10 Forgotten Classic Dodge Models You Probably Never Knew Existed
Looking For An Unusual Dodge Classic For Your Collection? Try One Of These!
Updated November 10, 2018
From humble beginnings in the early 1900s to being considered one of the fieriest American divisions during the sixties, and finally to modern day cooperation with Fiat – Dodge has been to hell and back. More than once. Actually, it was their parent automaker Chrysler that’s almost bankrupted a couple of times before finally merging with Fiat. Dodge did play a role in that without a doubt, though. While some classic Dodge models almost destroyed their GM and Ford counterparts, others tried to destroy their own divisions with sub-par quality. Some, like the Dodge Omni on the other hand, tried to do both. Luckily, the Omni’s strong sales not only saved Chrysler from bankruptcy, it also covered up the fact that the compact was far from ideally built.
But the Dodge Omni is a car most people might remember, and as such, is not relevant to us here. Instead, we’ll focus on some way more obscure Dodge city cars that you likely don’t remember. Or perhaps, remember vaguely. Models that, for whatever reason, remained on the market for only a short time. These forgotten Dodge models often entered the market quietly and disappeared abruptly, with most of them failing to achieve the anticipated sales. Some were fine cars and deserved better than that, while others got just what they deserved. Whatever the case, you’ll likely have to dig deep in order to remember them all.
If you consider yourself to be a genuine Mopar aficionado, feel free to take a look at these lists of the fastest and most powerful Mopars of their time and Chrysler-Mopars that probably deserved better. Furthermore, you might also be interested in the Mopar-Chrysler edition of extremely rare limited run models and special edition vehicles.
Classic Dodge Models That Get Overlooked!
1960 Matador Wagon
The Dodge Matador itself ended up being a one year only offering. Of four body styles available – a 4-door sedan, 2 and 4-door hardtop, and 4-door station wagon – the last model was, naturally, the scarcest. It’s no wonder then why only a handful of people still remember one of Dodge’s most beautiful wagons.
The Matador was introduced in order to bridge the gap between the more premium full-size cars and smaller Darts. Although sharing the same new unibody construction, the Matador and Dart didn’t have the same wheelbase. The Matador’s wheelbase was 4 inches longer, slotting it in the new full-size base trim vehicle segment, just below the more upscale Polara. All Matadors, including wagons, came with the standard 361 cubic in “Super Red Ram” V8 engine. The 2-barrel setup raised 295 horsepower no matter the choice in transmission – either a 3-speed manual or 3-speed Torque-Flite automatic. As for the optional engine, that job was assigned to the 383 cu in “Ram Fire” V8. The regular 4-barrel models generated 325 horsepower, while the “D 500” setup with ram induction raised an additional 5 ponies. However, the latter option was only available with the automatic.
While both the Matador and the Polara were Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” cars, the former failed to offer as much exterior chrome and plushy interior upholstery as the latter. It also failed to include a number of features that otherwise came with Polara. While 27,908 total Matadors were made, only about 4,500 of those were wagons. It’s impossible to discern how many of those are actually out and about these days, but we’d wager it’s significantly fewer now.
1991-1992 Spirit R/T
When the Dodge Spirit made its debut in 1989, Mopar fanatics were less than impressed. A 4-door sedan with a standard 4-cylinder or optional Mitsubishi-sourced V6 engine offered steady performance which didn’t raise too many eyebrows. The general population considered it a good deal, so around 60,000 of these intermediates were sold during its first year. Dodge didn’t stop there though. For the 1991 model year, they finally introduced a performance version of the car – the Spirit R/T.
They took the regular 93-horsepower 2.2L in-line four and slapped a turbo on it. With a Garrett intercooled turbocharger, Lotus-designed heads and probably the first returnless fuel injection in the world, the Dodge Spirit R/T yielded as much as 224 hp and 218 lb-ft of torque. This was enough power for it to achieve a top speed of 141 mph and fly through the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds. 0 to 60 was also impressive as the Spirit R/T only needed 5.8 seconds to see it done. It was actually the fastest 4-door sedan sold in North America at the time. The only available transmission was an A568 5-speed stick with Getrag’s gearset. For an MSRP of $17,820, the Spirit R/T offered heavy-duty vented disk brakes on all four wheels, air conditioning and power windows. Anti-lock brakes were optional, though.
