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.
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.
For more information on cars, see:
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 Dodge Challenger Development
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:
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 Dodge Challenger Styling
Though the Dodge Challenger shared much with the Barracuda inside, it was quite different outside, and little sheet metal was interchangeable.
Bill Brownlie's crew etched in a distinctive bodyside crease line, missing on the Barracuda and hopped up at the rear to match the fender curvature. It nicely accented the markedly tucked under lower bodysides, a characteristic of Chrysler's "fuselage" styling in these years that made its cars look quite aerodynamic.
Here, a rare R/T convertible with “shaker” hood,
the big 440 “Six Pak” engine, and wild
“Panther Pink” paint.
Body surfaces were extremely clean, with flush door handles, hidden windshield wipers, and ventless side glass. The Challenger was also set apart from the Barracuda in having four headlamps instead of two, a set-back "venturi" grille instead of the Plymouth's split affair, wide horizontal taillamps instead of square ones, and a less abruptly cut off back panel.
Motor Trend magazine's initial impression was "quite a hunk of car." Said Brownlie of the styling at the Challenger's press introduction: "We call it 'road appearance' " -- adding in a remark indicative of the times: "The anticipatory thinking of a stylist is predicated on market research and sound engineering -- coupled with some hallucinatory trips."
The prevailing psychedelic trendiness of the era was most evident on the chip chart, where the 18 color choices included five "High-Impact" hues bearing very "mod" names: Plum Crazy, Sub Lime, Go-Mango, Hemi Orange, and Top Banana. Added later were Panther Pink and Green-Go.
Both hardtop and convertible were offered in two versions, standard and R/T (the latter denoting "Road/Track") for a four-model lineup. Base models had all-vinyl upholstery, three-spoke steering wheel with simulated-walnut rim, and bright wheelhouse moldings among their accoutrements, along with Chrysler's workhorse 225-cubic-inch slant-six engine, rated at 145 horsepower. Standard gearbox was a fully synchronized three-speed manual with floorshift.
Torqueflite automatic was optional, and the base V-8 was the equally familiar 318-cid unit, packing 230 horsepower.
The cheapest 1970 Challenger was the six-cylinder standard coupe, priced at $2,851. R/Ts carried about a $300 price premium, but you got a lot for the extra outlay: a 335-horsepower 383 Magnum V-8, heavy-duty Rallye suspension, F70 X 14 raised-white-letter blackwall tires, heavy-duty brakes, and a Rallye instrument cluster with a 150-mph speedometer, trip odometer, 8,000-rpm tachometer, oil pressure gauge, and clock, plus windshield washers.
Both hardtops could be ordered with a Special Edition package, a luxury option that recalled the design studio's original GT concept. It included a vinyl roof with a smaller "formal" backlight and "SE" emblems on the sail panels.
Inside were leather seat facings, woodgrain dash trim, and an overhead console with warning lights for "door ajar," "seat belts," and "low fuel."
Considering the Challenger was intended as a plusher ponycar, its cockpit came off as surprisingly severe and plain. Occupants were surrounded by dunes of molded ABS plastic, and even standard bucket seats and deep-pile carpeting couldn't completely counteract the austere atmosphere.
As with other ponycars, the seats were set low relative to dash and windowsills, and the back seat area was cramped for adults, though there was adequate room in front. The interior's overall effect was either comforting or claustrophobic, depending on your sensibilities. The Challenger perpetuated another ponycar shortcoming that was literally that: a small trunk.
Learn about the wide array of options available on the Dodge Challenger in the next section.
For more information on cars, see:
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 Dodge Challenger Options
"Have it your way" was a big part of Detroit's marketing strategy in the late 1960s, and Dodge played the game as well as anyone. The Challenger was offered with fewer individual options than its rivals because Dodge tended to group items in packages more than other makes.
But though abridged, the list still ran to more than 50 items, many oriented toward performance. For example, there was a 340 package available for base models only, comprising a strong-hearted small-block V-8 of that displacement, plus unsilenced air cleaner, performance hood with functional scoop, E60 X 15 raised-white-letter tires, Rallye suspension, front and rear anti-sway bars, "bumblebee" rump stripe, and "Scat Pack" decals on the quarter windows.
The 1970 R/T convertible, here with standard
383 Magnum V-8.
Also listed as step-up power for the standard Challenger were two versions of the stalwart 383, a two-barrel 290-horsepower unit and a 330-horsepower four-barrel engine similar to the standard R/T powerplant.
