Dodge's ponycar project got under way in late 1966. In command was Harry Cheeseborough, Dodge Division's senior vice-president for styling and product planning, who tapped studio chief Bill Brownlie to head the design effort.
Brownlie created a full-scale concept clay of a clean yet formal coupe more than coincidentally resembling the Cougar, and in early 1967 he called in a group of young stylists to view it. He emphasized that this was only a starting point.
Though the long-hood/short-deck proportions and certain basic dimensions were absolute, everything else was wide open -- even the car's name, the clay having the letters N-A-M-E where the marque's signature would normally be. Brownlie instructed his charges to bring back their own ideas for what was labelled Dodge's "super sporty compact car."
Designers tried many ideas before Bill Brownlie’s
proposal got the production go-ahead.
The styling group met repeatedly, devising four more clays with different treatments on each side in an effort to achieve the desired gran tourismo image within an overall look that would be sufficiently versatile for the model variations planned. But a cohesive design was slow in forming.
Mockups began drifting away from the Cougar's GT-like elegance and toward a more aggressive look like that of the forthcoming 1968 Dodge Charger, reflecting the division's performance aspirations at the time.
According to author Anthony Young in Mighty Mopars, Brownlie stepped in at the last minute, ordering up a model made from his own sketches as a backup to the studio proposals. It was this design that got the nod. So did his suggestion for the name. It was singularly appropriate: Challenger.
Scheduled for the 1970 model year, the Challenger was planned alongside the all-new third-generation Barracuda that would also bow that season. Both would share a newly designed unitized structure bearing the E-body internal code, plus major chassis and driveline components and convertible and hardtop coupe body styles.
The Dodge version would be deliberately a bit beefier than the Plymouth, riding a two-inch longer wheelbase (110 inches) and measuring 191 inches long, 76.5 inches wide, and 51.5 inches high.
The new E-body chassis borrowed heavily from Chrysler's mid-size cars, in Dodge's case the Charger/Coronet. This was actually an advantage in some ways.
For example, use of the intermediates' front sub-frame meant that any Mopar engine -- including the ground-pounding 440s and the mighty Hemi -- could be slotted into the Challenger's engine bay. This partly explains the broad overall body width, though styling considerations were also a factor.
Adapting the Charger/Coronet rear suspension to the ponycar not only yielded a wide 60.7-inch rear track but also allowed the use of the fat tires then coming into vogue for the low, "tough" look deemed essential for good sales.
The suspension itself was typical Chrysler, with longitudinal torsion bars in front and a live rear axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs. Typically, the torsion-bar front produced a better combination of ride and handling than an ordinary coil-spring-and-wishbone arrangement, not too harsh, not too squishy.
Manual steering and brakes were to be standard, but power everything would be available at extra cost. And there were to be no fewer than nine engine choices, which we'll discuss later. First, let's take a look at the styling decisions made for the Challenger on the next page.
For more information on cars, see: