The first Challenger was the division's late entrant to the pony car market segment in the United States, launched for the 1970 model year – the production for the new model commenced Friday, August 1, 1969. Intended as a competitor to the Mercury Cougar, it was based on the Plymouth Barracuda platform, but its wheelbase was stretched by two inches to 110 to provide more interior room. It also had substantially different outer sheet metal than its Plymouth cousin and four headlights to the Plymouth’s two. The Challenger debuted with an engine lineup that ranged from a docile 145 hp, 225 in³ Slant Six to the powerful 440 in³ wearing three two-barrel carburetors (a "Six-Pack") rated at 390 hp and the awesome 426 Hemi producing 425 hp - other pony cars could only dream of a line up like that.
The new Challenger had very little to do with the A-body cars from which previous Plymouth Barracudas sprang and was based on a new architecture known within Chrysler as the "E-body." Using components swiped from both the compact A-body and midsize B-body cars, the E-body was built to compete against cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang and to do it while offering virtually every engine in Chrysler's inventory. In the muscle-mad late '60s all this seemed like a very logical thing to do.
Exterior design was done by Carl Cameron, who also did the exterior for the 1966 Dodge Charger. For the 1970 Challenger grille, Cameron based it off an older sketch of his 1966 Charger prototype that was to have a turbine engine. The Charger never got the turbine, but the Challenger got that car's grille. It’s long hood and short rear decks was almost an exaggeration of the pony car style, but still somehow within the bounds of taste. The oversize engine bay meant that it was wider than the previous Barracuda by 5 inches and wider than both the Mustang and Camaro too. In fact, the styling of the Challenger was very similar to that of the first-generation Camaro and Pontiac Firebird (1967-1969) with an almost formal roof and drooping deck.
If there's one thing the Chrysler Corporation specialized in during the '70s, it was poor timing — it always seemed to have exactly the product the market didn't want. And never was this more apparent than with the Dodge Challenger. Although the Challenger was well-received by the public, it was criticized by the press, and due to market forces of the time the pony car segment was already declining by the time the Challenger arrived. Sales fell dramatically after 1970, and Challenger production ceased midway through the 1974 model year. Although considered by many to be a very beautiful car it was criticized by others for having poor outward visibility and for it feeling too bulky for its size.
1970 Dodge Challenger
The all new 1970 Dodge Challenger was available in two series, the Challenger R/T and the base Challenger; each series had a hardtop, convertible, and Special Edition, all with two doors. It was available in a staggering number of trim and option levels with stripe and option packages so that the cars could be either “loud & proud” or reserved according to the buyer's wishes. The car was also available in a wide variety of colors, 18 in total, including such names as “Lemon Twist” for the bright yellow option.
A huge choice of engines was provided - the 225 slant six, 318 V8, 340, 383 (two or four barrel, or Magnum), 440 (Magnum or Six Pack), and 426 Hemi. There were three transmissions offered, a three-on-the-floor, four-on-the-floor, or a TorqueFlite automatic - with the shifter either on the column or the console (A Slap-Stik Shift Gate was sold with the console-mounted TorqueFlite). Wheels were 5.5 inches wide, except for the 340 and Hemi, whose wheels were 7 inches wide.
The Challenger featured new flush pull-up door handles, door glass that had no vents and was curved, and an interior door lock recessed in the armrest. High-back bucket seats with built in head restraints could be tilted and moved fore and aft, or up and down, all manually; it was counterbalanced with springs to make the movement easier. Bench seats with folding center armrests were offered in the Hardtop. Safety precautions included a collapsible steering column, two-piece door impact beam, and a box-section roll bar for rollover protection. The more luxurious SE specification included leather seats, a vinyl roof, a smaller 'formal' rear window, vinyl bucket seats, various trim changes and an overhead interior console that contained three warning lights (door ajar, low fuel and seatbelts). A stereo tape player and cruise control were optional, along with power windows, FM stereo, rear defogger, and other luxury items. The convertible Challenger was available with any engine, as well as in the R/T and SE trim levels.
