Roadside Classic: 1984 Dodge Shelby Charger – Let’s Take an Econobox and Turn it into a Muscular Car!

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Few car names are any better and carry more punch than “Charger”.  You know its intended purpose and capabilities in one succinct word.  Mustang?  You know what horses leave for you.  Camaro?  That creates no mental image.  No, Charger is one of the ultimate names for a car, something that won’t poke your eye out (Javelin), is not a blatant derivation of the maker (Chevelle), and isn’t some acronym (G.T.O.).

Carrying this further, is there anyone who hasn’t heard of the magic Carroll Shelby has performed?  Just the mere mention of his name can almost bring a hush to noise filled rooms with everyone’s ear tuned to hear more.  Even non-car people know of his vast and formidable talents.  He could easily be the E.F. Hutton of the automotive world.

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When you combine a great automotive talent such as Carroll Shelby with a nameplate dripping with presence, this is the end result.  For 1984 standards, it was pretty darn good.

I must admit to being pretty juiced about finding this Dodge.  A Shelby, I’m thinking, man, that little Charger should scoot down the road decently with its turbocharged 2.2 liter.

Little did I know.  I suppose I had fallen prey to Sporadic Memory Syndrome, a condition where you tend to forget a few key elements of a larger story, elements that can render a false outcome due to missing key details (just don’t confuse this with Repetitive Baloney Disorder, a phenomenon which happens from hearing some piece of malarkey often enough you start to believe it).  SMS tends to be more prevalent in men; those with RBD are usually found at car shows.

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Upon his collaboration with Chrysler, Carroll Shelby massaged and transformed an otherwise sedate Dodge Charger into something he wouldn’t cringe to put his name on.  The initial 1983 Dodge Shelby Charger was not the formidable, fire breathing, turbocharged beast you might think at first blush.  Quite the opposite, actually; it had 107 horsepower for 1983 and grew to 110 for 1984.  This seems quite appropriate.

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Think about the history of the Charger nameplate, dating back to its 1966 introduction (1968 model shown).  Always based on Chrysler’s B-body, the Charger’s ultimate example was performance based.  Then, along about 1972, it began its quick descent into broughamanship.

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By 1975, the Charger was nothing more than a Cordoba with a less inspired grille.  It faded away after 1978.

Throughout its life, the Charger was always a decent barometer of the times.  This little Charger does look fairly 1984, does it not?

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For its first shot, the output of the Charger was enhanced (85 horses were the best a regular Charger could muster), as well as the steering, gear ratios, and suspension.  The intent was a car that could handle, an idea that certainly runs counter to Charger executions of times past.  It wasn’t until 1985 that a turbocharger was bolted to the Charger’s 2.2 liter four-banger.

By 1983, the Charger body was a bit seasoned in the marketplace as it started life as the Dodge Omni 024 in 1979 (a CC on the identical Plymouth TC3 can be found here).  For 1984, the base Charger received a mild redesign to gain quad headlights and

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minimize its frontal resemblance to the Ford Escort EXP.  Or maybe that was the other way around; if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, it certainly appears Ford was flattering the dickens out of Chrysler as the 024 beat the EXP to market by two years.  When was the last time Ford used a Chrysler as a design inspiration?  Maybe I’m all wet on the similarity of appearance, but it screams loudly to me.

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Oddly, the Shelby Charger kept the old front end styling for 1984.

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Despite its vast improvement over the original, Dodge was only able to sell 7,522 of these in 1984.  In a twist that could be described as Orwellian, a three-speed automatic could be bolted to the Shelby Charger’s 2.2; almost 2,000 of them were produced as such.

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The skeptics will accuse this Shelby Charger of being all body cladding and tape, all show and no go since it wasn’t turbocharged.  Don’t fall victim to Repetitive Baloney Disorder – the naturally aspirated ’84 Shelby Charger could do the 1/4 mile in around sixteen seconds.  This is not fast by contemporary standards, but this was 1984, a time when many cars were simply incapable of a similar feat.  It was at this time Chrysler’s 318 cubic inch V8 was rated for only around 140 horsepower.

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Part of why this car had me initially juiced was due to envisioning myself having a drag race with some little punk in a ricer, with my skill and prowess behind the wheel totally obliterating and demoralizing him.  Even before I realized this example is not turbocharged, the fantasy quickly started to dissolve upon closer inspection.

Finding a car like this for sale does prompt me to exercise bit more scrutiny than usual.  Habit, I suppose.  However, when a person’s description of the car has an illegible description and model year, it doesn’t create feelings of warm fuzziness.  The owner’s father, upon whose property this car sat, was as good as gold but totally unknowledgeable of the car.  He did offer me an opportunity to drive it, but I passed for a variety of reasons.  This car looks good at a distance, but a few tell-tale signs of a hard life start to become apparent upon closer examination.

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This Shelby Charger certainly shows potential for greater things, much like the overall line of them did in 1984.  With the advent of turbocharging in 1985, greater things did indeed happen.  Let’s just hope this Shelby Charger goes to somebody who can make its potential fully emerge.

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