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New Charger may face fate of retro GTO
By Matt Nauman
By Matt Nauman
If you saw the Daytona 500 race, you no doubt know that there's a new Dodge Charger going on sale this summer.
There are two schools of thought on how successful that car will be.
The first says that Chrysler is on a roll, that it's making money and head-turning cars again. The surprising success of the Chrysler 300 sedan and Dodge Magnum wagon set the stage for the Charger's return. After all, those three models share platforms and engines, including the Hemi V-8 that has become Chrysler's fourth brand these days. (As in Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and ``That thing got a Hemi?'')
The new Charger will be priced right, probably starting around $27,000, when it goes on sale in June.
The other group-think puts a more negative spin on the Charger's future. And it invokes the Pontiac GTO.
The GTO, like the Charger, is/was a legendary muscle car from the '60s and '70s. It, also like the Charger, disappeared for many years. Fans of the original stayed loyal, and these now-vintage GTOs and Chargers still demand attention at weekend car shows.
General Motors brought back the GTO for the 2004 model year and it landed with a thud. This new one looked just like any other Pontiac (strike one) and it was built in Australia (strike two). Even its 5.7-liter V-8 and rumbling exhaust note couldn't save it. GM predicted annual sales of 18,000. Pontiac dealers sold just 13,569 last year. GM engineers recently added 50 horsepower and some muscle-car touches such as a hood with dual air scoops and more pronounced exhaust-pipe tips to attempt to salvage the GTO.
The new Charger comes to market as a car that doesn't resemble the old Charger (strike one), and with four doors instead of two (strike two).
Some Charger loyalists on Internet discussion boards have savaged the new version. One called it ``another ruined American icon.'' Another is selling a T-shirt with the message ``Real Dodge Chargers have two doors!'' and a big red circle with a slash through it over a photo of the new Charger.
Some even think that the new Charger's German roots -- automaker DaimlerChrysler is a German-run company and the Charger shares a few parts with some Mercedes models -- is strike three, but I think the jury is still out.
Personally, I think the new Charger looks a bit dull. The front end that has become Dodge's signature look (on the Magnum, Dakota and Durango) doesn't work here. And the rear end and the interior don't do much for me, either.
Nostalgia-based marketing is a dicey business. The new version of the Mustang does a nice job of looking very similar to the late-'60s version, and it's winning praise and new buyers.
Both the VW New Beetle and the Mini Cooper have cashed in on their sentimental shapes.
But Ford's retro Thunderbird hasn't been a star car. And the revived GTO proves that bringing back a classic name is no guarantee of success.
Not coincidentally, a new movie starring perhaps the most famous old Dodge Charger arrives this summer. (Some would argue that it's Richard Petty's No. 43 blue-and-red Charger race car.) ``The Dukes of Hazzard'' is a remake of the TV series that ran from 1979 to 1985. It'll feature Jessica Simpson and Burt Reynolds, but the real star remains the General Lee, a 1969 Charger that'll fly through the air and kick up walls of dirt as Bo and Luke Duke avoid Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane.
Unlike GM, which did little to connect the old and new GTOs, Dodge isn't running away from the Charger heritage. It already has tried to profit from the Charger's NASCAR racing history. It also says it'll revive two classic paint colors on Charger Daytona R/T models to be sold later this year. Go man, go!, a shade of metallic orange, and Top Banana, a bright yellow, will adorn cars with honeycomb grilles, dual exhaust tips, ``Hemi'' and ``Daytona'' badges and a black rear spoiler.
Will it be enough? Time and monthly sales reports will let us know.