Dodge Challenger R/T
The performance model was the Challenger R/T (Road/Track), which came with the 335 bhp 383 engine. Optional were two 440 engines, the four-barrel Magnum with 375 bhp and the tri-carb Six Pack with 390 hp. Topping the list was the almighty 426 Hemi with 425 bhp. The Hemi cost an additional $1,228 and required heavy-duty suspension. The 440s and the Hemi came standard with TorqueFlite automatic. Optional was a four speed manual which included a pistol-grip Hurst shifter and a Dana 60 axle. The 440s and Hemi received 15 inch 60 series tires, although essentials such as power steering and front disc brakes were still optional. Inside they were given a Rallye instrument cluster which included a 150 mph (240 km/h) speedometer, an 8000 rpm tachometer and an oil pressure gauge. The R/T's standard hood had two hood scoops, but they did not feed directly into the air cleaner. For just $97, the buyer could specify the shaker scoop, which mounted to the air cleaner and stuck up through an opening in the hood. It was known as the "shaker" as it vibrated along with the engine. Performance for the R/T 440-6 was 0-60 in 6.2 seconds the ¼ mile in 13.7 seconds at 105 mph.
Dodge Challenger T/A
Built in 1970 only, at the Hamtramck plant, for competition in the SCCA's Trans-Am racing series was the Dodge Challenger T/A (Trans Am). In order to race in the Sports Car Club of America's Trans American Sedan Championship, it built a street version of its race car (a certain number of retail models had to be made for the car to be considered stock) as did Plymouth with its 'Cuda AAR which it called the Dodge Challenger T/A. Although the race cars ran a destroked version of the 340, street versions took the 340 and added a trio of two-barrel carbs atop an Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold, creating the 340 Six Pack which produced around 350 hp. The T/A could reach 0-60 in 5.9 seconds and the ¼ mile in 14.5 seconds at 99.6 mph.
It breathed air through a suitcase sized air scoop molded into the pinned down, hinged matte-black fiberglass hood. Low-restriction dual exhausts ran to the stock muffler location under the trunk then reversed direction to exit in chrome tipped "megaphone" outlets in front of the rear wheels. Options included a TorqueFlite automatic or pistol-grip Hurst-shifted four-speed transmission, 3.55:1 or 3.90:1 gears, as well as manual or power steering. Front disc brakes were standard. The special Rallye suspension used heavy duty parts and increased the camber of the rear springs. The T/A was among the first production vehicles to use different size tires front and rear: E60x15 fronts, and G60x15 in back. The modified camber elevated the tail enough to clear the rear rubber and its side exhaust outlets. Thick side stripes, bold ID graphics, a fiberglass ducktail rear spoiler, as well as a fiberglass front spoiler added to the this flamboyant image. The interior was strictly that of astock Challenger.
Unfortunately, the race Challenger T/A was not competitive (nor was the Barracuda AAR) and the street version suffered from severe under steer in fast corners. However it could turn mid 14 sec for the quarter mile, which would do any small block muscle car proud. The T/A would only be available for 1970 as Dodge would pull out of Trans Am racing. Only 2,142 T/As were made. A 1971 model using the 340 engine with a 4-barrel carburetor was planned and appeared in period advertising, but was not produced.
R/T Coupe: 12,747
R/T Convertible: 1,070
RT/SE Coupe: 3,679
1971 Dodge Challenger
By 1971 it was already apparent that the muscle-car movement was fading, a fact that was reflected in the mildly restyled Challenger which received a new split grille and taillights. There was the addition of dummy brake cooling slots on the R/T models and the Special Edition Model (SE) lost the smaller rear window which now grew to normal size.