Only 1,208 (774 red and 434 white) Spirit R/T’s were produced for 1991, while an additional 192 units were sold in 1992 (92 red, 68 white and 31 silver). The car that dethroned the Ford Taurus SHO packed 1.67 horsepower per cubic inch, yet despite this surplus of power, managed to maintain a comfy ride as well. Even though Dodge discontinued it way before schedule, in my modest opinion, they at least offered a worthy successor.
1992-1993 Daytona IROC R/T
That aforementioned successor was none other than another R/T-branded car: the compact Daytona IROC R/T, which ran for another two years. Chrysler K-Car era was at its end by then, and Dodge wanted to send both the platform and turbocharged engines into retirement with one last bang.
That bang came in the same 16-valve 2.2L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine form as the Spirit R/T. The Daytona IROC R/T also developed 224 hp and 217 lb-ft of torque. Weighing around 3,000 pounds, however, it was supposed to be even quicker than the turbo Spirit. Top speed was clocked at over 150 mph, while 0 to 60 and quarter mile times were similar. Although the Daytona received a facelift for the 1993 model year, no more than 341 total R/T’s were sold over the course of two years. And their numbers aren’t exactly growing. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an original specimen given the fact many of them are either gone or were subject to an engine swap.
Looking at the Spirit and Daytona IROC R/T’s separately, they probably deserved longer stints in the market. Considering they were powered by the same engine and practically represented the same offering, on the other hand, meant they had stuck just about long enough. Long enough for enough people to snag one of them. Yet, that’s where the Spirit R/T and especially the Daytona IROC R/T had failed. Or rather, Dodge customers failed, since this turbocharged dynamic K-Car duo was more than respectable in most ways imaginable.
2006 Ram SRT-10 Night Runner
When Dodge introduced the Ram SRT-10 performance pickups, they knew right away some time will have to pass before another mass production truck dethrones it. That moment is yet to arrive since no pickup (aside from Ford‘s ridiculous F-150 Super Snake) has managed to beat its 510 horsepower and 535 lb-ft of torque. No wonder, really, since it came with the Viper’s 8.3L V10 powerplant.
Part of that SRT-10 lineup was the extremely limited Night Runner. It was one of the most menacing special edition packages Mopar has ever offered on a truck. Apart from breathing fire through that bulging hood of his, the Night Runner also sported 22-inch Dark Nickel Pearl wheels, a blacked out grille, windows and headlights, Brilliant Black metallic paint, and a bed-mounted wing. Only 400 of these ultimate pickups were ever produced – 200 in regular cab and 200 in the quad cab setup. Apart from being shorter, regular cab models also came with an alternate transmission option. They sported a Tremec T-56 6-speed manual, while the quad cab Night Runners received a 4-speed auto. The former was capable of hitting 60 mph from a standstill in under 5 seconds, while the latter needed 5.6 seconds in order to do the same.
Of course, the Night Runner was available in more conventional forms as well. Sporting a 5.7L Hemi V8 with considerably less power and ending up with slightly smaller 20-inch rims, 2,000 of these “normal” Night Runners were produced. Yet, it’s the rare Night Runner SRT-10 that was always going to end up our favorite. There hasn’t been a more menacing pickup truck since, and I doubt there will be one in the near future.
1978 Aspen Super Coupe
The Dart’s replacement, the Dodge Aspen, upon introduction, started reflecting Dodge’s strategy on a smaller scale. Mopar’s performance division boasted a myriad of special edition vehicles overall, yet the Aspen managed to offer a few of its own. This feat becomes even more grandiose when considering that the Aspen only stuck around for 5 model years. The Aspen Kit Car, for instance, was only produced for a very limited 145 units. There were also Sport Wagons, Sport Coupes with T-tops and Super Pak options, among many others. Our pick of the day, however, has to be the Aspen Super Coupe, of which only 531 copies were produced. Chrysler also offered a total of 494 similarly packed Plymouth Volares.
The Aspen Super Coupe came exclusively with a 360 cu in V8 under its hood. The 4-barrel setup generated as much as 175 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, while a few European export models were rated at 177 ponies. It’s likely because that figure corresponded to 180 metric horsepower and Dodge wanted a nicely rounded number for advertising purposes. Either way, the Aspen Super Coupe also mandated a 3-speed Torque-Flite auto transmission, heavy-duty suspension, 15-inch Aramid-fiber radials, and a rear sway bar. As for appearances, all Super Coupes were painted Sable Tan metallic and had yellow, blue and orange tape stripes. Another interesting detail was the rear-quarter window louvers.
