- For the new Dodge Challenger, see Dodge Challenger (2008)
|Body Style|| 2-Door Coupe|
|Transmission|| 3-Speed Manual, RWD|
4-Speed Manual, RWD
3-Speed Automatic, RWD
|Engine|| 3.7L (225 cid) I6 (1970-1972)|
5.2L (318 cid) V8 (1970-1974)
5.5L (340 cid) V8 (1970-1973)
5.5L (340 cid) 3x2 V8 (1970)
6.3L (383 cid) V8 (1970-1971)
7.0L (426 cid) Hemi V8 (1970-1971)
7.2L (440 cid) V8 (1970)
7.2L (440 cid) 3x2 V8 (1970-1971)
The Dodge Challenger was Chrysler's first real foray into the hot pony car market that had been dominated by Ford's wildly successful Mustang and GM's Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird twins. Until the Challenger's introduction, Chrysler was content to let Plymouth carry the pony car banner with the Barracuda, but while the Barracuda tried, it wasn't really much of a threat to the Mustang or the Camaro and Firebird for a variety of reasons. That would all change in 1970, when the Barracuda was redesigned and now on the E-body platform, distancing itself from its hum-drum A-body Valiant origins. And now, Chrysler finally saw fit to add a Dodge model, aptly named Challenger, to do battle along side the Barracuda as an all-out assault on the Mustang, Camaro and Firebird.
BUT... was it ultimately a classic case of "too little, too late"? Many gearheads would rightly argue that 1970 was in fact the zenith of the muscle/pony car market, but in 1971, compression ratios started to decrease, insurance companies were levying hefty surcharges on high-powered muscle/pony cars, and a middle east oil embargo was on the horizon... it wasn't looking good for the muscle/pony car market (dare we even say they became politically incorrect). Perhaps if the E-body Challenger and Barracuda had come out three years earlier, their collective fate might have been very different than what it turned out to be. For that reason, many car critics, perhaps unfairly, were quick to dismiss the Challenger and Barracuda as "arriving to the party too late and leaving too early".
Challengers, however, after decades of being mere used cars on the collector market, have seen their values soar into the stratosphere as of late, especially 1970-71 numbers-matching big-block models (even bogus Hemi models can still command a 6-figure price tag). And the demand for these doesn't show any trend of slowing down any time soon. It may have taken over 3 decades, but perhaps the Challenger (and Barracuda) are finally getting their proper due in the pony car market. So instead of being "too little too late", it looks more like an argument for "better late... than never".
Here's a brief rundown on year to year changes:
The Challenger was built on an all-new E-body platform, which was a shortened B-body Charger/Coronet chassis, but the Challenger's wheelbase was 2" longer than the Barracuda's, and although they were corporate twins, they shared no body panels. The Challenger could be outfitted with just about any option, several different model configurations and every engine in Chrysler's lineup including the holy-grail 426 Hemi on R/T (Road/Track) models. There were base, SE, R/T and T/A models to choose from, and the SE and R/T model could be overlapped. Coupe and convertibles were available on all versions except the T/A, which was hardtop only.
Base models could have a 145 hp 3.7L (225 cid) Slant-6, 230 hp 5.2L (318 cid) V8 (standard on the SE) or a 6.2L (383 cid) V8 in 2- or 4-bbl guise (275 and 330 hp respectively). The 275 hp 5.5L (340 cid) V8 was also available on the base. The base engine for the R/T was the 335 hp 383-4 Magnum. Optional was the 7.2L (440 cid) Magnum V8 with a 4- or 6-bbl (6-Pack) setup (375 and 390 hp respectively). And, of course, the 425 hp 7.0L (426 cid) Hemi. The lone engine choice on the T/A model was a 290 hp 340 6-pack V8 with either an automatic or a 4-speed tranny. Got all that?
Their options list was equally exhausting, being available with such niceties as power windows, cruise control, air conditioning (except the 440-6 or the Hemi)... the list went on (literally). Hardtop SE models differed visually from base and R/T models by having a standard vinyl roof with a smaller formal back window than the rest. Automatic models could have either a console or a column shifter, and 4-speed models had the now very-desirable pistol-grip shifter. Optional on SE was an overhead console with low-fuel, door-ajar, and seat-belt lights. 4-speed manuals and 3-speed automatics were available on all engines, and 3-speed manuals could be had on all but the 440-4, 440-6 and the Hemi.