Emissions regulations brought with them drops in compression ratios, which began to strangle engine outputs (the engine's output drop was also exaggerated by the move from SAE gross to net ratings). There were now eight engines offered as the 440 with a four-barrel carb was gone from the lineup as was the 340 Six-Pack since both the AAR 'Cuda and Challenger T/A didn't return for a second year because of Dodge withdrawing from Trans Am racing. The Challenger T/A was advertised but never made and was officially dropped from the range. A retouched ad showing a 1971 T/A does exist but this was most likely a means for Chrysler to get rid of extra parts. The base 440 was dropped, but the 440-6, rated at 385 hp (down 5 hp from 1970) and the Hemi, still rated at 425 hp were still available. Both the R/T convertible and the Deputy models were dropped and the SE package was now only available on base model Challengers.
The R/T for 1971 had color-keyed bumpers, dummy brake cooling slots on its rear flanks, and new tape stripes. The 383 engine was still standard on R/T models, but it was detuned to 300 bhp due to a lower compression ratio to meet new government regulations. For those who were on a limited budget but still wanted to look the part you could now order a 340 R/T look-alike with a shaker, a go-wing, and most of the R/T paraphernalia but without the higher insurance premiums.
Despite being the Indy 500 Pace Car 1971 saw a severe slide in sales which were down over 60% in only the Challenger's second year. A small group of Dodge dealers tried to boost Challenger sales by providing fifty specially prepared examples as official Pace Cars for the Indianapolis 500 race. All of these cars were Hemi Orange convertibles with a white interior (although just two had high-performance options). The actual pace car skidded and crashed into a press box injuring a number of reporters - not surprisingly the Pace Car decal sets available through these dealers did not sell well..
Base Convertible: 2,165
R/T Coupe: 4,630
R/T Convertible: ?
RT/SE Coupe: ?
1972 Dodge Challenger
The muscle-car era was in full collapse by the introduction of the 1972 models. There were now only two models available; there was a Challenger and a Challenger Rallye hardtop - that was it. The Challenger gained new front end styling which included a new “sad mouth” grille which had down turned ends – Some critics noted that it was showing a sad face due to its own demise. The taillights now had four individual rectangular lamps, and the turn signals were rectangular and could be viewed from any angle. The Challenger now had the same body styling that would be virtually unchanged until its end in 1974.
Big changes were in effect for the 1972 Challenger powerplants - sadly, the engine choices had now dwindled down to a mere three. Base cars got the 225 six with 150 hp, the two-barrel 318 and (now the largest engine available) 240-hp, four-barrel 340 V8s were optional. A far cry from just one year before. The six cylinder, 440 triple-carb, and Hemi engines were dropped, along with the R/T, SE, and all convertibles. The Rallye replaced the Challenger R/T but sported only a 318 with just 150 hp. The big engines were dropped due largely to poor sales, which were exacerbated by high insurance costs on high-performance engines and the oil crisis. Full production was down to just over 26,000 units.
Rallye Coupe: 8,123
1973 Dodge Challenger
The six-cylinder engine disappeared for 1973 but the car was otherwise very much a carryover from the 1972 model. The only immediately apparent difference was the adoption of huge rubber bumper guards to meet the new government regulations. The 318 was now standard, as were vinyl front bucket seats with headrests; a floor-mounted 3-speed manual transmission; front and rear ashtrays; heater/defroster; day/night mirror; concealed two-speed wipers; dual horns; and an energy-absorbing steering column - those who wanted a passenger side mirror had to pay for it!
Sales actually increased compared to 1972 even though most of these cars had the 318 with 150 hp which could hardly be considered a performance machine. The Rallye edition was dropped although buyers could still build their own on the option sheet. Still available was the 340 with 240 bhp but was replaced at mid-season with a new 360 V8 debuted with 245 bhp. The increased capacity was the only way that Dodge could keep power up in the face of the ever tightening emissions control regulations.