Although the Aspen Super Coupe beat the likes of a coeval Chevrolet Corvette, Camaro Z28, and Firebird Trans-Am with its 8.1 second 0 to 60 time, the F-body’s deteriorating reputation for reliability took its toll. The even tamer Aspen Sport Coupes were slow sellers, but the Super Coupe ended up being a complete failure. 1978 was obviously not a good year for a sporty niche compact car. The Aspen Super Coupe definitely would have fared better had it been introduced later on – preferably on a different platform.
1982-1983 Dodge 400
The Dodge 400 was introduced in late 1981 as a stablemate to the more popular Chrysler LeBaron. This intermediate K-car was intended as a more upmarket version of the Dodge Aries and came in three available body styles: a 4-door sedan, 2-door coupe and 2-door convertible. In fact, it was the first convertible marketed by Dodge since 1971. It was also the first American-made convertible overall since 1976 with the discontinuation of the convertible Cadillac Eldorado, which was selfishly dubbed ‘the last American convertible’. We all saw how well that worked out. The LeBaron and 400 were given the Super K moniker and played a major role in saving Chrysler from the clutches of bankruptcy.
Unlike the exterior, which featured a number of non K-car features like a Mirada-styled grille, side fender vents and lots of chrome, everything mechanical in the Dodge 400 was K-car. For starters, it was equipped with Chrysler’s 2.2L 4-cylinder engine mated to 3-speed automatic transmission. Coupes did get a 5-speed manual, but only during the Dodge 400’s sophomore year. The optional engine was a Mitsubishi-sourced 2.6L straight-four. Other mechanical bits like brakes, suspension and steering were also taken from K-cars.
Although 1983 already brought a few changes, including a rather unconventional $3,000 price cut for the Dodge 400 convertible, it wasn’t until 1984 that Super Ks were completely overhauled. In fact, the Dodge 400 was discontinued in favor of the larger E-bodied Dodge 600 – almost equally as obscure as its predecessor. The 400 sedan, however, was replaced one year earlier during 1983. The 600 would soldier on until 1988 and sell almost 310,000 units compared to the 400’s 57,000.
1979-1981 St Regis
The R-body Dodge St Regis has managed to fall through the crack called obscurity. It’s one of those forgotten short-term models whose sales dwindled with each passing year before Chrysler decided to pull the plug on it. It was only available in a 4-door notchback sedan body style and sold 64,502 copies over the course of three model years. More than half (34,434 units) were sold during its inaugural year, with an additional 17,068 following in 1980 while exactly 13,000 left the factory in 1981.
So why did Dodge city fans avoid this classic Dodge? Especially since it was larger and lighter than its B-body predecessor, the Monaco? Well, the St Regis was perceived as the cherry on top of the sundae that was an already disastrous decade for Chrysler. For starters, the St Regis didn’t offer anything new in terms of styling. Then, there was the issue of using outdated chassis components like torsion bar front suspension. Last but not the least, the St Regis was handicapped by an energy crisis in 1979 caused by the Iranian revolution. Wrong timing had, however, become Chrysler’s trademark by then. Had there not been a number of police departments that saw the St Regis as their potential new cruiser, the full-size car would have been a total flop.
Even the largest 360 cu in V8 was discontinued after the St Regis’ sophomore year (after its first year in California). What remained was a somewhat anemic 225 cu in slant six and 318 cu in V8. Not enough for muscle car fanatics which reigned supreme only 10 years before yet too much for the new, tax and expensive-fuel-burdened malaise era.
It’s no wonder most people don’t remember this Dodge any more. Not too many of them were produced to begin with, and most have already been crushed or rusted away after providing their owners with anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 manly miles. The Dodge Raider was nothing more than a rebadged Mitsubishi Pajero. Or Mitsubishi Montero as they were called on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe now things are becoming somewhat clearer.
The Dodge Raider was already an outdated SUV upon its introduction. Mitsubishi had been selling the first gen Pajero since 1982 which meant, again, Chrysler was late as usual. Hence, when it arrived, Mitsubishi’s 2.6L Astron four banger was already somewhat weak and inefficient, which is probably one of the reasons Dodge added the optional 3.0L V6 the following year. Another issue was the Raider’s reliability. They were actually fine apart from one slight drawback – potentially self destructive head gaskets.
