Dodge Challenger History
Article by Mark Trotta
In the fall of 1969, five years after the first pony cars hit dealer showrooms, Dodge introduced the 1970 Challenger. Options included a plethora of exterior colors and graphics, and along with hood scoops and pistol-grip shifters, the Challenger was a worthy component to the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro.
First Generation Dodge Challenger (1970-1974)
The 1970 Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Cuda had little in common with the A-body cars from which the original Barracuda were based. Using components from both the compact A-body and midsize B-body cars, the new E-body design featured longer hoods and shorter rear decks. They were both wider than the original Barracuda, with the Challenger getting two more inches of wheelbase at 110-inches. Total length was 192 inches.
The outer shell of the Challenger was designed by Carl 'Cam' Cameron, who also designed the 1966 Dodge Charger. The grille was inspired by one of Cameron's earlier designs for the Charger. The tail lamps ran across the back of the car with one backup light in the center.
Two body styles were available, coupe or convertible. Exterior color options included bright green, bright yellow, and plum crazy purple. Several stripe and option packages were offered.
There were several trim and option levels on the base Challenger, Challenger SE and Challenger R/T models. The Challenger SE package added a vinyl top with a smaller rear window. The Gran Coupe model added body sill, wheel lip, and beltline moldings.
Upon introduction, there were a total of nine different engines available for the 1970 Challenger, including the base 145-hp, 225-cubic-inch Slant Six, a 318-cubic-inch V8 with a two-barrel carburetor, and a 340-cubic-inch V8 with a four-barrel at 275-hp.
In mid-year, a 10th engine was offered; a 340 topped with the Six-Pack induction (making 290-hp). This motor was featured in the limited-edition AAR and T/A models.
Three versions of the 383-cubic-inch V8 were offered; 290, 330 or 335 horsepower. The 440 four-barrel motor produced 375-hp, and the 440 Six-Pack was rated at 390-hp. The 426 Hemi was underrated by the factory at 425 horsepower.
Read: Top Five Muscle Car Engines
Base Challengers were equipped with a three-speed manual transmission. A four-speed manual or three-speed automatic were optional on all models.
1970 Challenger T/A
With a tuned three-carb 340ci engine and megaphone side exhaust outlets, the Challenger T/A was created to compete in the SCCA Trans Am racing venue. A functional hood scoop was mounted on a fiberglass hood, and front and rear sway bars helped handling. The T/A was a one-year only model, with less than 2,200 built.
1970 Challenger AAR
Like the T/A, the Challenger AAR (All American Racers) featured the side-exhaust 340ci V-8 topped with three 2-barrel Holley carburetors. Horsepower was at 290, backed by either a four-speed manual or three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. About 1,000 AAR Challengers were produced.
In all, Dodge sold 76,935 Challengers for the 1970 model year.
A mild restyle was seen in 1971 as the Challenger got a new split grille and restyled back-up lamps. Industry-wide emissions regulations brought lower compression ratios, which lowered engine outputs.
There were now eight engines offered, starting with the 198-cubic-inch version of the Slant Six, all the way up to the 426 Hemi V8, still rated at 425 gross horsepower (about 350 net horsepower). The 440 with a four-barrel carb was gone from the line-up, as was the 340 Six-Pack.
A total of 29,883 Challengers were built for the 1971 model year. Although a Challenger convertible paced the Indy 500, no replica models were offered to the public.
Vanishing Point Movie Car
Filmed throughout the American Southwest, the 1971 movie "Vanishing Point" starred actor Barry Newman driving a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T.
Five Alpine White Challengers were lent to the studio by Chrysler for promotional consideration. Four cars had 440 engines equipped with four-speeds, and the fifth car was a 383 with an automatic. All five were returned upon completion of filming.
The convertible was gone, just the Challenger and Challenger Rallye hardtop remained for 1972. The grille was re-designed once again, now resembling a wide horse collar and extending beneath the front bumper. The tail section was also re-designed.
Engine choices were down to three, the base 225ci six, a 150-horsepower, two-barrel 318 and 240-horsepower, four-barrel 340. Sales continued to slide, with Dodge selling 26,658 Challengers.
Aside from the discontinued six-cylinder engine, the 1973 Challengers were carryovers from 1972. Minor differences between the two years was the adoption of rubber bumperettes to meet new safety regulations, and electronic ignition added. Despite higher insurance premiums and a fuel crisis, sales increased slightly from 1972, with 32,596 Challengers sold.
Sales fell sharply during the 1974 model year, with just 16,437 Challengers produced. The biggest change from 1973 was the substitution of a 245-hp, 360-cubic-inch four-barrel V8 in place of the 340ci motor.
From 1970 to 1974, over 165,000 Dodge Challengers were sold, with over 80,000 units sold in the first year alone. Original numbers-matching 426 and 440-equipped Challengers are now among the most sought-after collector cars. Because of their value, clone cars have started appearing. These are usually lower-end six-cylinder or 318-powered non-R/T or non-T/A models, fitted with one of the high-performance engines, with corresponding hoods and badging added.
The rarest of the first-gen Challengers were the Hemi-powered convertibles, followed by the Hemi-powered coupes. Examples of these in showroom condition have sold from $200,000 to over one million dollars.
Vehicle identification numbers on first-gen Challengers can be found on the radiator support, cowl, dash, and fender tag. Challenger VIN's will include "JS" for an R/T, "JH" for a standard Challenger, and "JP" for an S.E.
Like many American-made cars of the day, common rust areas on Challengers include trunk floor, quarter panels, and other typical spots. Also look for rust in the cowl area, near the brake master cylinder and at the hood hinges.
Four years after the Challenger was discontinued, Dodge revived the Challenger name in 1978 for a version of the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe. The car retained the frameless hardtop styling of the old Challenger, but was powered by an inline four-cylinder instead of the six and eight-cylinder engines of the first-generation Challengers.
In 2008, production began on a third-generation Dodge Challenger. Design cues taken from the 1970 Challenger are many, including script "Challenger" badges on the front panels and black or white R/T stripes. It was the second pony car to revive an old design, after the 2005 Ford Mustang but before the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro.
After a body restyle in 2015, the Challenger is heading into it's 13th model year in 2021. The third-generation Challenger has done well, with plenty of available power and retro looks that has helped keep it competitive with today's Mustangs and Camaros.