Even automakers that never really cared for performance had to have one or more of the fastest and most powerful specimens in their midst. Someone has to be the number one, doesn’t it?! Performance oriented car makers such as Dodge, Plymouth and other Mopar divisions have had numerous such examples. And for more or less any given period of time at that. Although this wasn’t the usual business model, Chrysler’s subdivisions sometimes stepped out of conventional car maker’s comfort zone and delivered something out of the ordinary. However, looking back at the golden age of American performance cars, one might say Mopars were doing that on a regular basis. Being smallest of the Big Three, they simply had to take more risks than Ford or GM. Sometimes they failed miserably, but more often than not, Mopar gave us performance cars that would become the future icons.
And Mopar’s portfolio is the best place to look for some of the fastest and most powerful American classic cars. One would easily be able to compile the list of 10 such cars by going through FCA’s current lineup. Although Challengers, Chargers and even the recently axed Viper are some of their best such examples, we’ll dig a little bit deeper here. Current FCA performance car’s 40 or 50 year older predecessors wouldn’t be able to cope with them, but precious few cars were able to cope with classic Mopars back then as well. This is why we’re bringing you the most powerful and fastest Mopars of their time – not just a bunch of current Hellcats and Vipers.
1957 DeSoto Adventurer
The DeSoto brand is all but forgotten now, but as an affordable alternative to the Chrysler badge it had a lot to say back when it was still in the business. In 1956, they introduced a limited-production high performance Adventurer that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the mighty Chrysler 300. More so, the Adventurer would become the first American car ever to feature 1 horsepower per 1 cubic inch of its motor. A feat that would later be claimed by Chevrolet, but only because DeSoto let them by failing to properly advertise Adventurer until 1959. No wonder the Chrysler brass decided to discontinue the division in 1961.
The car that managed to achieve the aforementioned feat was the 1957 DeSoto Adventurer. It came with 345ci version of the Firedome Hemi V8 which, as you can imagine, produced 345 horsepower. Only some 1956 and 1957 Adventurers would receive this specially bored and stroked (square 3.80 inch) version of the original 341ci V8 engine. The engine itself, however, wasn’t enough for that kind of output, hence Adventurer was further motivated by dual Carter WCFB four-barrel carburetors. Thanks to that, the DeSoto Adventurer was easily able to top out 140 mph. It’s true that successive model would deliver 350 horsepower, but it needed the 361ci wedge headed TurboFlash engine in order to do so.
All 1957 DeSoto Adventurers – and there were 1,950 of them produced (1,650 hardtops and 300 convertibles) – featured the same paint scheme; either white or black base with gold trim. They also had factory installed air condition, and optional features like power windows, power six-way seats and a stereo. Prices started at $4,272 (close to $37,500 in 2017 dollars). Although somewhat expensive for a bottom tier car, it was still much more affordable than the cheapest Chrysler 300C which started from $4,929.
1958 Chrysler 300D
DeSoto Adventurer would lose its Hemi V8 for 1958 model year – a fate that would avoid Chrysler letter series cars for another Earth’s cycle around the Sun. 1958 Chrysler 300D was the last of the letter series models powered by a FirePower Hemi mill. 392 cubic inch engine was good enough for 380 horsepower in its base form, but delivered 10 ponies more if ordered with world’s first ever electronic fuel injection. Bendix Corporation’s Electrojector system, however, proved to be highly unreliable. Given the fact it was a new technology ahead of its time, one can’t really blame them. Anyway, most of the handful (likely 21) of Chrysler 300D’s ordered with this highly expensive option were later retrofitted with basic dual four-barrel carbs, so any 1958 fuel injected Mopar (including the 300D) is quite a find these days.
Most of Chrysler 300D’s were ordered with standard TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic, but there were those that had the manual trans instead. Precious few of them actually. Although power output was raised by 5 hp compared to Chrysler 300C, styling remained mostly intact. Shorter tail-lights, “300” badges on wheel covers and slightly revised leather interior pattern were some of the few changes. Biggest change, however, was the adoption of the new, more aerodynamic bubble windshield. This, together with a few more ponies motivating the Hemi powerplant, helped Chrysler 300D set then new Class E record of 156.387 at the Bonneville salts. What makes 300D even more exclusive are its low, ’58 recession-driven production numbers. Only 619 coupes and 191 convertibles were built.