The enormous 440-cid V-8 was optional across the board in both 375-horsepower Magnum tune and as the "Six Pak," with triple carbs and 390 horses. Those desiring the ultimate -- and willing to part with $1,227.50 -- could order the legendary 426 Hemi with dual four-pot carbs, nominally rated at 425 horsepower.
Speed demons selected the optional four-speed manual transmission, which came with Hurst's beefy "pistol grip" shifter, and manual 440- or Hemi-powered R/Ts were equipped with extra strong Dana 60 rear axles with 93/4-inch ring gears (Torqueflite absorbed enough initial torque in hard driving to preclude the H-D axle).
R/T gearing options included Trak Pak, a 3.54:1 differential with Sure-Grip limited slip, or Super Trak Pak, the same thing with a 4.10:1 gearset.
It was only natural that Dodge would want to offer its race-proven muscle parts in the Challenger, even though that took the car far away from the original luxury GT intent. But performance fever was raging throughout the industry in those days, and it would never burn hotter again.
By way of illustration, the October 1969 issues of Car Craft magazine contained a fold-out for Pontiac's new GTO Judge on the inside front cover, an inside spread on Ford's Torino GT and Cobra, and a four-page Mercury blurb a few pages further on that promised "the most exciting Cougars yet" -- even the luxury ponycar had been afflicted.
Dodge had the most impressive piece: a splashy eight-page insert for its 1970 Scat Pak models. These were the division's all-stars, the top performers in each model line: Coronet Super Bee, Dart Swinger 340, Charger R/T, and the incredible winged, wedge-nose Charger Daytona. Naturally, the brash Challenger R/T got prime space in its debut year.
Aggressive hood scoop, rear spoiler, and “megaphone”
side exit pipes identified the 1970 T/A,
the street version of Sam Posey’s Trans-Am racer.
Prominent throughout this booklet were comments on the various models from Dodge-sponsored race drivers, and famed fuel dragster handler Don "Big Daddy" Garlits had this to say about the hemi-engine Challenger: "Now Dodge has gone and done the real thing built the pony-car of all ponycars."
Garlits genuinely liked the Challenger and proved it by buying a hemi hardtop, which is on display at his drag racing museum in Ocala, Florida.
Learn about Dodge Challenger performance on the next page.
For more information on cars, see:
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 Dodge Challenger Performance
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.
For more information on cars, see:
1970 Dodge Challenger T/A
The scene of the 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A's entry was complex. There was an arena for showcasing performance abilities, though it was having troubles of its own by 1970: the Sports Car Club of America's Trans-American road racing series. The Trans-Am had been the battleground for ponycar manufacturers since 1966, and competition had heated up as the market expanded.
By 1969, the series had spurred development of the Camaro Z-28 and Mustang Boss 302, highly specialized machines sold to the public in limited numbers solely to legalize their racing counterparts -- which were theoretically streetable "sedans." Dodge jumped on the Trans-Am bandwagon for the 1970 season along with AMC and Plymouth, but the "White Hats" were again late on the draw.
Sam Posey’s Trans-Am team car in action.
Running under the colors of Dan Gurney's All-American Racers, a Challenger was prepared by Ray Caldwell's Auto-dynamics firm for driver Sam Posey, and was ready in time for that year's curtain-raiser at Laguna Seca. But Posey managed only a sixth-place finish, complaining of suspension problems that would never be successfully overcome.
Meantime, Dodge was readying a street version of its Trans-Am racer per SCCA rules, and it arrived in the spring of 1970 as the Challenger T/A, a name chosen because Pontiac had already grabbed the full title for its hottest Firebird. This new competition-inspired Dodge looked -- and ran -- like every 15-year-old's ideal automotive fantasy.
Often dressed in one of the High-Impact colors, the T/A was distinguished by a lift-off fiberglass hood with a serious scoop and liberally applied matte-black paint, and sported a noticeable front-end rake thanks to larger rear tires (G60 X 15s versus E60 X 15 at the front).
Under the funky hood was the 340 small-block V-8 with a beefier bottom end and a trio of two-barrel carburetors, plus appropriate exhaust manifolding that terminated in chrome "megaphone" side-exit pipes protruding from below the rockers ahead of the rear wheels.
Horsepower was 290 on paper, but the actual gross figure was surely well above 300. The 340 engine wasn't legal for racing because of the SCCA's 305-cid size limit, but the street T/A could reel off 14.5-second quarter-miles at better than 95 mph.