1970 was the highest-year selling Challenger, at almost 80,000 units altogether (including the T/A) and, to many Challenger fans, the most desirable.
A white 1970 Challenger R/T had the starring role in the cult-classic 1971 movie Vanishing Point that featured Barry Newman in the role of Kowalski, the Challenger's driver. A similar car was also used in the made-for-TV Vanishing Point remake in 1997 which featured Viggo Mortensen.
A Hemi-Orange 1970 Challenger R/T was also featured in the 2003 film 2 Fast 2 Furious which starred Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson.
Visual changes for this year was a new divided grille and the taillights were now separated with individual reverse lights in the middle, versus one single reverse light in the middle of last years single taillight design. The automatic floor shifter now had a T-handle design instead of the round design. The T/A was no more (although a look-alike package was offered with the black scooped hood and "go wing", but without the 340-6 engine) and there was some other shuffling of trim and packages as well. The R/T was no longer available as a convertible, the SE model lost its distinctive small rear window design, and the 340 was now standard in the R/T models. R/Ts also gained non-functioning lower side gills (2) on the front of the quarter panels, and could have a new "R/T" decal on the front center portion of the hood. The 383-4 Magnum (down 35 hp to 300), 440-6 (down 5 hp to 385) and 426 Hemi (still rated at 425 hp) were still available carried over from last year, but the 440-4 was no longer available. Base models still had the 225 Slant-6, 318 (standard on the SE), 340 or 383 with 2- or 4-bbl carb.
Sales were unfortunately way down compared to last year, as the muscle/pony car market started taking huge sales and horsepower hits, averaging about only 30,000 units this year.
A 1971 Challenger convertible was used as the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car this year, of which only 50 replicas were sold to the public. All were EV2 Ceramic Red with white interiors and tops, and flat hoods with hood pins. Supposedly 2 were equipped with the 383-4 engine, 3 had the 383-2, 3 had the 340-4 and the remaining had the 318s (although some reports claim that all but the real pace car had 318s). The real pace car, unfortunately, has the dubious distinction of being the only Indy pace car to date to crash during the race after it collided into a press stand while exiting onto pit row from the parade lap.
The party was over as far as SE, R/T, big-block engines and convertible bodystyles (and the previous high-impact colors, such as Plum Crazy Purple) were concerned - they were all gone, never to return. The R/T was replaced by a new Rallye version, and was available with either the 318 or 340, with either the 3- or 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic. Rallyes could be had with various striping packages on the hood or side panels (or both). The Slant-6 was still standard in the base model. 1972 models differed from last year with a new grille design (some have referred to this as the "frowning grille" design) and the quad headlights in four separate individual slots. The taillight panel was all new as well with a brushed-aluminum design (blacked-out on the Rallye models), and included the taillights and reverse lights in their own separate slots as well. A new 2-spoke steering wheel debuted this year also. Sales decreased to less than 26,000 total units.
The rarely-ordered Slant-6 was dropped, the 318 was now the base engine for both the base and Rallye. The 340 could still be had on the Rallye. The largest visual change was the addition of the small black rubber "bumperettes" on the bumpers to satisfy the new federally-mandated 5-MPH impact standards. Sales actually increased to 33,000+ units this year.
The final Challenger was visually unchanged from the 1973 model. The 340 was dropped, replaced by the 5.9L (360 cid) V8. Base and Rallye models continued, either available with the 318 or 360. The pony car market was clearly drying up by this time, and the Challenger had quickly lost its way despite a promising start. By this time, the Ford Mustang had been downsized to the lowly Pinto platform, the Mercury Cougar was now a mid-size personal-luxury car based on the Torino, and even AMC realized they were fighting a losing battle as well, as they would discontinue the Javelin altogether at the end of this year. The Challenger and Barracuda would unfortunately suffer the same fate mid-way thru the 1974 model year.
This would be the last the world would ever see or hear of a Dodge Challenger muscle car... or would it?