1968 Dodge Dart Hurst L023
Although not initially intended as a performance car, the Dodge Dart had more than few high output versions throughout its lifespan. The 1968-only limited offering of L023 code Hemi-powered Hurst-reworked Dart was the most powerful of them all. Only 80 Darts have been fitted this way, and there’s a good reason for that. They were powered by the second gen 426ci Elephant Hemi powerplant and it’s not that easy stuffing an elephant into a compact car such as Dart. These no warranty disclaimer specials were intended for drag racing and were very much capable of achieving a healthy 10-second quarter mile run. All this was possible thanks to 425 advertised horsepower and Hurst Dart’s feather weight. In truth, however, 3,000-pounder handled more than 500 horsepower.
Everything from carpets to heaters, sound deadeners, stereo and even horn was scrapped in order to save on weight. Even the L023’s doors were dipped in acid to thin out the steel. Windows were made out of plexiglass, while the fenders and hood were made out of fiberglass. It was one hell of a machine that no manufacturer could ever be ashamed of. And Mopar was deservedly proud.
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and 1970 Plymouth Superbird
The Dodge Dart Super Stock was one hellishly fast and powerful drag racer, but the Dodge Charger Daytona and its successor, the Plymouth Superbird, were on another level entirely. They were both built for the sole purpose of dominating the NASCAR. And they did. the Charger Daytona won a total of 6 races in 1969 and 1970, while the legendary Superbird managed to win 8; all during the 1970. Both specials were offered with 440ci V8s, but could have also been ordered with a 426ci Hemi Elephant mill.
Only 503 Daytonas were built, 70 of which were ordered with the Hemi. The Superbird, on the other hand, was produced in more than 2,000 copies as homologation rules were changed for 1970. Instead of a minimum of 500 homologation models, manufacturers had to build two per each dealership they possessed. In Plymouth’s case, this meant 1,920 units. Records vary, but it’s believed that there were 135 Hemi and 716 Six Pack Super Commando Superbirds. The rest were 4-barrel Super Commando-fitted.
Unlike their role models, the Dodge Charger and Plymouth Roadrunner, the Daytona and Superbird featured a much longer chassis due to their downforce-creating sheet-metal nose cone, which replaces the conventional grille. They were also graced by ludicrously large 23-inch wing spoilers. Being made for NASCAR, both the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird featured a heavy-duty suspension. Who knows what their records would have been like hadn’t NASCAR banned them both (together with the Ford Torino Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler) from competition due to their extreme performance on the track. Having an aero car on the track was simply unfair toward other drivers.
1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
The First 426ci Hemi-equipped Plymouth ‘Cuda’s were built in 1968. 50 or so limited Hurst-reworked super stock drag racers have been given more or less the same treatment as the L023 Dodge Dart. However, it was the third generation of the Plymouth Barracuda that has finally accepted the Elephant as general population-available option. Add to that a substantial facelift that finally established the Barracuda as a car on its own and distinguished it from the Valiant, and you can see why some of them sell for seven figures. As far as Mopars go, the Hemi ‘Cuda has actually set the record in that respect. In fact, no less than four Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles sit atop the list of the most expensive muscle cars ever sold at auctions.
The story about the 426ci Hemi V8’s performance is already boring but here we go again. It delivered 425 horsepower in brochures only. In real life, the Elephant yielded more like 500 ponies. It wasn’t only performance and new design that made the Hemi ‘Cuda what it was. Mopar’s High Impact colors were part of that image as much as anything else. And the ‘Cuda came in colors such as Sassy Grass (Go Green), In Violet (Plum Crazy), Tor Red (Hemi Orange) and Moulin Rouge (Panther Pink) among others. Crazy enough names, but it could have been even wackier hadn’t some of them been rejected. Names like Gang Green, Catch Me Copper, Unforeseeable Fuchsia and my personal favorite, the Statutory Grape.
1978 Dodge Lil’ Red Express
If one vehicle wasn’t supposed to be featured among the fastest of its coevals, it’s a pickup. The Dodge Lil’ Red Express, however, wasn’t your run of the mill pickup. It wasn’t only one of the fastest and most powerful Mopars of its time. It was actually the most powerful American vehicle for 1978. Faster than that year’s Corvette even. At least from 0 to 100 mph. Such peculiar turn of events was possible due to emissions regulations loophole which failed to foresee mandatory catalytic converters in pickup trucks. Although every manufacturer could have taken the advantage of that situation, only Mopar had done so.