Only 2,142 of these cars were built before Dodge scrapped its Trans-Am effort after a single season, thus ending the need for the T/A. Posey and company tried hard, but the new team was simply no match for the experienced Mustangs or Roger Penske's Javelins, both of which dominated the 1970 series.
Racing apart, the Challenger did fairly well for a newcomer trying to stake out territory in an already crowded field. Sales topped 83,000 units for 1970, far behind the league-leading Mustang's total but, interestingly enough, ahead of Cougar's count, which was a bit more than 72,000. The Challenger had beaten the cat that had inspired it.
Let's move on to the 1971 Dodge Challenger on the next page.
For more information on cars, see:
1971 Dodge Challenger
For a newcomer trying to stake out territory in an already crowded field, the Dodge Challenger sold well in 1970, ending up way behind the Mustang but beating the car that had inspired it in the first place, the Mercury Cougar. Dodge began backing away from ponycars the very next year, and the 1971 Challenger returned with only minor appearance and mechanical changes to battle Ford's much bigger new Mustang and GM's strikingly styled Camaro/Firebird. The R/T convertible was canned, leaving the R/T hardtop and the two base models.
Styling changes were modest for 1971. The R/T
convertible disappeared, and the hardtop acquired
bolder tape stripes.
A new arrival was the Deputy, a strippo coupe with fixed rear side glass, priced $121 less than the $2,727 standard hardtop. All models were marked by a reworked front with a one-piece plastic grille frame and a rather awkward two-piece plastic-and-aluminum insert, painted black on R/Ts, silver on other models.
The R/T also got color-keyed bumpers, simulated brake cooling slots on the rear quarters, and revised tape striping with large ID lettering on the bodysides near the C-pillars and on the nose.
The SE package was unchanged from 1970, but it was now limited to base models. Interiors also stayed the same, apart from wood-grain door panel inserts and revised upholstery pleat styles.
There were no major mechanical changes either, although the 383 was now restricted to the R/T only. Power ratings were now quoted in SAE net figures instead of the old gross horsepower, though actual outputs were hardly affected. Thus, the 383 Magnum came down from its previous 335 horsepower gross to 250 horsepower net, and there were similar paper losses across the board.
However, Chrysler did not drop compression ratios this year like GM, and Challengers with the big 440 and Hemi engines were still stunningly fast. A footnote to Dodge's Trans-Am adventure was the appearance of a 1971 T/A in some of this year's Scat Pack ads. Of course, it never made it to the street.
Four Dodge dealers attempted to spur interest in the Challenger by agreeing to supply units for the 1971 Indianapolis 500 pace car program. According to Judy Hamm, former owner of a Challenger pace car replica, 50 Hemi-orange convertibles, all with white interiors, were prepared for use during pre-race festivities. Two of these were equipped with heavy-duty tires and other components, one as the actual pace car, the other as a backup.
During the parade lap, the pace car -- loaded with dignitaries -- went into a skid as it was leaving the track and crashed into a press box, injuring several reporters. Ms. Hamm says it was later rebuilt for use in data-gathering tests as numerous lawsuits resulting from the accident made their way through the courts, and it survives today with less than 2,500 miles on its odometer.
Dodge dealers could apparently order decal sets this year to make their own pace car replicas, though the idea likely seemed faintly ludicrous in the aftermath of this promotional nightmare.
This 1971 Challenger Indy 500 Pace Car
is shown in a later picture, in like-new condition.
Challenger sales fell dramatically for 1971. The model year total of 29,883 was down by more than 60 percent compared to 1970, though other ponycars suffered, too.
The market was shrinking quickly now as federal safety and emissions standards proliferated and Madison Avenue's beloved baby boomers -- the prime ponycar prospects -- turned from "road appearance" value to more practical concerns, like where the kids would ride.
For details on the 1972-1973 Dodge Challenger, check out the next section.
For more information on cars, see:
1972-1973 Dodge Challenger
The 1972 and 1973 Challenger mirrored the new market realities. Convertibles were gone, along with the Scat Pack and all the big-block engines, and there were now just two offerings, a standard hardtop and a sportier version called the Rallye, a replacement for the R/T. Appearance was altered with a "sad mouth" eggcrate grille and four smaller, rectangular tail-lamps, with the backup lights mounted in the inboard units.