From the Challenger's dark and waning days of 1974, fast forward to year 2006. Chrysler, now partnered with (of all people) Fiat (as of June 2009), thankfully chose to revive the Challenger for 2008 as a late-model year release. While it retains much of the same look as the original, the '08 was available as a top-dog SRT model only with a 425 hp 6.1L (370 cid) V8 with a 5-speed automatic transmission (for those keeping score, that is as much net horsepower as the almighty 426 Hemi had as a gross horsepower rating). It's based, once again, on a shortened Charger platform, just as the original was. Additionally, this new Challenger has the tires and suspension to actually stop, corner and handle unlike the original, has (in SRT trim) 170+ MPH capability - and gets decent gas mileage to boot (relatively speaking). When the Challenger prototype was released at the 2006 Detroit NAIAS, approving onlookers had but 2 words to say: BUILD IT!.
And build it Chrysler did as the production model debuted in 2008. With just 6,400 units released in the U.S. for the 2008 model year, nearly all of that lot was presold after the overwhelming popularity of the 2006 concept. For the first year, all of the Challengers were released in the top-of-the-line SRT trim with the 6.1-liter Hemi with 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The only colors available for the 2008 model year were Hemi Orange, Brilliant Black, TorRed, and Bright Silver Mettalic. While all LX-platform Challengers, Chargers, 300s, and discontinued Magnums were built in Canada, the country was only alotted a run of 500 cars for the 2008 model year to bring the production total to 6900.
For 2009, Chrysler filled out the Challenger lineup despite a failing economy. In addition to the existing SRT8, buyers could also have two other flavors of the Challenger, including the mid-range R/T and the SE while Canadians could buy an SXT derivative of the SE package. The R/T featured a 5.7-liter version of the Hemi that was rated at 375 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Meanwhile, budget-minded SE and SXT buyers were given a 3.5-liter High Output V6 rated at 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque mated to a four-speed automatic transmissions. Also, SRT8 and R/T owners could also buy a 6-speed manual transmission made by Tremec. Surprisingly, this was the first time a modern Hemi production car was mated to a manual transmission since their debut more than five years earlier.
For 2009, buyers could partake in special edition models, such as the R/T Classic and Spring Special SRT8. The R/T Classic was given 'heritage stripes' package in addition to 20-inch chrome-clad wheels that mimicked classic five-spoke rims from the previous musclecar era. Most R/T Classics were painted in the returning B5 Blue color, a color that was a popular color from Chrysler's heyday in the late 60s and early 1970s. The Spring Special package was a derivative of the R/T Classic in that it was essentially a SRT8 painted in the same B5 Blue color along with blue striping on the seats. Thanks to Chrysler's financial troubles and impending rolling plant shutdowns, the production of 2009 R/T Classics and Spring Specials was extremely limited, with less than 240 examples of Spring Special SRT8s ever made.
Despite pervasive rumors of the contrary, Chrysler returned the mighty Challenger to production after emerging from bankruptcy. While the news of the return was welcome, changes to the car were few as colors were the only real differences from the 2009 models. The biggest change was the removal of Hemi Orange from the Challenger lineup. In its place, B5 Blue was added as a normal production color. Taking B5 Blue's place on the special edition color lineup were two heritage colors: Detonator Yellow and Plum Crazy Purple. Detonator Yellow was limited to the first few months of production while Plum Crazy Purple will be used as the Spring Special option.
Resurgence of the Musclecar
Chevrolet debuted a new Camaro in April 2009 as an early 2010 model, and Ford now has a new restyled Mustang available (also as an early 2010 model)... so the pony car market is ablaze once again. Unfortunately, Plymouth is no more, so there will be no Barracuda, Pontiac is slated to be follow the same fate as Plymouth after the 2010 model year, so obviously a new Firebird won't happen, and AMC became history in 1988, so obviously another Javelin is out of the question as well... but for those who have been holding out faith for another good ol' American ponycar V8 shootout once again, their patience has hereby been rewarded.
Recently added to the model lineup is a special edition car which Dodge labels as the Drag Race Package. Such a car brings back memories of the infamous Muscle Car era where super-stock specials were built by the factory with ridiculous horsepower power ratings! This specific car has been stripped of an extra 1,000 pounds to reduce E.T.'s by a measurable amount. Deletions include body sealer, sound deadening, a ventilation system, airbags, rear seats, windshield wiper assembly, side- and rear-impact beams and subsequently, any chance the car can be DOT-certified for the street.