The Dodge Challenger
The Dodge Challenger was based on the same E-body platform as the Plymouth Barracuda, but the Challenger had a 2″ longer wheelbase at 110″ and could be had right from the start with virtually any engine Chrysler made at the time. It was designed to compete in the upper end of the pony car segment as competition to the Pontiac Firebird and Mercury Cougar. From the outset it was intended to be the most potent pony car of them all.
In the first year 1970 a myriad of options could be had on either the base Challenger or the Challenger R/T (for Road/Track). Three models were available, the 2-door hardtop, the Special Edition 2-door hardtop with “SE” medallions on the C-pillars and other appearance and comfort features like a vinyl roof, leather and vinyl bucket seats and an overhead console housing with three warning lights, and the convertible. The base engine was the venerable, nearly unkillable 225 slant-six. Higher trim levels got the 230 HP 318 as the base engine. Optional engines included the 275 HP, 4-barrel 340 and 290 HP 2-barrel 383, the 375 HP 440 Magnum and the monster 425 HP, dual 4-barrel carbureted 426 Hemi. All were available with a 3-speed manual except the 290 HP 383, the only transmission coupled to that engine was the TorqueFlite automatic. A 4-speed manual was optional.
The R/T package got you the 335 HP 383 Magnum with a 4-barrel, the 390 HP 440 Six-Pack with three 2-barrel carbs or the 425 HP 426 Hemi with dual 4-barrels, all mated to a 3-speed manual transmission or the optional 4-speed manual. The package also included a Rallye gauge cluster with 150 MPH speedometer, 8,000 RPM tach and an oil pressure gauge. The R/T could be had as a coupe or convertible, and a shaker hood scoop was available in 1970 and 1971.
Mid-year saw the introduction of the lower-priced Challenger Deputy with fixed rear windows and stripped of some of the base model’s trim.
A special edition for only the 1970 model year was the Challenger T/A (for Trans Am). Several were built to compete in the SCCA Trans Am racing series and had a de-stroked 340 engine to comply with the series’ rules of no more than a 5-liter (roughly 302 cu. in.) powerplant. The street T/As sold to the public, however, had the full 340 cubes plus three two-barrel carbs, creating the 290 HP 340 Six-Pack. A large, functional hood scoop on a pinned, matte black hood, special black side stripes with a “T/A” graphic and a black “340 Six Pak” graphic below it differentiated it from other Challengers on the outside. A low-restriction exhaust that exited from chrome tips in front of the rear wheels, a fiberglass front spoiler and a fiberglass duck-tail rear spoiler completed the look. The 340 Six Pack could be had with a 3-speed manual, a 4-speed manual with a Hurst shifter or a TorqueFlite automatic. Heavy-duty Rallye suspension with increased rear spring rates and standard front disc brakes were exclusive to the T/A package. The T/A was also one of the first muscle cars to fit different sized tires to the front and rear. Only 2,399 street T/As were made.
The Challenger was one of the few cars to begin its life at the peak of the horsepower wars. The 1971 models lost horsepower in the performance engines across the board with the exception of the 426 Hemi. The stock 383 produced 275 HP instead of 290, the 383 Magnum was down to 300 HP from 335, the 440 Magnum was gone and the 440 Six Pack lost 5 HP to produce 385. The Challenger Coupe replaced the Challenger Deputy as the lowest-priced model with either the 225 Slant Six, still at 145 HP or the 318, still at 230 HP. The ’71 models had a split grill as opposed to the one-piece on the ’70.
Things took a nosedive performance-wise for the Challenger in 1972. All the big-block options were gone, leaving the Slant-Six, the 318 and the 340 as the only engine choices, although the 340 now sported a 4-barrel carb and more performance-oriented heads and camshaft. Even with the enhancements, the lower compression ratio of the engine in order to use the new unleaded fuel resulted in a mere 240 Gross SAE HP (179 SAE Net). It could be ordered with the 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual or TorqueFlite transmissions. The appearance and convenience options were severely cut back as well. The taillights were new for ’72 as was a grill that extended below the bumper, nicknamed “Sad Mouth” by detractors. The R/T was replaced by the Challenger Rallye, marked by simulated vents on the lower front fenders and matte black “strobing” stripes emerging from them.
The engine choices, grill and taillights carried over to the 1973 model as well as the Challenger Rallye package. Federally mandated 5 MPH bumper guards with rubber tips were installed on all ’73s. Like all muscle cars, federal regulations and skyrocketing insurance premiums had left the Challenger a shadow of its former self.
In 1974 the 340 was replaced with a 245 HP 360 as on the ’74 Plymouth Duster. Cosmetically it was no different from the 1973 model except for rear 5 MPH bumper guards to comply with Federal safety regulations. Challenger production ceased in April 1974, declining to 11,354 from a high of 76,935 in its 1970 debut.
In 1978 Dodge marketed a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant Lambda as “Dodge Challenger”, but with a 77 HP 1.6 liter or a 105 HP 2.6 liter 4-cylinder engine, it was anything but a performance car and obviously put out by Dodge to capitalize on the Challenger name.
In 2008 Dodge released the new, retro-looking Challenger. Since Ford went with the retro look for their newest Mustang, Dodge decided to follow suit with a car that, while not as smooth and rounded as the original, bore a striking resemblance to the 1970 model. This was no four-cylinder Japanese captive import slouch like the second generation, however. The standard 3.5 liter (214 cu. in.) V-6 in the Challenger SE was rated at 250 HP and 250 lb. ft. of torque, but a performance SRT8 model with a 425 HP 6.1 liter (370 cu. in.) Hemi V-8 was available as well, equal to the 1970/71 Hemi Challenger.
