Dodge Challenger

Dodge Challenger

While the Dodge Challenger was built in 3 generations, we’re primarily concerned with the 1st-gen cars, the E-body Challengers built from 1970 through 1974. There was a badge-engineered Mitsubishi (then controlled by Chrysler) that bore the Challenger nameplate from 1978 to 1983, but we won’t concern ourselves with those, because they aren’t American, and this is, after all, “, right? Lastly, Dodge came out with a modern Challenger in 2008 that was retro-styled to honor the original cars, and they did a bang-up job of it. They even have a Hemi! Classic 1st-gen (E-body) Challengers are among the most valuable and sought-after muscle cars today by collectors, with high-performance models (especially Hemis and Six-Packs) fetching major money in auction.

Like everyone else in the industry at the time, Dodge was caught flat-footed by the runaway success of the Ford Mustang, and like everyone else, rushed to produce their own counterpart. It took GM until 1967 to give their response in the form of the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird twins. It took Dodge until 1970 to build its own true Pony Car, and they built two, the Dodge Challenger and the Plymouth Barracuda (in its 3rd-generation). Both were spun off the same E-body platform, but the Challenger was slightly larger and rode on a 2-inch longer wheelbase. Both were slightly larger than the other Pony Cars on the market at the time, but their real claim to fame was the staggering array of engine/transmission choice that were available, along with loads of other options and packages. You could get your Challenger with a lowly Slant Six or a fire-breathing 440 Six Pack or 426 Hemi. Despite Dodge’s best efforts, the Challenger was never a volume seller. The Muscle Car Era had peaked in 1970, the same year the cars arrived, and things just got worse after that. Total Challenger sales in 1970, it’s best year, was a mere 76,935 built, which pales in comparison to the 190,727 Mustangs and 124,901 Camaros sold that year. And it only got worse. By 1973, only 27,800 rolled out the door. The handwriting was on the wall. The last classic Challenger rolled off the assembly line on April 1, 1974, along with the last Barracuda, 10 years to the day after the first Barracuda.

The Challenger was produced in two body styles, a 2-door Hardtop and a Convertible. The bas Challenger came with either a 225 Slant Six or any number of optional V8s. The Challenger R/T (short for Road & Track), came standard with a 383 big block V8. The Challenger SE (short for Special Edition) was an optional appearance package that came with several cosmetic, convenience and comfort upgrades, and could be added on top of a base Challenger or a Challenger R/T. In 1970 only, the Challenger T/A was a limited homologation car, designed for the SCCA’s Trans Am Sedan Championship. The actual race cars were limited to 5 liters, so they used a de-stroked 303ci small block. For the street cars, it was a 340 small block with three 2-barrel carburetors, called the 340 Six Pack. Plymouth had their own version of the car, the ‘Cuda AAR (short of All-American Racing). Over its 5 model years of life, the Challenger’s sheetmetal never changed, but various detail changes were made to the front and rear facia, interior and trim.

We’re down to just a few model years here, 1970 through 1974. Let’s examine the differences from the back first. The 1970 has tail lights that go all the way across the car, with the backup lights in the middle. The 1971 has the backup lights on either side. And for 1972 on, there were 4 individual rectangular tail lights. 1974s have larger rear bumper guards.

Dodge built a gorgeous convertible version of the Challenger. It was executed nicely & didn’t mess with the natural lines of the car. It was just as pretty as the coupe.

After decades in the grave, in 2008 the Dodge Challenger returned with a vengeance! The new car was built on the same platform as all Chrysler’s other rear-drive cars, the Charger, Magnum & 300, so it’s big by pony car standards. It also comes with an optional Hemi V8. Dodge did one heckuva job styling it to look faithful to the original, and yet be a totally modern car. It gives up nothing to either side, it’s a total styling success. But, bigger is also heavier, so it hasn’t quite been in the league with the hottest Camaros and Mustangs until now. The new 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat uses a supercharged Hemi V8 to make a whopping 707 horsepower! What wonderful times we live in.

Dodge Challenger INTERIORS

Dodge Challenger ENGINES

Just about every engine in Chrysler’s inventory was available on the E-bodies. The base engine was the 225ci Slant Six. Then at various times along its lifespan, there was a variety of small block, so-called LA-series V8s like the 318, the 340 and the 360. Other than the 340 Six-Pack (1970 Challenger T/A only) all the action was in the ‘big block department’. The base big block was the 383 with 2-barrel and 290hp. The 4-barrel version of the same engine was rated at 330hp for 1970, but crippling emissions regs dropped that to 300 within one year. Next up was the 440 Magnum with single 4-barrel and 375hp. The same engine with three 2-barrel carburetors became the 440 Six-Pack with 390hp. At the top of the heap, available only in 1970 and 1971, was the almighty 426 Hemi with 425hp. The Hemi was nicknamed “The Elephant Motor” because of its raw power and torque, but alas its $1,228 option price caused very few to be sold. They are incredibly rare today and worth their weight in gold. Just make sure its genuine. By 1971, rising pressure from the feds, low-lead/low-octane fuel, and rising insurance costs doomed the muscle car to extinction. The crappy gas forced carmakers to lower compression ratios which killed performance. At about this same time, the industry switched over from rating engines by their “gross” horsepower over to “net” horsepower. The inevitable result was that quoted output figures were going to drop drastically, purely based on the math, even if the actual performance hadn’t changed. But performance was changing, dramatically. And this made it more difficult for the public to see just how bad it really was.

