Dodge was the last one to the pony car party, but that doesn’t stop it to spend its time very wisely…
…perfecting its entry, the Challenger.
The Challenger debuted by having a engine lineup that ranged from a docile slant six to the powerful 440 Six Barrel and the awesome 426 Hemi.
Other pony cars could only dream of a line up like that.
Allow me to be guide you through in this travel through-out the Dodge Challenger timeline:
The Dodge Challenger appeared as a model based on the Plymouth Barracuda platform, with a wheelbase stretched by two inches in order to provide more interior room.
The Challenger was offered in both convertible and hardtop variations.
Performance versions wore the R/T (Road/Track) badge and either the base or R/T model could be ordered with the SE luxury package.
The SE package was available with leather seats plus vinyl roof with a smaller “formal” rear window.
Challenger R/T’s arrived standard using the 335 bhp 383 engines.
There were two 440 optional engines, the four-barrel Magnum with 375 bhp and the tri-carb Six Pack with 390 bhp (chosen by 2,035 buyers).
At the top of the list was sitting the almighty 426 Hemi, having 425 bhp (chosen by 356 buyers).
The Hemi was having a higher price for additional $1,228 and required heavy-duty equipment.
The 440s and the Hemi came standard with TorqueFlite automatic.
Also, there was an optional four speed manual, which included a pistol-grip Hurst shifter and a Dana 60 axle.
Gear axles climed from 3.23:1 to 4.10:1, with limited slip as an option.
All R/Ts received a heavy duty suspension and the 440s and Hemi received 15 inch 60 series tires…
…while essentials including power steering and front disc brakes were still optional.
The R/T’s standard hood had two hood scoops, but they did not feed directly into the air cleaner. For only $97, the buyer would be able to specify the shaker scoop, which mounted to the air cleaner and stuck up through an opening in the hood.
It was named the “shaker” as it vibrated together with the engine.
Some faults of the Challenger included poor outward visibility and it feeling too bulky for its size.
But Dodge was here to show one more trick up from its sleeve.
To be able to race in the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans American Sedan Championship, it created a street version of its race car (the same as Plymouth with its Plymouth ’Cuda AAR) which it called the Dodge Challenger T/A (Trans Am).
Although the race cars ran a destroked version of the 340, street versions took the 340 and added a trio of two-barrel carbs atop an Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold, creating the 340 Six Pack.
Dodge rated at the 340 Six Pack at the same 290 bhp rating as the original 340 engine (and mysteriously the same rating as the Ford Boss 302 Mustang and Camaro Z/28), it in fact made about 350 bhp.
It takes air by using a suitcase sized air scoop molded into the pinned down, lift off matte-black fiberglass hood. Low-restriction dual exhausts ran to the stock muffler location under the trunk, then reversed direction to exit in chrome tipped “megaphone” outlets in front of the rear wheels.
TorqueFlite automatic or Hurst-shifted four-speed transmission, 3.55:1 or 3.90:1 gears, manual or power steering were available.
As a standard were the front disc brakes.
The special Rallye suspension used heavy duty parts and increased the camber of the rear springs.
Also, the T/A was among the first production cars to use different size tires front and rear:
E60x15 fronts, and G60x15 in back.
The modified camber was here to elevate the tail enough to clear the rear rubber and its thick side stripes, side exhaust outlets, bold ID graphics, and a ducktail spoiler added to the street punk image.
The interior was strictly stock Challenger.
Sad to say, but the race Challenger T/A wasn’t a car that was very competitive and the street version struggled with severe understeer in fast corners.
But it could turn, mid 14s in the quarter mile which would do any small block muscle car proud.
The T/A would only be available for 1970 as Dodge would pull out of Trans Am racing.
When it comes to 1971, the Dodge Challenger gotten a fresh grille and several other changes from 1970.
The Challenger T/A got its advertisement, but never made and was officially dropped (as Dodge had withdrawn from Trans Am racing). The R/T convertible was also dropped and the SE package was only available on base model Challengers.
The R/T for 1971 had dummy brake cooling slots on its rear flanks, color-keyed bumpers and new tape stripes.
Regarding the engine, 383 was still standard on R/T models, however, it was detuned to 300 bhp due to a lower compression ratio to satisfy the new government regulations.
The base 440 was dropped, but the 440-6, rated at 385 bhp (down 5 bhp from 1970) and the Hemi, still rated at 425 bhp were still available.
But that couldn’t stop a severe sales slide as sales fell 60% in the Challenger’s second year.
A smaller number of Dodge dealers made an effort to increase Challenger sales in 1971 by offering 50 specially prepared examples as official and pace cars for the Indianapolis 500 race.
Each one of these types of cars was Hemi Orange convertibles with white interior, but actuality only two had high-performance options.
One — the pace car:
Skidded and crashed into a press box, injuring a number of reporters.
Not surprisingly, the pace car decal sets available through Dodge dealers did not sell well.
The 1972 Challenger put on new front end styling that involved a fresh eggcrate grille which had downturned ends.
It was noted by the critics that it was showing a sad face to its own emasculation.
The R/T performance version was dropped and convertibles were removed.
The 440 and Hemi were also dropped.
A new Rallye edition replaced the R/T model, but sported only a 318 with just 150 bhp (net).
The largest engine available has been a 340 with just 240 bhp (net), a far cry from just the year before.
For the next year, unfortunately the Challenger continued its downward slide.
The Rallye edition was dropped, but the clientele was still in a position to build their own on the option sheet.
Sales were still up for the year, even though most of these cars came with the 318 having 150 bhp, hardly a performance machine.
Still available was the 340 with 240 bhp…
…but it was replaced in mid-season with a new 360 V8 debuted with 245 bhp.
The only way that Dodge could keep power up in the face of tightening emissions control regulations was through increased capacity .
1974 was the last year for the Dodge Challenger, while it was still available with the 360 for those customers who wanted any real performance.
The Dodge Challenger lived just five short years, but for sure it made its mark on the muscle car era.
1978 – 1983
The powerful name of Challenger was resurrected in 1978 to be slapped on a Mitsubishi built compact, the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda Coupe.
It was known also as Plymouth Sapporo and Mitsubishi Sapporo.
Although mechanically identical, the Dodge version pointed out sportiness, with bright colors and tape stripes, and the Plymouth on luxury with more subdued trim.
Both cars were available on the market until 1983.
The car kept the frameless hardtop styling of the old Challenger, but had only a four-cylinder engine and was a long way in performance from its namesake.
But, it got a reputation as a reasonably brisk performer of its type, not least because of its available 2.6 L engine, exceptionally large for a four-cylinder.
Four-cylinder engines of this size had not usually been built due to inherent vibration…
…but Mitsubishi developed the usage of balance shafts in order to help damp this out and the Challenger was one of the first vehicles to bring this technology to the American market.
Since then it has been licensed to many other manufacturers.
Dodge Challenger Timeline Gallery
Inspired by: TopSpeed