The 1971 model year marked the end of the mighty 426 Hemi and, in the eyes of many collectors, the final year of desirable Dodge Challengers. The two rarely met but when a documented 426 Challenger shows up, it’s a big deal. With only 71 assembled by the Chrysler Corporation, they’re near the top of the list when it comes to collectable Mopars. Of course, that comes with a top of the list price. A price that, for most of us, would require choosing between a Challenger and a home. Thankfully, car culture starts where the assembly line stops. When real examples are scarce, enthusiasts tend to fill the void with their own creations like this classy 1971 Challenger. Fresh out of a frame up restoration that returned the car to its original interior and exterior color, this Dodge packs a 426 Hemi, 3-speed automatic and a fresh look that will turn heads and earn respect everywhere it goes. If you’ve dreamed of Hemi power but didn’t want the price tag, this Challenger might be the perfect solution.
When walking around most non Mopar-specific car shows, it’s easy to imagine that the High Impact colors were the only options buyers had in the early 1970s. While there’s no doubt that Top Banana Yellow or Plum Crazy Purple suit these cars well, there is something about GA4 Light Gunmetal Metallic that completely transforms the personality of the car. The coat on this car has a perfect blend of gray and blue, offering the E-body a sophisticated look that brighter Chrysler Corporation offerings simply couldn’t. The paintwork is first rate and looks great from every angle, with accurate reflections all around. While it may strike some Mopar enthusiasts as strange to see a Challenger with no stripes of any sort, the car was born a base model and, in that respect, stays true to its roots.
Thanks to a high-quality build, this Challenger’s lines present even better than they did when it left Dodge Main over 40 years ago. At the front, a 1971-exclusive split and stainless trimmed grille hangs a showroom fresh “Dodge” emblem between four pristine headlights, clear round parking lights and a mirror-like chrome bumper. At the top of the car, an R/T specific scooped hood which features two “426 Hemi” badges, rides in front of brand new glass that is framed by professionally polished stainless and a new vinyl top. At the sides of the car, the prominent fender lines are underscored by the lack of badging, wheel well trim, or stripes. The chrome gas cap remains on the passenger side, matched by the door handles and chrome sport mirrors which look great in concert with the chrome wheels below. At the rear of the car, a Challenger badge is perfectly centered across a flat black valance. Segmented taillights hang at either side with a second show-quality bumper just below. Unlike dressed and decaled cars which often throw good taste out the window, this slick Challenger balances a cool personality and subtle chrome to create a timeless muscle car with endless appeal.
While this R/T may have left the assembly line with a 318cid V8 between the frame rails, that motor was replaced by something a little more potent – a 426 Hemi. It’s a Mopar Performance piece that’s centered around a bright orange cast iron block with cross bolted mains, a forged steel crank and other performance pieces such as forged aluminum pistons and a hydraulic cam. Under the chrome open element air cleaner, a Holley four barrel feeds fuel through a dual plane aluminum intake manifold. At the sides, cast iron heads with stainless steel valves, heavy-duty springs, integral dampers and umbrella-type valve stem seals are covered in traditional wrinkle finish valve covers that add some authenticity to the bay. At the front of the engine, a fan, alternator and power steering pump spin from their respective homes which all feature a view of the aftermarket radiator. Turn the key and an MSD coil sends fire to a Mopar distributor which channels that spark through blue Mopar wires. The 465hp monster fires up with a roar and sounds tough through cast iron exhaust manifolds, turbo style mufflers and factory-style resonators. The bay looks less modified than it actually is thanks to the presence of pieces such as the orange Mopar ignition controller, factory style voltage regulator and correct-for-1971 3431077 wiper motor attached to the firewall.
Peer underneath the car and you’ll find a well-built chassis ready for miles of cruising. The floorpans are solid and sprayed with a coat of gloss black that contrast nicely against the fresh hardware, orange oil pan and blue transmission pan. At the center, an A727 three-speed automatic takes care of gear selection and features an updated large capacity oil pan that keeps it cool during spirited driving. Follow the drivetrain a little further and you’ll find a rock-solid Dana 60 differential that puts the Hemi’s power to the pavement with ease. Around that drivetrain, the suspension retains its original torsion bar configuration up front with six-leaf springs keeping the back end in place. When the roads get twisty, the rebuilt power steering setup definitely saves some strain while Wilwood power assisted brakes clamp down on disc brakes all around. At the corners, a set of seventeen-inch wheels designed by automotive legend Chip Foose are wrapped in Avon Tech tires. The high-gloss wheels look awesome against the simple unmodified body.
Inside this subtle Mopar, a fully restored H6X9 black vinyl interior is simple, functional and looks as good as new. The front high-back bucket and rear bench seats are showroom fresh and display no signs of any wear at all. Below those seats, new black carpet is sandwiched between color-keyed, “Challenger R/T” floor mats and sound deadening insulation. At either side, pristine molded door panels feature wood grain inserts, new chrome door handles, cool chrome lock tabs and four blue-tipped window cranks. In between the seats, a full console frames a period-correct T-handle shifter protected by a barrier of chrome and wood applique. From the driver’s seat, a familiar wood rimmed steering wheel spins in front of a fully rebuilt and precisely calibrated Rallye instrument cluster that’s complete with a standard tachometer, a 150 MPH speedometer and a continuous motion electric clock. Behind the rear seats, a fully restored trunk plays host a full-size spare tire and a correctly detailed jack assembly on a fresh-out-of-the-box trunk mat.
Fully sorted and ready to cruise, this ’71 Challenger is a refreshing break from its High Impact siblings. With Hemi power, a modernized driving experience and a classic look, you’ll thank yourself with every walk to the garage. Ready to experience one of the hottest creations of the muscle car era? Your Challenger is waiting.