Auto writers liked the 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974 Dodge Challenger performance, for the most part.
Bill Sanders' report in Motor Trend was typical of press reaction: "We took our test car [335-horsepower R/T] to Lapeer, Michigan's international raceway for testing. Going through corners it tended to understeer and get a little hypersensitive in the rear. However, the car was equipped with air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, and power everything else. It handled quite well considering all the extra weight hung on. Front-end roll was evident in the very hardest turns, and the car didn't drift easily. F70 X 14 tires and the wide track helped keep it steady, though, and even with all the extra weight under the hood, handling was passable. Spring rates may seem fairly high on back roads or in town, but on the highway at top speeds, the Challenger hugs the road with precision for a highly comfortable ride."
For all-out performance in a 1970 Challenger,
you ordered the R/T model with the legendary
426 hemi-head V-8, rated conservatively
at 425 horsepower.
The Challenger arrived at what seemed like an opportune time. Ford had only a lightly warmed-over Mustang, ditto Mercury with the Cougar and AMC with the Javelin, and Chevy and Pontiac made do initially with 1969 leftovers.
With 3.23:1 gearing, MT's Challenger did the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 90 mph, consistent with Sanders' prediction that you shouldn't expect "ETs in the 13.0-second range." Later, the magazine ran a 340 model with four-speed and 3.55:1 axle but far fewer options and recorded slightly better times than with the loaded R/T.
Normally staid Road Test magazine ended up with a hemi-engine test car and, a surprise, were somewhat blinded by the brute's charms. The editors notched a 14-second quarter-mile at a blistering 104 mph -- and in-town average fuel consumption of just 6.5 mpg.
Sanders praised the Challenger's styling as "right now" but was guarded about the car's long-term prospects. He pointed out that the ponycar market was sagging badly in 1970.
Muscle car buyers continued to favor big-inch intermediates, which packed the same potent engines and weighed about the same as the hottest ponies but had more room, while those interested in more balanced machinery tended to look toward the genuine sports and GT cars from Europe.
Nevertheless, the Challenger arrived at what seemed like an opportune time. Ford was flogging a Mustang only lightly warmed over for 1970, ditto Mercury with the Cougar and AMC with the Javelin, and Chevy and Pontiac dealers had to make do with 1969 leftovers until the all-new second-generation Camaro/Firebird was launched at mid-season.
In retrospect, however, it's clear the Challenger was way too late out of the gate. Dodge released a steady stream of accessories to keep the new model faddishly current as the year progressed, and by January you could order flat-black rear window louvers, front and rear spoilers, a "shaker" hood with protruding air cleaner assembly, and other "image" items.
But by that time the performance era was at an end. Newly imposed insurance surcharges on high-power cars all but killed the market almost overnight. Smaller engines with less horsepower (at least on paper) were suddenly fashionable -- and far more affordable -- and "performance" was now equated less with tire-burning acceleration and more with a balance between straightline go and superior handling.
Find out about the ultimate performance test for the Challenger in the next section.
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