Dodge’s Lil’ Red Express draw all of its 225 horsepower out of 360ci V8 – a modified version of the 360 police engine. Red exclusive paint and special door graphics were joined by another peculiar stylistic detail – dual exhaust with vertical stack-pipes. These chromed semi truck-inspired exhaust weren’t just for show, though. They featured Hemi style mufflers with a crossover pipe inside them. Lil’ Red Express would give birth to another rare “Adult Toys” truck; the Midnite Express. It would also carry over into 1979, but with freshly installed catalytic converter this time around. Such is the curse of the loophole. Use it and it’ll raise awareness about itself.
1986 Shelby GLH-S
Shelby isn’t a part of Mopar, but we all know what this Shelby-made subcompact actually is a modified Dodge Omni GLH. The “Goes Like Hell” Omni was one fine sports compact already, but final 500 1985 models (all black) were sold to the old dog Carroll Shelby. Newly christened “Goes Like Hell S’more” Omni’s were even meaner and faster. But we already figured that out judging by their name.
The 2.2L intercooled Turbo II 4-cylinder engine was good enough for 175 horsepower and corresponding amount of torque. Given that this sports compact only weighed around 2,200 pounds, the Shelby tuned Dodge Omni GLH Turbo 0-60 time was a feisty 6.5 seconds. It also topped out at 130 mph and achieved quarter mile drag time of 14.8 seconds. This might not seem like much, but those were the eighties. In truth, the Shelby Omni was faster than 305ci V8 F-body Camaros and Firebirds. It also had better quarter mile results than the Mustangs and even Corvettes of the day.
1992 Dodge Viper
When it was introduced in 1992, the Viper instantly became one of the biggest automotive surprises in history. Mopars often and freely flirted with the highest performance peaks, but they never climbed that high before. Lamborghini-designed (Italians were owned by Chrysler back then) 8.0L odd-firing V10 generated 400 horsepower. It’s true that second generation Hemi delivered even more, but no Mopar was able to top 165 mph while accelerating to 60 in just 4.6 seconds before. First gen Viper weighed close to 3,300 pounds, 711 lbs of which went on already mentioned powerplant.
Viper wasn’t only fast. It was also stylish. Nothing made in America was as cool as the Viper at that point. And some time will pass still, before another one revolutionizes the market in the same way. Moreover, Dodge Viper was initially imagined without the roof, the windows, and even the exterior door handles. What’s even more important, at first it didn’t even have the airbags, traction control and anti-lock brakes. Viper was as spartan as one sports car get. And that reminisced about famous super stock Mopars of the sixties like nothing else since. Although it caught the world by surprise and paved a new way for Chrysler’s performance divisions, 1992 Dodge Viper was a Mopar through and through.
2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10
It was Viper’s 10-year anniversary when Dodge presented their second pickup truck concept fitted with sports car’s engine. Unlike the Dodge Ram VTS which never made it into production, SRT-10 actually made the cut. It did have to wait two more years, but come 2004, 500-horsepower beast was ready and available. 8.3L behemoth of an engine propelled the 5,130-pound regular cab models to the top speed of 154 mph and 0 to 60 time of 4.9 seconds. Mopar finally had a truck that made Lil’ Red Express proud.
This type of performance had its downside, of course. Fuel (in)efficiency was officially 9 mpg in the city and 15 mpg on the highway. Quad cab models which were heavier and slightly slower were rated at 9/12 mpg. By the end of SRT-10’s production run which spanned over three model years, there were around 9,500 units of this extreme pickup truck sold.
2015 Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat
Thanks to the Hellcat 6.2L Hemi V8, newest Challengers and Chargers represent the world’s best performance bargains. For around $65,000 you get 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of twist. And in all that fuss about their unparalleled performance figures, one would simply forget that they’re back. I mean they’ve been back for around a decade already, but only now they finally mean business and have something unique to offer. Something that was a sheer necessity in modern-day streamlined muscle car market.
Both the Challenger and the Charger can achieve the top speed of around 200 mph. There haven’t been Mopars capable of completing such a feat prior to SRT Hellcat’s arrival. They’re also capable of submitting low 3-second 0 to 60 times. But that doesn’t come as a surprise for muscle cars stuffed with the most powerful Hemi engine ever. Given their huge success, Hellcats are bound to remain with us for unforeseeable time. They might even get the long sought after all-wheel drive somewhere down the line.