The first generation 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger had a very short lifespan but its impact was lasting. The current Dodge Challenger would not be the fantastic seller today that it is, had it not been for the 1970-1974 Challenger. Though the new Challenger has so many great high-tech features and a great choice of performance engines, part of the appeal of buying the new Challenger is nostalgia. The new Challenger has the classic styling cues of the 1970-1974 Challenger.
Back when Dodge released the Challenger for the 1970 model year, it was an all original design that was new territory for Dodge. The design was truly a work of art, the curved body panels had creases – the overall look was very attractive yet also very macho. It had the long hood and short decklid design theme which the Mustang made famous. The Challenger’s overall shape and design remained unchanged during its five year run, however there were some mild yearly exterior design changes especially to the front and rear of the Challenger.
Dodge had no idea when it released the 1970 Challenger that it had built a legend. When the Challenger was in its planning and design stages in the late-1960s, Dodge realized it needed a car to compete in the pony car market which the Ford Mustang had started. However the Chrysler Corporation which was Dodge’s parent company saw its Plymouth Barracuda as its main competitor to the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. Chrysler saw the Dodge Challenger as the main competitor to the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird which were slightly more upscale pony cars. This is why Challenger had a longer 110-inch wheelbase versus the Barracuda’s shorter 108-inch wheelbase. Chrysler spent a large sum of money developing its all new E-platform for the 1970 model year which the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger both shared. It had extremely high sales expectations for the 1970 Challenger and Barracuda.
Chrysler had done everything right concerning the development of these cars but the release of the new E-platform for 1970 had bad timing. None of the American automakers could have predicted the crash of the muscle car market, the 1970 model year across the board saw a massive decline in muscle car sales. The culprit was skyrocketing car insurance premiums for younger owners of muscle cars who happened to be the primary buyers of these cars. For 1970 Challenger production was 76,935 which was decent but a lot less than what Chrysler had expected. Challenger sales would drastically decline in the following years. For 1974 Dodge only produced 16,437 Challengers. Challenger production was cancelled during the middle of the 1974 model year. Total 1970-1974 Challenger production was 165,437 units. The 1973 Oil Crises which caused skyrocketing gas prices and new government and safety regulations ensured the performance oriented Challenger would not be returning anytime soon. It was an over three decade wait for the the return of a rear-wheel drive performance oriented Challenger. From 1978-1983 there would be a front-wheel drive Dodge Challenger which was essentially a rebadged Mitsubishi Gallant, it was a sporty compact import car that didn’t live up to the Challenger name.
The 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger had a great looking modern interior. For a pony car it had a spacious interior and a very comfortable backseat that had better legroom than most pony cars from this era. Trunk space was also quite spacious for a pony car. The Challenger was a 2-door coupe but from 1970-1971 a 2-door convertible configuration was also available. There were a few different trim levels: base, R/T which was the performance model from 1970-1971, and Rallye which was the performance oriented model from 1972-1974, it replaced the R/T model. For the 1970 model year only, the SE trim package which added leather seats and other goodies was available for both the base and RT 2-door coupe models.
There was a low production high-performance model for 1970 only called the Challenger T/A, which was a special edition model Dodge offered in order to qualify the Challenger for the Trans Am racing circuit. It had a 290 gross horsepower 340 cubic-inch Six Pack V8 which had a three 2-barrel carburetor configuration – this engine was not available with any other Challenger model. The Challenger T/A has its own unique graphics package and dual exhaust system where each tailpipe exited in front of the two rear wheels.
There were a wide array of engines offered, from 1970-1971 the following engines were available on the Challenger: 145 gross horsepower 225 cubic-inch 6-cylinder engine, 230 gross horsepower 318 cubic-inch small-block V8, 275 gross horsepower 340 cubic-inch small-block V8, two different 383 cubic-inch big-block V8s that generated between 275-335 gross horsepower, 425 gross horsepower 426 cubic-inch big-block Hemi V8, and a 385-390 gross-horsepower 440 cubic-inch Six-Pack big-block V8. For 1970 only, a 375 gross-horsepower 440 cubic-inch big-block V8 was also available. It was the 440 Six-Pack and 426 Hemi powered Challengers that helped to make the original Challenger a legend, they were capable of quarter mile times in the mid-13 second range.
Starting in 1972 horsepower was rated in more stringent net standard verses the previous gross horsepower standard. A 110 horsepower 225 cubic-inch 6-cylinder would be standard for 1972, it would not carryover to 1973. A 150 horsepower 318 cubic-inch V8 was available from 1972-1974. Additionally a 240 horsepower 340 cubic-inch V8 would be available from 1972-1973. For 1974 the 340 was replaced by a 245 horsepower 360 cubic-inch small-block V8. The 360 V8 powered 1974 Challenger was fast by 1974 standards however it was almost 2 seconds slower in the quarter mile than the 426 Hemi and 440 Six-Pack powered Challengers.
As time passed by after the first generation Challenger’s cancellation, its popularity grew. By the 1980s Challenger prices began to climb and have continued to do so ever since. It was this popularity that eventually convinced Dodge to release a retro version of the original Challenger for the 2008 model year. Since then the Challenger lineup has continued to grow in models and popularity and the Challenger’s future looks very bright. None of this would have been possible without the impact and popularity of the 1970-1974 Challenger.
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