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.
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