“Sad mouth” grille marked 1972 Challenger styling.
The standard hardtop is shown here.
The base hardtop now listed at $2,790, with the Rallye about $300 upstream. The latter was really a "cosmetic muscle car," sporting simulated air extractors on the front fenders, from which black tape stripes flowed rearward, plus F70 X 14 tires and a "performance" hood with NACA-style air ducts.
The tame 318 was standard for the Rallye, and the only option was a new low-compression 340, with dual exhausts wearing bright tips. The bigger engine could be ordered with four-speed manual and a Performance Axle option comprising 3.55:1 final drive, Sure-Grip differential, and increased cooling capacity.
Dodge seemed almost apologetic in advertising the Rallye: "The way things are today, maybe what you need is not the world's hottest car. Maybe what you need is a well-balanced, thoroughly instrumented road machine." Maybe we did, but not many buyers thought this was it.
Now looking more obviously like a child of the 1960s than ever, the Challenger was fading, and Dodge tacitly acknowledged the fact by giving it scant promotion. Despite all this, model year sales held almost steady, at 26,663 units.
"Quiet good taste" was the Challenger's billing for 1973, but there was little progress toward that end. The only visual change was the addition of large solid-rubber pads to the 1972 front bumper to meet this year's government-ordered 5-mph impact standard. The Rallye was downgraded to option status, but retained most of its previous features.
Interiors boasted new thin-shell bucket seats, and upholstery was now more fire-resistant, again per Washington edict. Tighter emissions standards continued to wreak havoc on both compression and horsepower. They proved too much for the veteran slant six, which was dropped as the base engine in favor of the 318, in hindsight a curious move on the eve of the Middle East oil crisis.
The four-barrel 340 with dual exhausts returned as the lone option. Now rated at 240 horsepower (SAE net), it could propel a Challenger with Torqueflite over the quarter-mile in 16.3 seconds at 85 mph, fair going for the day.
Rallye replaced R/T as the sporty model for 1972.
Performance was still quite good.
Color choices numbered 16, but Top Banana was the only High-Impact hue left. Sales managed to improve this year despite the general gloom and doom, topping 32,000 units. Still, that was pretty thin volume -- too thin, really, to be profitable.
And though pony-cars seemed to be rebounding a bit as they returned to the "sporty/personal" concept, their sales prospects seemed anything but bright.
Learn about the end of the line for this car -- the 1974 Dodge Challenger.
For more information on cars, see:
1974 Dodge Challenger
Reluctant to spend any more money on it than absolutely necessary, Dodge did little to the 1974 Dodge Challenger. Rear bumpers were strengthened to withstand 5-mph shunts as the government said they must, and the Rallye package was revised with a black-painted grille and "strobe" stripes emanating from the fake front fender vents.
Substituting for the 340 as the "performance" option was a new 360-cid V-8 rated at 245 horsepower net. The 1974 model was on the market only a few months before Dodge suddenly pulled the plug on the Challenger, and only 16,437 units made it to the end of the assembly line.
The Rallye for 1974, the Challenger’s farewell model year.
The Challenger was not so much a weak entry in the ponycar field as a late one. It appeared just as demand for such cars was starting to evaporate, which clearly diluted whatever impact it might have had.
Of course, Dodge couldn't have predicted this market switch when it planned the Challenger back in 1967. And that's a pity, because the car certainly seemed like a good idea at the time: lots of engines, plenty of performance and dress-up options, smooth styling on a wheelbase long enough to make it look fast standing still.
The SE was quite plush for its $3,500 asking price, and truly hairy performance was as close as the option book. Yet the Challenger didn't present much of a challenge to its rivals, either on the showroom floor or on the tracks.
And Dodge compounded the problem by apparently giving up on both performance and luxury, carrying the Challenger almost as an afterthought for 1972-1974.
Today, only the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird remain to carry on the ponycar tradition, which they inherited largely by default. They were the only ones left after 1974, the others either vanishing like the Challenger or becoming something entirely different.
Yet ironically, the Camaro/Firebird survived the ups and downs of the 1970s not just because of General Motors' superior financial strength but because they were packaged as personal, affordable, semi-sporting GTs -- exactly the concept behind the Challenger.
Learn about the appeal of the Dodge Challenger on the collectible car scene in the next section.
For more information on cars, see:
The Collectible Dodge Challenger
Although the story of Dodge's only true ponycar isn't an altogether happy one, it does have a pleasant postscript that's still being written today, about the collectible Dodge Challenger.
