The 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974 Dodge Challenger is one of today's hottest newer collectibles, but it was too late to be much of a challenger in its day. Here's the story of the car that seemed like a good idea in 1966, only to arrive just as a unique era in Detroit history was at an end.

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1970 Dodge Challenger full view
The hotshot R/T version of the 1970 Challenger hardtop. See more classic car pictures.

Up to model year 1967, the phenomenally successful Ford Mustang was pretty much alone in the ponycar field it had established in mid 1964. To be sure, Plymouth had introduced a sporty compact of its own at about the same time.

Called Barracuda, it was obviously spawned from the Valiant and lacked the crisp long-hood/short-deck proportions of the Mustang, which looked nothing at all like its parent, the Falcon. So Ford's lithe bucket-seat sportster simply ran away from the "glassback" on the sales charts.

It was inevitable that rival makes would try to cash in on the enormously popular ponycar concept, and Mustang at last got some serious competition for 1967. Besides a completely restyled Barracuda with handsome Italianate styling, the challengers included Chevrolet's new Camaro and a Pontiac clone christened Firebird, launched at mid-model year.

Meantime, Ford Motor Company was preparing the new Mercury Cougar, a longer, plusher, pricier pony aimed at the more affluent end of the "youth market."

Chrysler Corporation executives got their first look at the Cougar in late summer 1966 and viewed it with more than casual interest. Sporty-looking but a touch more elegant and with more standard amenities than Mustang, it appeared to be aimed squarely at Dodge territory.

Dodge had become Chrysler's "full-line" division by the mid 1960s, with a model range that went from the sensible compact Dart through the family-size intermediate Coronet to the big high-glitz Polara and Monaco. It was also the company's performance division.

Once saddled with a stodgy, old-fogey image, Dodge now portrayed its dealers as the "Good Guys," the "White Hats," and the "Dodge Boys," purveyors of "The Dodge Rebellion" and the "Scat Pack" -- not to mention a warehouse full of speed goodies that could turn granny's Coronet into the terror of the local Saturday night drags.

There were hot street machines like the Dart GT and Coronet R/T, and Dodge got involved with virtually every sort of competition, including stock car and drag racing.

But while cultivating a high-performance image, Dodge got trampled by the ponycar stampede. The closest thing it had to the Mustang was the hotter Darts, and its response to the fastback revival of the period was the Coronet-based Charger and not a compact like the Barracuda.

Then the Cougar arrived, the product of a long-time rival, and there was no longer any doubt among Chrysler execs: Dodge would develop a Cougar-like ponycar -- and fast.

To find out about the development of the Dodge Challenger, see the next section.

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