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.
The innovative 2.6L 105hp 4-cylinder engine was optional, while a smaller 1.6L 77hp I-4 engine was standard. For transmissions Dodge offered a standard 5-speed manual or an optional 3-speed automatic. The Second Generation rear-drive Challenger had a 99.6-inch wheelbase, a 180-inch overall length, and a 2.6L engine that was built to endure but burned quite a bit of oil without a lot of power. It was furbished with front disc brakes, and four-wheel disc brakes available with the purchase of the Road Wheel package. The Challenger’s tires were fairly large as well, at 14 inches in diameter.
The Challenger underwent a few slight changes in 1981, including cleaned up sides, a more formal roof, and many new graphics. Among its greatest assets were the many fancy gadgets and contraptions it was hooked up with, including but not limited to: an adjustable steering column, remote hood and deck release, an overhead console equipped with a clock and lights, and an impressive electric rear window defroster. The driver’s ears were treated to a tinkling of chimes rather than buzzers. Chimes weren’t the only sound the car emitted, either, as it was fitted with dual horns and, more importantly, a four-speaker FM radio. Power brakes and steering ensured that the Challenger was kept running swiftly and smoothly.
The Second Generation’s lifespan continued until 1984, when it was laid to rest due to the growth of Chrysler’s K-platform compacts in conjunction with platform sharing of a new import released by Mitsubishi resulting in the Dodge/Plymouth Conquest. This Generation of Challenger is hard to come by nowadays, and is rarely seen on the road.
Third Generation: 2008-present
The concept for the Third Generation Challenger concept was revealed in January of 2006 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, much to the delight of muscle fanatics everywhere. This vehicle would bear the legendary HEMI engine once again, as well as designs reflecting the legendary First Generation Challenger, including its long hood, short deck, two-door coupe body, and substantial width. The Dodge Challenger finally made its official comeback in 2008 at the Chicago Auto Show in top-tier trim as the Dodge Challenger SRT8. In fact, the new Challenger was so highly anticipated that of the 6,400 which were initially produced, every single one was sold before the first hit the showroom floor.
This car was a true flashback and undeniably Challenger. To the inexperienced eye, this car looked very much like the First Generation, with a similarly shaped grille, roofline, and character line racing along its profile and ending at the front with four round throwback-styled headlights. The biggest noticeable difference, however, was the sheer bulk of the vehicle. This new Challenger was both taller and wider, with a curb weight reaching a whopping 4,152 lbs., and the wheelbase as well as the length of the car increased by 6 inches. Despite its girth, this pony had even more gadgets than the last, with several more airbags, stability control, and a surplus of luxury contraptions. Its wheels were also much larger in size, now at 20 inches as opposed to the previous 14- and 15-inches of older Challengers.
Another notable improvement from the First Generation Challenger was a major change in performance. True to their word, Dodge gave this Challenger the HEMI engine moniker of lore, a 425hp Hemi V8. This SRT8 version was at first the only trim offered, bearing some 370 cubic inches—55 less than its predecessor—but containing the potential for much more power. The old 426 Hemi Challenger, though impressive to be sure, didn’t handle nearly as well as this racer, which could stop and turn with ease, a surprising feat considering such a large exterior. Additionally, its handling was so well put together that it gave the impression of a much smaller and lighter vehicle to the driver, maintaining a startlingly impressive stopping distance of 115 feet. This pony car hit the pavement in rear wheel drive, as any gearhead would expect. Transmission came in 5-speed, as manual wasn’t available at the onset of the car’s release.
2009 brought two additional models for the Challenger: The base model SE and the R/T, in addition to the SRT8 already in existence. This also brought along two new engines. A 3.5-liter 250hp V6 was given to the 17-inch wheeled SE, and a smaller Hemi, a 5.7-liter 370hp V8, to the R/T. The V6 matched up to a four-speed automatic transmission, and the 5.7 L Hemi got either five-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, which, if chosen, were garnished with gear selectors embellished with stylish leather pistol-grip throwback knobs. The original SRT8, in all its glory, was given an available six-speed manual transmission along with the 5-speed automatic transmission of the previous year.
By the time 2010 rolled around, a limited edition Mopar ‘10 Challenger was added to the mix, marking the first time Chrysler had ever launched a special-edition Mopar version of one of their cars. The Mopar Challenger included a new cold air intake and snorkel hood boasting an additional 15hp out of the 5.7L Hemi engine, with your choice of a 5-speed auto or a 6-speed stick for an addition $1000. Only 500 of these rare sinister looking models were produced, all in triple black—black exterior, black interior and high-gloss black 20in forged-alloy wheels with optional blue, silver or red belt line accents. Adding to these accents were Mopar graphics on the front fascia, hood, hood pin caps, rear three-quarter windows, a chrome fuel door, and a black-chrome grille.
Little else changed until 2011, when the 3.5L V6 was replaced with a 3.6L Pentastar V6 at 305hp. The R/T’s came standard with a 5.7L Hemi V8 available with either 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission and equipped with 425hp. A 6.4L 392ci Hemi V8, known as the SRT8 392, replaced the 6.1 L Hemi in 2011. The 5.7L V8 Hemi was still offered, along with receiving a boost of 4hp. The SE model would be renamed the SXT in 2012, and all V8 models were given cylinder deactivation so that the car could run on four-cylinders whenever the remaining cylinders weren’t necessitated. Aside from these major engine modifications, the interior and standard features remained much the same for these muscle cars. The Third Generation Challengers have continued their relative success to date, right up until the announcement of the upcoming all-new 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, the world’s most powerful muscle car to ever be produced.
The Hellcat, appropriately named after the Grumman World War II fighter plane, packs a supercharged 6.2L Hemi V8 engine with an unbelievable 707hp and 650lbs-ft of torque, undoubtedly the wildest vehicle in the history of Chrysler. To put it into perspective, this car packs 45hp more than the latest Mustang Shelby GT500, and 67hp more than the V10 engine in the current generation Viper. The Challenger SRT Hellcat is estimated at running the quarter in 11.2 seconds and hit 126 mph in 10.8 seconds. The new 6.2L is built of a higher-grade alloy in order to handle the thermal cycling the engine will unquestionably endure; its boost is maintained with an IHI screw-type supercharger kept cool with dual intercoolers interchanging water and air.
Kept alive through a surefire spirit of resilience, the Dodge Challenger has certainly surprised muscle car fanatics time and again with its resurfacing over the years. Though it has been argued that Dodge initially might have taken too long to enter into the muscle competition, the company has proved that the Challenger is a great seller which only continues to make headway on the market, and on the track, to this very day.