepower, and could run the quarter mile in the low nine-second range – an astonishing feat for cars of the era. They were rare too; Dodge and Hurst built just 80 of these brutes.
3. 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
Nearly 15 years after the 300 dominated NASCAR events, Chrysler launched a crash program to build another unstoppable stock car. Powered by a 440 cubic inch V8 (though a 426 Hemi was available too), the Daytona dominated on the track with its massive aerodynamic front overhang and ridiculous 5 foot tall rear spoiler, becoming the first NASCAR stocker to hit 200 miles per hour on the track. Unfortunately, the 19 foot long Daytona (and nearly identical 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird) were sales failures, with some dealers getting desperate enough to lop off the nose and spoiler and convert the cars into base Chargers and Roadrunners. Today, they’re some of the most sought-after muscle cars ever built, and change hands for six-figures.
4. 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
After a comprehensive redesign for 1970, the Plymouth Barracuda had become one of the most formidable performance cars in America. As the performance-oriented ‘Cuda, the car was a bruiser with any of the available V8s under the hood, but it truly became a legend when it was optioned with the 426 cubic inch Hemi V8. With 425 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque on tap, the big car could scramble from zero to 60 in under six seconds, and run the quarter mile in 14 seconds. Due to its high price, the Hemi ‘Cuda was never a strong seller in its day, but today, well-preserved examples (especially convertibles) can fetch upwards of $1 million at auction. Not bad for a ’70s Plymouth.
5. 1978 Dodge Lil’ Red Express
By 1973, safety and emissions regulations, the oil crisis, soaring insurance rates, and a recession all conspired to kill the muscle car off. But while the feds were busy regulating cars to death, some genius at Chrysler noticed that none of the new laws said anything about trucks. Enter the ‘Lil Red Wagon: Launched in 1978 as part of Chrysler’s “Adult Toys” lineup (oh, the ’70s…), the truck came from the factory with side stacks, an oak-paneled bed, and graphics on the doors. It was also the fastest American production vehicle from zero to 100, beating the contemporary Porsche 928, 911, and Ferrari 308 to the mark too.
6. 1986 Dodge-Shelby Omni GLH-S
The ’80s were an incredibly tumultuous time for Chrysler. In 1980, it was on the verge of collapse, but after a loan from the U.S. Government, and the success of the K-Car and Dodge Caravan (the world’s first minivan), the company was flush with cash again by mid-decade. With money to spend on performance, it partnered with legend Carroll Shelby to rebuild a performance lineup, and its most memorable result was Shelby Omni GLHS. While GLHS sounded like a perfectly tech-focused, very ’80s name for a rival of the Volkswagen GTI, in reality, the former Texas chicken farmer Shelby called it that because it stood for “Goes Like Hell S’more.” It went like hell because it had an intercooled 2.2 liter turbo that put 175 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels and stuck to the road like glue. The “S’more” part came because the limited edition hot hatch could roast contemporary Corvettes, Camaros, Firebirds, and Mustangs in the quarter-mile.
7. 1996 Dodge Viper GTS
Calling the Viper a sensation in the early ’90s would be an understatement. Its launch was the biggest automotive story of 1992; a spiritual successor to the ’60s Shelby Cobra (Shelby himself had a hand in building the car), the Viper had a massive V10 engine, a gorgeous body, and little else – no traction control, airbags, anti-lock brakes, windows, or even roof. In 1996, the Viper grew up and became a true home-grown supercar, with the gorgeous GTS coupe at the top of the heap. It borrowed its styling cues (and paint scheme) from the iconic Shelby Daytona racers, and its 8.0 liter V10 cranked out 450 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 60 came in four seconds, a quarter mile passed in 12 seconds, and top speed was 187 miles per hour. It was more than enough to make it the poster car for a generation of ’90s kids.
8. 2004-’06 Dodge Ram SRT-10
The Viper’s V10 was already based on Chrysler’s truck engines, so in a stroke of brilliance (or madness, depending on how you look at it), it crammed the now 500 horsepower engine under the hood of a Dodge Ram 1500 truck, modified the suspension, and called it a day. A six-speed manual transmission delivered 525 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels, and sent the truck from zero to 60 in under five seconds. With a top speed of over 150 miles per hour, it’s still one of the fastest pickup trucks ever built.
9. Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Chrysler had already done NASCAR specials, big-block muscle cars, hot hatches, fast trucks, and supercars, so why not make a ridiculously fast Jeep too? Launched in 2011, the Grand Cherokee SRT has a 475 horsepower 6.2 liter Hemi V8 that took the 5,300 pound SUV from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds. It’s hard not to love the all-out insanity of the current SRT, but we’re hoping that FCA makes good on replacing it with the 707 horsepower Hellcat-powered version it teased last year.
10. Dodge Charger and Challenger SRT Hellcat
Even with all the legendary Mopar performance of the past 90-plus years, we’d be crazy not to put the Hellcat cars at the top of this list (seen here with the current Viper). Launched in 2015, the 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet torque Charger and Challenger were a revelation, and proof that supercar-level horsepower doesn’t have to cost six-figures. The Challenger is a throwback to Chrysler’s drag cars of the muscle car era, using its 6.2 liter supercharged Hemi V8 to make the zero to 60 scramble in around three seconds, and run the quarter mile in 10.8. Believe it or not, the Charger sedan is slightly lighter, and as such, the world’s most powerful sedan has a top speed of over 200 miles per hour. At just over $62K for the Challenger, and $65K for the Charger, the cars have become so popular that FCA has been building them at capacity for over a year now, and there are still waiting lists. It’s usually hard to predict which cars will become classics, but we’re convinced that these two are already bona-fide legends.
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