Production Numbers: 32,596
1974 Dodge Challenger
By the time the 1974 models arrived, the muscle era was a receding memory and the Challenger was a marginal product being neglected by the company. It was practically indistinguishable from the 1973 model – This would be the last year for the Dodge Challenger. There were now only two engine choices the 318 and somewhat more powerful 360 for those that wanted any real performance. Sales collapsed during the 1974 model year with just 16,437 Challengers being made and that was it for the E-body platform - Challenger production ceased in mid 1974. Even though the Dodge Challenger lived just five short years it still made an indelible mark on the muscle car era.
The latter years (1972 – 74) saw little to no variation in styling. The only way to properly distinguish them is that the 1972s had flush mounted bumpers with no bumper guards, (small bumper guards were optional), while both the 1973 and 1974 models had the protruding 5 mph (8.0 km/h) bumpers in conjunction with large guards. These changes were made to meet US regulations of the time regarding crash test safety.
Production Numbers: 16,437
When the Barracuda and Challenger died, few mourned their passing. They had one great year (1970), one good one (1971) and three progressively lousier ones (1972-1974). In its short life, the Challenger turned out to be one of the best-looking cars produced in the muscle car era, and is today highly sought after. Its sales were probably never satisfying for Chrysler, which had invested quite a bit in the Challenger - probably because buyers found the interior space to be rather small for what was a fairly large car, the critics slammed the handling, and because the muscle-car market dried up rapidly with insurance company premium hikes and later the gas shortages. But with the passage of time their unique personalities and legends have grown. No one could have predicted just how popular they would become decades after their demise. The name was resurrected in the late seventies to be put on a Mitsubishi built compact (no less) and in 2008 for a visual clone of the original - the Challenger SRT8.
Did you know?
- The "Western Special" was a version available only to west coast dealers. It came with a rear-exit exhaust system and Western Special identification on the rear decklid. Some examples came with a vacuum-operated trunk release.
- Original "numbers matching" high-performance 1970-71 Challengers are now among the most sought-after collector cars. The rarity of specific models with big engines is the result of low buyer interest and sales with the correspondingly low production when new. For obvious reasons, the 440 and the 426 Hemi engines are considered the most desirable, and nowadays command sizable premiums over the smaller engines (with the exception of the limited edition Challenger T/A with its 340 six-pack).
- With such options as "Shaker" hood scoops, pistol-grip shifters and "Panther Pink" paint, the Dodge Charger and the Plymouth Barracuda are still considered by many to be the ultimate expression of the muscle-car aesthetic. While much of the E-body legend surrounds the huge V8s that were available, many argue that the best of the species were the Plymouth Barracuda AAR and the Dodge Challenger T/A. In fact the rarest of these cars — the Hemi-powered coupes and particularly the Hemi-powered convertibles — now change hands for anywhere from $200,000 to well over $1 million in excellent condition.
- The 1970 and 1971 models tend to generate more attention as performance and style options were still available to the public. With the popularity of these vehicles increasing, and the number of usable and restorable Challengers falling, many collectors now search for later models to create their own dream machines. Indeed, many "clones" of the more visceral 1970 and 1971 Challengers with high-performance drivetrains have been created by using low-end 6 cylinder and 318 powered non-R/T or T/A cars and installing one of the performance engine combinations (340, 440, or 426 Hemi) and adding the appropriate badges and hoods to look like the real thing. However although these clones may look the part, they are not worth nearly as much as an original.
- Dodge Challengers were mainly produced for the US and Canadian markets. Interestingly, Chrysler officially sold Challengers to Switzerland through AMAG Automobil- und Motoren AG in Schinznach-Bad, near Zurich. Only a very few cars were shipped overseas each year to AMAG. They did the final assembly of the Challengers and converted them to Swiss specs. There are few AMAG cars still in existence. From a collector's point of view, these cars are very desirable. Today, less than five Swiss Challengers are known to exist in North America.
- Chrysler exported Dodge Challengers officially to France as well through their Chrysler France Simca operation, since Ford sold the Mustang in France successfully in small numbers. However, only a few Challengers were exported and Chrysler finally gave up the idea of selling them in France. A few French Challengers still exist today.