Hey Charger!


There is only one Australian car in my Alltime Top Ten, the E49 Charger. The story of this Australian automotive icon is one of the great underdog tales.



Chrysler was always the poor relation of the Big Three, in Australia even more so. While Ford and GM Holden were headquartered in the industrial heartland of Victoria, Chrysler was in Adelaide, with the logistics problems that entails. The company had less money than its competitors and more problems with suppliers, especially items required by all three manufacturers which often meant that the factory in Tonsley Park was the last to receive them.



Full scale local production began in 1963 with the Valiant AP5. The imported slant-six engine was significantly more powerful than Ford and Holden engines. The first V8 in an Australian car was introduced in the AP6, 1965. An engine production plant was completed in Lonsdale in 1968 and the locally developed Hemi six was introduced in 1970 in the VG Valiant.


Chrysler had a reputation for powerful engines, top of the tree was the fearsome 426 Hemi V8, a racing engine available in street cars in the USA for marketing and homologation purposes. The local Hemi took its name from that and was based on a prototype truck engine developed in Detroit. The VG Valiant Pacer was a sporting variant available with the topline Hemi that generated a healthy 235hp.



By 1968 Chrysler Australia was developing the VH range on a total budget of $22 million, a paltry amount for the first locally designed Valiant. The styling was done in Detroit in the same studio as the XA Falcon, with the input of a couple of Australians. Head Office was insistent on a vast American styled car, including the horrendous Chrysler by Chrysler two-door hardtop. The designers and engineers in Adelaide knew that there was little to no market for this car but since they were already tooling up for those long doors, why not use them for a short wheelbase coupe?


A scant $2M was secretly diverted to design and development. In late 1969, Chrysler Australia chiefs flew to Detroit for a presentation. They liked the sedan, the wagon, loved the hardtop. Didn’t like the short wheelbase coupe at all. But it was ready to go so they reluctantly signed off on it.



The VH was released in June ’71. The lack of proper investment and interference from Head Office is evident in the styling compromises, details addressed too slowly, and, damningly, the lack of proper flow-thru ventilation. The HQ Holden (July ’71) and XA Falcon (March ’72) had it, those companies had the resources to develop it.


It wasn’t bad, with a capacious boot, wide back seat and strong engine, nor was it fully realised or designed with local conditions in mind.


Production issues delayed the release of the Charger until August ’71 which had the fortunate effect of it being perceived as a separate model. It hit the market with the most memorable advertising campaign ever devised for an Australian car.




I was five years old when we saw one parked on the street near school in Padstow. We stopped and studied it. Seven lights each side at the back!



Chrysler Australia knew they had a winner. The Hemi Six was available with 265 cubic inches. Leo Geoghegan had been testing a modified VG ute in 1970 to ascertain the handling qualities and engine performance. A car, engine and engineers were dispatched to the Weber carburettor factory in Italy where they spent months fine-tuning three big side-draught carbs to the engine.



The E49 was the ultimate performance Charger. Released in January 1972 with 300+hp and a standing quarter in the 14s.



The Charger had a presence. GT Falcons looked a lot like any Falcon. XU-1 Toranas were two door versions of your neighbour’s family car. No-one would mistake a Charger for any regular VH, not with those long doors, the buttresses astride the rear window, the ducktail rear, the ‘seven’ taillights.


Australian performance cars are judged on their record at Mt Panorama in October. Doug Chivas came close, were it not for some mistakes by his pit crew, he may have won in ’72.



Again, it was a lack of investment. The first hotshit Charger, the E38, had a three-speed gearbox, thanks to laws about local content that Chrysler couldn’t get around, and dodgy brakes. The E49 Charger was so damned close, but Chrysler pulled race funding just when it was about to pay off.


The compromises were there for all to see, even the hero car had a Hillman Hunter grille and lights grafted in up front. May ’73, the VJ had the front end detailing the VH should have had, the round headlights pushed out beside the indicators. It no longer looked slightly embarrassed and a triple six was still available.



The CL was released in November ’76 with a new front end that looked like a late ‘60s Buick. The sedans had a new tail and there were bumper strips and stripes across the range that made the most of the long lines. The stylists went out for a good drink and celebrated the release of what they’d wanted to do six years earlier.


I don’t like the CL front on a Charger, it’s too detailed and heavy looking. But they got the profile look right. Black window frames and stretching that black vinyl patch behind the side window, full length bumper strip, hip-high stripes, accentuating the length and shifting the proportions, the Charger left on a sweet note.



The Charger came out of nothing and nowhere, it was a renegade car and we ought celebrate it with a procession around Parliament House while ‘Blackfella Whitefella’, ‘Friday On my Mind’, ‘Don’t Wanna Be The One’, ‘Sun God’, ‘Hot Generation’, etc, play over the loudest PA assembled in Australia.





Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE


About Earl O'Neill

Freelance gardener, I've thousands of books, thousands of records, one fast motorcycle and one gorgeous smart funny sexy woman. Life's pretty darn neat.


  1. I had a bright yellow ’78 TC Cortina with the “power bulge” V6 engine. Only power bulge I ever owned. Great in a straight line and I flogged it to death around the Adelaide Hills. Only boy car I ever owned – succeeded by a long list of dad cars. I wouldn’t know a carburettor from a crankshaft.
    Atlanta Falcons (NBA); San Diego Chargers (NFL) and GWS Monaros (AFL). Overpromise and underdeliver. Must be a boy car thing.