Since about 1980 there's been a strong revival of interest in the 1970-1974 Challengers, which bodes well for their potential as investments and for availability of parts and restoration assistance. The one problem with this as a collectible automobile is a big one, however: finding one in decent condition.
Oddly enough, the scarcity of nice Challengers and the renewed enthusiasm for these cars both result from one of the model's most desirable qualities: high performance. Much of this reflects the strong popularity of the hemi-engine versions in drag racing, where they did consistently well through the end of the 1970s, thus adding new luster to the Challenger's performance image. Indeed, famed quarter-mile specialist Dick Landy was one of the first to demonstrate the car's prowess with his modified Pro Stock 1970.
The scarcity of Dodge Challengers has created
an interest in the collectible car market.
Meantime, Challengers began showing up on used-car lots and, because of their "orphan" status, at very low prices. Budget-minded street racers attracted by Mopar muscle started snapping them up and made all sorts of modifications.
Soon it was hard to find a Challenger that wasn't on aftermarket mags, jacked up at the rear, a monster mill rumbling in front -- and totally clapped out. Even the low-compression 1972-1974 models and the smaller-engine cars weren't immune to this sort of treatment. After all, they had "The Look."
With its continued presence on the street and the renewed appreciation for muscle cars and ponycars in general, the Challenger has now found a whole new audience and is perhaps more desirable in our more sober age than it ever was when new. Predictably, certain low-production models have become high-demand items now, and their values have escalated sharply over the past five years or so.
The never-common Hemi-equipped cars were naturally the first to boom, but the 440 V-8 models and the R/Ts weren't far behind, and the rare 1970 T/A quickly acquired something akin to cult status. Today, any E-body Challenger or Barracuda is a premium machine.
Unfortunately, there aren't that many premium examples left. And as owners become more aware of the value of what they have, you can expect them to hold firm on prices regardless of a car's condition.
What it all comes down to is that you'll need to invest more than the usual amount of time, patience, and money if you're looking for a Challenger in anything like restorable condition. Assuming your willingness to do that, what should you look for?
Our production figure chart suggests certain models desirable solely on the basis of rarity, and the wide variety of powerteams and trim packages offered mean that some combinations might well be one-of-a-kind among the survivors. Of course, it's impossible to say precisely how true this is, since there are no reliable estimates on survival percentage, but consider, for instance, how few 1970 Hemi R/T convertibles are left.
Still, it's difficult to find a real loser in this bunch. The big-inch engines have obvious appeal, as do the R/T models and cars with power steering and brakes, air, and/or the swanky SE package. But there's nothing wrong with a base-engine Challenger, and there's a lot to be said for the slant six and 318 V-8 at a time when leaded gas -- not to mention premium leaded -- is an increasingly scarce commodity.
Any Challenger will give you burly good looks, beefy construction, and genuine ponycar character. If you do get your hands on one, see the section for restoration tips.
For more information on cars, see:
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 Dodge Challenger Specifications
The Dodge Challenger entered the ponycar race a bit late to be a serious contender. Today, however, the Challenger is quite the desirable collectible. See specifications for the Dodge Challenger in the charts that follow.
Dodge Challenger Production 1970-1974
|Model||1970||1971 ||1972 ||1973 ||1974 |
|SE hardtop coupe||6,584|
|R/T hardtop coupe||12,747||4,630|
|R/T hardtop coupe SE||3,979|
|T/A hardtop coupe||2,142|
|Rallye hardtop coupe||8,128|
* includes Deputy fixed-pillar coupe
** includes Rallye option
Source: The Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980, Richard M. Langworth and the Auto Editors of CONSUMER GUIDE®, © 1984)
1970-1971 Dodge Challenger Performance Drivetrain Installations
|1970 htp cpe||457||952|
|1970 cpe ||3||3|
|1970 conv ||31||84|
|1970 SE htp cpe||158||644|
|1970 R/T htp cpe||2,590||6,014||916||1,886||847||793||137||150|
|1970 R/T conv ||149||576||34||129||61||38||5||4|
|1970 R/T htp SE ||400||2,076||142||733||135||161||22||37|
|1971 htp cpe ||173||420|
|1971 conv ||41 ||126 |
|1971 R/T htp cpe ||465 ||1,985 ||129 ||121 ||59 ||12 |
For more information on cars, see: