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.
2.1969 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.
3.1970 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.
4.1978 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.