  2. The Charger sure is a great looking car, Earl.
    My late grandfather bought a brand new Valiant in 1970 and drove until just a couple of years before he passed away some 30 years later. It was a tank of a vehicle.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Geez, I enjoyed this Earl, despite my lack of interest in cars. Thanks.

    $2795 !!!

  4. I seem to recall you could actually buy an el cheapo Charger with the 215 engine and 3 on the tree gearbox!! But I agree, in the top 10 and had its own personality. E49 a genuine classic The first 20 years of Chrysler produced some pretty good cars, but the last few years were awful. Centura anybody? Chrysler by Chrysler, in 2 door form with brocade upholstery. I rest my case.

    We in the Commonwealth Government had some lovely Valiant Rangers with plastic bench seats, rubber floor mats, radios removed, 3 gears and no air-conditioning. Classic.

  5. Rulebook says

    Earl, I readily admit my knowledge of cars would fit on the back of a postage stamp with plenty of room to spare but loved this how good were the Charger adds ? I do remember the Charger from my youth too

  6. Peter B. I too had a TC Cortina, but 4 cylinder and no power bulge… They were straight sixes, no V6, 200 or 250 cubic inches, straight out of the Falcons of the time, father-in-law had one and it went fairly well?

  7. Rulebook, you recall the ad with the ‘Hey Charger’ line and the flash of the fingers. It’s a long time since i’ve seen it, probably about 1972.

    Bucko, the Centura is up there with the UC Torana, & the Leyland P76 in the pantheon of Australian cars you wouldn’t want to be seen in.


  8. Glen! There is a longer and quite inglorious list to add to yours I am sorry to say. I cite the 4 cylinder Commodore, Leyland Marina, Lightburn Zeta, Datsun 120Y, Holden Camira, Ford Falcon AU, Toyota Lexcen, Nissan Pintara, Ford Capri (convertible), Holden Gemini diesel, Toyota Avalon…. I could go on, but space forbids.

  9. Earl, my first car was an EH Holden wagon.
    186 motor. 3 on the tree.
    What a machine that was.
    It ran on the smell of an oily rag.

  10. E.regnans says

    Love it Earl.
    My first car was the HK Kingswood wagon.
    Bottle green.
    Except the drivers’ door, which was kind of pale blue/grey.
    186, too, Smoke. 3-on-the-tree.
    Driven while sitting on a couch whose springs gave you the simple harmonic motion of an ocean crossing.

  11. Rulebook says

    Glen that would be about right I would have been,9 I remember the catchy tune and I think the thumbs up appealed

  12. Love these old car pieces. Mine was a HR sedan, but still would love an EH. Peerless aesthetics.

  13. Colin Ritchie says

    Love these stories! My first car was a grey Mini, fab car, still reckon it was the best car I ever had! The only time I ever went to a motor race was at Sandown, probably 70 or 71, and if my memory hasn’t failed me (as it often does) I believe Norm Beechey (?) in a Charger won the race.I stand to be corrected.

  14. Earl O'Neill says

    My first car was an HG panno, 186 auto. It had bucket seats, mag wheels and a spark booster!

    Quite the preponderance of 60s Holdens here. Doubtful that kids today will fondly reminisce over Mirages and Excels. (there’s a column in that)

    Col, that would’ve been a great day at Sandown! Norm raced a Charger at Bathurst in 1971 but he was more involved in Improved Production. He won the championship in 1970 in his mighty HT Monaro, to be featured in a future column.

    I could go on…

  15. My first car was a 1950 Vauxhall Wyvern like the one seen in the TV series Heartbeat. It cost me ninety pounds ($180 dollars in today’s money) in ’64. It had a column gear shift and when country driving at 60 mph the gear lever would jump into neutral. By holding said lever whist driving at that speed, the problem was solved.

    These days I drive an automatic Mitsubishi, the last manual car I drove was a Toyota Corona. Nothing flash for me.

  16. Earl, a HG panel van !?!

    The missus and i were in Hay few years back, circa 2016, where we ran into a chap at a pub. We started yarning about why were we in Hay. He was going to Hillston as he’d heard there was either a HT or HG panel van there. Dunno how he went but since then i’ve looked for a HK,or a HT or a HG panel van. I saw a HG panel van in Violet Town about a year ago.

    Fair dinkum they’re like hens teeth.



  17. Bucko, the Leyland Marina !!!!

    I was trying to think of the dashed name. I went out with a girl at Uni who had one of those. Horrid.

    Light Burn Zeta: Toyota Avalon, i’m stumped on those. What about the Ford Z cars, Zephyr and Zodiac? They were not the most attractive. Then there’s the HD the worst rust bucket on the road.


    Rulebook, i was also 9 in 1972.

  18. Fair suck of the sauce bottle Glen! I owned a Mark II Zephyr, went quite well and even faster round a bend if you pulled the choke out a bit!

    Zeta was a horrid thing built in Adelaide by a bloke who also built cement mixers, enough said. Avalon was made in OZ by Toyota as a 6 cylinder competitor for Falcon and Commodore, duller than a Camry. Many Holden rust buckets, also Fords. Marina could have killed you and the girl friend, we had those in the Government to, absolutely no brakes. They also managed to stuff a 6 cylinder motor in at one stage, never drove that, likely worse due to weight over front wheels.

Leave a Comment