Interiors were spartan which was to be expected for a mid-eighties compact 4×4 SUV. However, Dodge advertised the Raider as much more comfortable than its Japanese role model. Of all the helpful interior gadgets, we liked its inclinometer the most. A total of 41,618 units were eventually sold – almost half of them during the inaugural year. All were 3-door versions despite Mitsubishi offering the Pajero/Montero in a 5-door setup.
1971-1972 Dart Demon
While we’re waiting for the dust storm caused by 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon’s announcement to settle, it’s as good a time as any to reminisce about the Demon badge and its history with the Dodge brand. The Challenger SRT Demon, naturally, isn’t the first Dodge performance car to feature this suddenly prominent moniker. One classic Dodge has done it before. It was the Dodge Dart that’s boasted the rather unique and, for some, unsettling Demon badging. Considering what the Dart has become these days, that might come as a double surprise to some of you.
By the time 1971 had arrived, Dodge had finally recognized the potential that the Plymouth Valiant-based Duster fastback possessed. They jumped on board and offered their own version of the car that would become the Dodge Demon. It was supposed to be called the Beaver at first, but CB radio chatter across America soon discouraged that idea. Not wanting to stir controversy, they opted for the name Demon – derived from Dodge’s “Come in for a Demon-stration” slogan – and completed the car with a cartoonish devil figure with a fork. It may look innocent now, but many religious groups protested the idea, so much so that the Demon name had to be withdrawn after only two years on the market.
Apart from controversial side emblems, the Dart Demon also sported unique tail-lights and optional spoiler and blackout hood treatment with dual scoops. Under that hood beat the heart of a 340 cu in V8 yielding 275 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque. However, only 10,000 of nearly 80,000 Demons sold in 1971 came with the 340. Others were powered by a much more practical 198 or 225 cu in slant-six or 318 cu in V8. All Demons could be ordered with standard 3-speed manual or optional 3-speed Torque-Flite auto, while 340 versions added an optional 4-speed manual and 3.55 axle ratio into the mix. When Dodge dropped the big-blocks in 1972, the 340 cu in V8 suddenly became one of their strongest offerings. And yet, its total output dropped altogether with the compression ratio to 240 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. Another 48,000 Demons were sold in 1972, and less than 9,000 were 340-powered.
The aforementioned religious groups finally got their prayers answered after Dodge discontinued the Demon nameplate. However, one can’t help but ponder whether Chrysler would have given up that easily had the Demon exhibited a better sales record. At least the car continued its journey, albeit under a different name. The Dodge Dart Sport wasn’t as exciting or as creative as the Demon, but the 340 cu in V8 was still there – sinking deeper and deeper into mediocrity.
1978 Midnite Express
Earlier on in the article, I said that nobody offered a truck as powerful and menacing as the SRT-10 Night Runner. I will say, that statement may be spot on. At least on the power part. But maybe not so much on the menacing part…The Dodge Midnite Express might have something to say about that. What was it? A one year only stablemate to the iconic Dodge Li’l Red Express pickup truck. But this one comes in black. Now, imagine yourself standing on a dark, gloomy road, all alone. Suddenly, a Midnite Express completed with those Li’l Red Express dual stacks starts coming at you full steam ahead! Intimidated? Well, I’d be too.
The Midnite Express truck had all the unique visual details of its Li’l Red Express sister. Mentioned dual stacks were there, and so was the wood panel bed work. Door decals in gold were also there, but they just popped so much better on a black background – just my 2 cents. Power was where these two differed. You’ll probably remember that, unburdened by dreaded catalytic converters, the Li’l Red Express ended up becoming the fastest American production vehicle from 0 to 100 mph. Faster than the Corvette, even. It was powered exclusively by a 360 cu in V8. The Midnite Express, on the other hand, could be ordered with just about any engine available. Much like another special edition D Series pickup – The Warlock. Most people ordered this “lifestyle truck” with the largest 440 cu in V8. Although more powerful on paper, the big-block was heavily burdened by regulatory mumbo jumbo which saw the Li’l Red Express’ 360 winning the day.
The Midnite Express remains one of the most obscure classic Dodge pickup truck special editions ever produced. Conflicting and likely incomplete info still shrouds it in mystery, but at least healthy examples can still be spotted once in a blue moon.
Whether you’re a Mopar fiend, a total newcomer or somewhere in between, we hope you found something interesting or learned something new from our list today. If there’s a model we left out that you think deserves some praise, sound off in the comments below!
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