Fast Lane Flashback

First Generation: 1970-1974

 

Dodge was the last company of Detroit’s Big Three to jump on the pony car bandwagon with its introduction of the Dodge Challenger in 1970. Though late to the game, the Challenger nonetheless rose to unforgettable fame and glory during the 5-year span of its first generation. The Challenger was particularly unique in that it brought something completely new to the table: no other competitor muscle car of this era had its extensive span of engine options, which ranged from the 225 cubic-inch (ci) “Slant Six” engine to any of the following: the 340, 340 “Six Pack,” 383 Magnum, 440 Magnum, 440 “Six Pack,” and, finally, the legendary 426 Hemi “Elephant Motor.” Compared to every other muscle car, the Dodge Challenger has been one of the most collectable and valuable to date, with rare restored models fetching as much as six figures. 

The Dodge Challenger - Through the Generations

By: Lawren Dame \ Associate Editor \ August 21, 2014

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But first—back to the creation of the Challenger, the classic vision which would sharply rise then swiftly fall throughout its lifetime, and ultimately make a vibrant comeback. There was no better year for this pony car than that of its very first: it placed third among its competitors for this first year of production. The Challenger had a reformed architecture which Chrysler named the “E-body,” featuring a short deck and long hood platform. The E-body was created in an effort to compete against its stiff competition, namely the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, and it did this by maintaining an arsenal of practically every powertrain offered by Chrysler.

 

The Challenger was first offered as either a coupe or convertible with base, Special Edition (SE), Road/Track (R/T) and Trans-Am (TA) trim. In fact, the Trans-Am was one of the very first production vehicles in history to offer different size front and rear tires, with E60 15-inch wheels in front and G60 15-inch back wheels to compensate for the side exiting exhaust. As for transmissions, the choices were Chrysler’s Torqueflite automatic, a three- or four-speed manual trans with an optional Hurst shifter. There was also the Dana 60 differential for the big-block Challengers.

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Dodge Challengers were absolutely beautiful. They reflected the classic image of the pony car with long hoods and short decks, and their large engine bays provided them with a greater width than both the Mustang and Camaro. Body paint options were designed to make quite the statement, in such stupefying colors as “Lemon Twist,” “Plum Crazy,” “Panther Pink,” and “HEMI Orange.” The statement-making didn’t stop there—aside from crazy color schemes, these vehicles came bearing brazen “bumblebee” stripes, twin-scooped or shaker hoods, and rear deck wings. 

Challengers reigned over the track as well as the TV screen. On the track, 1970 and 1971 HEMI Challengers dominated the National Hot Rod Association’s Pro Stock Class. As for film, the 1971 flick Vanishing Point featured a 1970 Challenger R/T, and as a result it has since gained a cult following among gearheads. Other 1970 Challengers made their debut in movies such as Vanishing Point, Natural Born Killers, Used Cars, and in television programs like Mod Squad. 

The Challenger had a stiff suspension, flat hood with a functional scoop, rear deck spoilers, and side exhausts. In 1971, it received a few touch-ups—the old single taillight design became two separate lights, and the grille was painted black for R/Ts and silver for standard. The Challenger’s various styles and options—ranging from trim levels to color choice to striping—meant a lot more wiggle room for consumer’s creativity, allowing them to pick and choose from the several designs so that the result was the optimal Challenger of their dreams.

 

1971 also brought with it new emissions regulations regarding engine outputs. For this year a total of eight engines were offered for the Challenger: the 198ci Slant Six with 105hp, the 225ci six-barrel at 110hp, the 318ci V8 at 155hp, the four-barrel 340ci at 235hp, two-barrel 383ci with 190hp, 383ci four-barrel at 250hp, 440ci Six-Pack at 330hp, and finally the all mighty 426ci Hemi V8 rated at 425 hp. The 440 and 340 Six-Pack were two engines that had now left the scene, as Dodge ditched the AAR Barracuda and Challenger T/A for the year. 

By the time 1972 came around, this arsenal of engines was reduced to only 3: the 225ci Slant Six was base, with either the 318ci V8 pushing 150hp or the 340ci V8 of 240hp. This was due largely in part to rising insurance and the surplus of emissions input still coming from the EPA. Not only this, but SAE changed the horsepower rating test from gross to net, meaning that not only were all ratings brought down anywhere from 20 to 30 percent, they were also incomparable to any previous ratings. As convertibles had steadily been on their way out since the Challenger’s beginning, the 1972 Challenger was only offered as a hardtop, with an optional sunroof for an extra $400. The front end of the 1972 Dodge Challenger was graced with a larger silver grille for standard Challengers, and a black grille for the Challenger Rallye which was created to replace the R/T. The Rallye bore four small scoops its fenders, and the Challenger was given two lights per side, with a center panel of the same color as its grille. 

New bumper standards were set in 1973, so that the only exterior changes made to the Challenger were 5 mph bumperettes extending out from its body with the help of large rubber guards. The Rallye was also removed from its separate-model status, but could now be bought as a package. The only engines available were the standard 150hp 318ci V8, or the optional 240hp 340ci V8. The six-cylinder was unfortunately forced to say its goodbyes, just as this generation’s Challenger would after one final production year. Before bidding adieu, the Challenger conformed to even more safety regulations for 1974, gaining lap and shoulder belts with inertia reels and an interlock preventing the car from starting until the driver (and passenger) was safely buckled in.

 

When the First Generation Challenger was discontinued in April of 1974, the original muscle car era was officially at an end. Things might have been looking bleak for the Challenger, but in reality, they were far from over. 

Second Generation: 1978-1984

 

In 1978, the US Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard was put into place, causing Dodge to put a greater emphasis on being environmentally conscious. Thus, with such regulations in mind, the new Second Generation Challenger was born. It was a front wheel drive coupe design imported from Mitsubishi which maintained the same hardtop style of the First Generation Challenger, but had much smaller engines with an entirely different performance standard. In other words, it wasn’t quite up to par with the muscle performance of its predecessor. Because the Challenger name had been given exclusively to domestic cars up to this point, this change was not entirely well-received by enthusiasts. This new Challenger soon proved to have its own advantages, though, due to its advanced manual transmission and relatively speedy engine for its time.

However, in an effort for Challenger to retain its sport car status, Dodge offered flashy colors and beltline stripes. Though its engine was reduced in size—now converted to an available 2.6-liter engine—it allowed for innovative new technology to be introduced to the United States. The Second Generation Dodge Challenger used inline-4 engines, and these 4-cylinders (as opposed to the previous years’ 6- and 8-cylinder engines) had not been formerly used due to the vibration that they caused within the engine. However, Mitsubishi introduced counter-rotating balance shafts into the mix in an effort to lessen this hampering, with positive results—this method has since been licensed to countless other manufacturers.