This is my favorite of the neo-retro muscle cars, partly because I love the Challenger look and partly because of the high-horsepower models offered right from the start and the horsepower increases as the model aged. Ford’s 2005 redesigned Mustang GT only produced 300 HP and the 2010 Camaro SS barely beat the SRT8 with 426 HP.
In 2009 a full lineup was available including the SE V-6 (SXT in Canada only), R/T and SRT8. The SE and SRT8 retained the engines and specs from 2008, but the R/T package included a 372 HP, 398 ft. lb. torque 5.7 liter Hemi when mated to the 5-speed automatic, but 375 HP and 404 ft. lb. when optioned with the 6-speed Tremec manual from the SRT8.
2010 Challengers remained largely unchanged except for the “Mopar ’10” Challenger R/T package that included a Hurst pistol grip shifter, a cold air intake for a 10 HP boost, black R/T wheels, black pearlescent paint with either blue, red or silver accent stripes, custom badging and an aftermarket interior. 500 were built for the US and 100 for Canada.
2011 saw the SE and SE Rallye get a horsepower bump to 305 from the new 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6. The SRT8’s chin spoiler was enlarged for more downforce and a new 470 HP, 470 lb. ft. torque 6.4 liter Hemi V-8 was installed. It was labeled as a 392 even though the actual displacement was 391 cu. in.. Even down 5 HP from the 6.1 liter it bettered the previous SRT8’s quarter-mile time by 0.8 seconds, 12.4 seconds at 110 MPH.
For 2012 the base SE was renamed SXT like the previous Canadian models. The SRT8 gained adaptive suspension and a paddle-shift system.
The 2013 SXT models could be had with a Rallye Redline package that included exterior accents, black 20-inch wheels with Redline Red accents performance suspension and brakes, available red leather interiors and a new 3.06 rear axle ratio.
2014 saw a 100th Anniversary (of the Dodge Brothers’ first model) Edition of the SXT Plus and R/T Plus that featured new paint colors, new black or red leather interiors, front fender badging, Dodge “100” logo center wheel caps, a 3-spoke, flat-bottomed performance steering wheel, die-cast paddle shifters and a host of other interior touched to celebrate the anniversary.
The 2015 model year saw a mild facelift with a new grill modeled on the 1971, quad headlights with LED halo rings, LED taillights and a functional hood scoop on Hemi-equipped models. The SRT8 model was replaced with the SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat models, which sported six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brakes.
The Hellcat was the new high-performance model with a supercharged 6.2 liter Hemi rated at 707 HP and 650 lb. ft. of torque. It comes with 2 key fobs, a black one that limits the engine to 500 HP and a red one that unleashes all 707 ponies. The Hellcat will hit 60 MPH from a standing start in 3.6 seconds and can stop from that speed in 109 feet. The quarter-mile time with stock tires is 11.2 seconds at 125 MPH. Top speed is 199 MPH.
No major changes occurred in 2016, but 2017 brought a GT model of the SXT Plus with all-wheel drive. The T/A made a comeback with a 5.7 liter and a 6.4 liter “T/A 392” model. The T/A sported a black hood with scoop and a black roof and rear decklid. The T/A 392 got the Brembo front and rear brakes from the SRT Hellcat.
For 2018 the SXT and R/T models could be had with a Performance Handling Group package. The big news, however…was the Demon.
The SRT Demon is a wide-bodied ultimate performance model of the SRT Hellcat with a name that hearkens back to the 1971/72 Dodge Demon variant of the sporty fastback Dart model. This beast uses the Hellcat 6.2 liter V-8, but with an upgraded 2.7 liter supercharger for a 101 HP increase over the Hellcat to a mind-blowing 808 HP. It debuted as the fastest production car in the world.
The 0-60 time is 2.3 seconds and 0-100 in 5.1 seconds with a factory-limited top speed of 168 MPH. The quarter-mile comes in a mere in 9.65 seconds at 140.09 MPH. It is capable of 1.8 Gs of force at launch, making this the hardest-launching production car ever, as well as being the first production car to perform a wheelie. With the control module from the “Demon crate” option and high-speed tires it attained a top speed of over 200 MPH in test runs.
The NHRA banned the Demon from drag racing competition due to the lack of a roll cage, required for cars with a quarter-mile time under 10 seconds.
The Demon was a 2018-only model.
2019 Saw the Hellcat get a 10-HP bump to 717 and the introduction of the SRT Hellcat Redeye with the Demon’s 6.2 liter supercharged V-8, but with a smaller hood intake system, limiting the HP to 797, a 90-HP gain over the original Hellcat but 11 shy of the monster Demon.
The new R/T Scat Pack gave the R/T a 6.4 liter Hemi rated at 485 HP and 475 lb. ft. of torque. The package adds 20-inch low gloss drag wheels, SRT-tuned drag suspension, adaptive dampening suspension, air catcher headlamps and no passenger seating. The R/T Scat Pack can be modified for NHRA Stock and Super Stock class racing.2020 gave rise to the SRT Super Stock model with an 807 HP version of the Redeye engine, lightweight wheels and smaller disc rotors than the Redeye with 4-piston calipers versus the Redeye’s six-piston binders.
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