Considered as one of the most sought-after muscle cars of all time..Dodge Challenger is not only a car, it is also the name of three different generations of automobiles marketed by the Dodge division of Chrysler.
It was strongly based on the similar Plymouth Barracuda’s new E-body but with two inches of extra wheelbase and somewhat different outer sheetmetal. Exterior design was done by Carl “CAM” Cameron, whom also did the exterior for the 1966 Dodge Charger. For the 1970 Challenger grille, CAM based it off of an older sketch of his of a 1966 Charger prototype that was designed to have a turbine engine. The Charger never got the turbine, but the Challenger got that car’s grille.
Although Dodge officially announced Challenger’s first generation to be from 1970-1974, the first car that carried the Challenger name was the mid-year introduction of a limited edition 1959 Dodge Silver Challenger. This was a six-cylinder or V8 model available only in silver paint and only on a two-door body. After that for 11 years, nobody heard from the Dodge division.
In 1970, to everybody’s surprise Dodge’s “answer to the Mustang and Camaro” emerged from nowhere.
With the same badge name– Challenger,used 11 years ago, but, the meaning changed. Perhaps, it bore a warning to the U.S. Pony car makers.
The Challenger’s longer wheelbase, larger dimensions and more luxurious interior were prompted by the launch of the 1967 Mercury Cougar, likewise a bigger, more luxurious and more expensive pony car aimed at affluent young American buyers. Chrysler intended the new Dodge as “the most potent pony car ever,” and positioned it “to compete against the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird.”
Challengers could either be hardtop coupes or convertibles (through 1971 only). The performance model was the R/T (Road/Track), available in both body styles; both standard and R/T hardtops could be ordered as the more luxurious SE specification, which included leather seats, a vinyl roof and a smaller ‘formal’ rear window. The convertible Challenger was only available as an R/T in 1970. In 1972, Dodge dropped the R/T badging and now called it the “Rallye”.
What “challenging” did the 1970 Challenger had?…let’s see.
1970 Challenger was called Challenger T/A (Trans Am) .It was a racing homologation car, which used a specially tuned Six-Pack version of the 5.6 L engine, topped with a giant hood scoop on a fiberglass hood. ‘Megaphone’ exhaust outlets were fitted in front of the rear wheels. These cars came standard with front and rear sway bars to enhance handling. Unusually, different-sized wheels were fitted front and back, with very fat rubber on the rear. The T/A also came with a rear ducktail spoiler and front ground effect spoilers as standard equipment.
The 1970 taillights went all the way across the back of the car, with the backup light in the middle of the rear. In 1971, the backup lights were on the left and right instead of the middle.
By,1972,the engine blocks were removed from the TransAm Challenger and the maximum power was down to 240 hp. Production ceased in mid-1974.
The Challenger also had some weaknesses. The street version suffered from severe under steer in fast corners, largely due to the smaller front tires. Only 2,399 T/As were made. A tuned racer model of 1970 Challenger using the 340 engine with a 4-barrel carburetor was planned and appeared in advertising, but was not produced since Dodge had left the race series.
That was a little bit of weakness, but, the Challengers were not lacking in promotional value. On the code line which gives the dealer order number, that number will start with an “R”, which designates “Special Meaning” (in this case, a TV ‘special promotions’ car). A cigarette lighter was standard for those cars.
Dodge broke the North American barrier of its Muscle cars, and started extending its boundaries to Switzerland and France. The sales went quite well in the Swiss market, but France did not accept Dodge well. French Ford Mustangs seemed less threatened by Challengers’ challenge.
A few French and Swiss Challengers exist still today.
In a nutshell, driving a First generation Dodge Challenger (street version) was like sitting on air cushion, thanks to fat rubber wheels. The steering wheel had a large diameter, enabling a better control. The space between the steering was optimum, providing the required ergonomics. Although due to the large body, and a big hood, the weight of the car was more concentrated to the front, which was the cause of understeer in fast corners.
Nowadays, theChallengers are nothing but poor impressions of their fore-runners ,but the overall design hasn’t changed a bit since 1970s; that’s how Carl Cameron still lives on , and Challengers’ legacy continues.