426 HEMI

ABOVE: A Hemi motor is easy to spot. They have huge valve covers with spark plugs coming out the tops. Oh, and two 4-barrels.

Carguys love colorful nicknames. The small block Chevy earned the nickname “The mouse that roared” because it made so much power from such a small package. Soon, it was simply a “Mouse Motor”. So, when Chevy introduced the big block, it obviously must be a “Rat Motor”. Well, the 426 Hemi was so powerful, and so huge that it became “The Elephant Motor”. And it was worthy of the name. Designed to win at NASCAR, it used heads with hemispherical combustion chambers (a technology that gained popularity during WWII), hence the name “Hemi”. This allowed the intake and exhaust valves to be set at optimum angles, tilting away from each other, instead of parallel like most engines of the day. The combination allowed tremendous airflow, cylinder filling and combustion, making prodigious horsepower. They were monsters, and it took two 4-barrel carburetors to feed them when they came on full song, however this made them difficult to drive normally. They often “loaded up” and needed to be “taken out and blown out”, common parlance of the day. The short block, based on the other Mopar big blocks, was beefed up considerably to handle the extra loads. They were rated at 425hp, which was laughable. Rumor was that the real number was somewhere north of 500. It was a very expensive option, and so few were ordered, making them rare today. The difference in value between an original Hemi Challenger, and a non-Hemi car can be huge, so make certain that it is truly an authentic Hemi car. Consult an expert if you have to, get a code book, bring a friend, but make sure before you buy. Now there’s nothing wrong with a non-original Hemi Challenger, in fact I’d really like to have one (you can drive those). Just don’t pay authentic-Hemi-prices for it.


ABOVE & BELOW: Mopar big blocks (383, 426, 440) are easy to spot because the distributor sticks out of the front of the engine (Ford-style), but pointed at an angle toward the passenger-side fender. Small blocks (273, 318, 340) have distributors in back (Chevy-style).

Next to the 426 Hemi, the 400 Magnum was the top-line Mopar Muscle Car engine, whether in single 4-barrel form, or with the 6-Pack, as pictured above. The 440 shares its basic block with the 383, but with a taller deck height to accommodate the longer stroke. Both are considered Big Blocks, and earn the name because these are large, and very heavy engines. All Big Block Mopars have the distributor in front, angling toward the passenger-side.


The “Shaker” was so called because the scoop was mounted directly to the engine, and so it “shook” with with the engine. Since it stuck up through a hole in the hood, all the world could see it shake, and hence the name “Shaker Hood Scoop”. What was it’s purpose, other than impressing the girls? It drew in cold outside air, rather than the hot air from the engine compartment. The colder the intake air, the more power.

The 383 Magnum was probably the most common of the Mopar Muscle Car engines. Based on the same big block architecture as the 440 Magnum, they share the same bore centers, but have different deck heights & thus intake manifolds. It’s easy to spot Mopar Big Blocks by their distributor location: it’s in front & slanted at a 45-degree angle toward the passenger-side of the car.


340 6-PACK

The 340 shared its small block architecture with the 273 & 318. In high-performance form, it came with both a single 4-barrel, and with the 6 Pack setup shown above with three 2-barrels. Small Blocks are easy to spot because they have their distributor behind the carburetor, sticking straight up, Chevy-style. Chrysler continued building these engines well into modern times, most recently as the 5.3 liter V8 (318 cubic inches) in the Jeep Grand Cherokee & some Dodge Trucks.

Dodge Challenger YEAR-BY-YEAR


The first year for Dodge’s first true Pony Car. Launched with its stablemate, the Plymouth Barracuda, alas they arrived too late. 1970 was the peak of the Muscle Car Era. But what a car! One of the prettiest cars ever, highly sought-after by collectors today


Mostly carryover with some minor trim differences. Increased government regulations forces compression ratios down & with it, performance. It’s the beginning of the end of the Muscle Car, but Dodge manages to hang on with some real zingers, like the 426 Hemi.



Last year for the classic Challenger. All came with V8s & hardtops, less than 12,000 were built. 360 small block V8 is the top motor.

2nd year for 4th-Gen. The R/T comes with 5.7-liter Hemi making 372hp & 398 lb-ft.


Challenger is back! Bigger, bolder & badder than ever. With Hemi-power & modern hardware, & styling faithful to the original.

This one has a 5.7L Hemi & 5-speed.


The Challenger R/T comes with a 6.4L Hemi instead of the standard 5.7L. This one’s in classic SubLime green.


The Hellcat is an insanely-fast 707-horsepower supercharged Hemi monster that instantly trumped everyone else in the Horsepower Wars.