Although Challenger was the last to enter the pony family it had something other pony muscle cars had not – the enormous engine range from 225 cubic Slant-6 to outrageous 426 cubic Hemi. All in all, this engine variety was Dodge’s aim to get some marketplace against Mustangs and Camaros/Firebird. It is also one of the most popular and has some rare models to collect.
The first Challenger breed: 1970-1974
Actually, Challenger shared the same platform as Barracuda, but had 2-inch longer wheelbase that caused more space in interior. Other features remained the same: E-body, short deck, long-hood platform. Originally, Challenger was offered in 2-door hardtops and convertibles with 3 packages: Special Edition – SE [more luxurious interior and exterior], Road/Track – R/T [performance] and Trans-Am – T/A [racing].
Transmission choices were quite solid – Chrysler’s TorqueFlite automatic, and 3 or 4-speed manual. The 4-speed one could be equipped with Hurst shifter as an option. Big-blocks could be ordered with heavy-duty and limited-slip differential. Lots of paint options were also available: Plum Crazy, Hemi orange, bumblebee-striped. A few scoop options were available too…
Challenger went racing in its first year. No wonder when you have such an engine range:
• 225 cubic [3.7 liter] I-6 – 145 HP. Standard model’s base engine.
• 318 cubic [5.2 liter] V8 – 230 HP. Standard 2-carburetor V8′s engine.
• 340 cubic [5.6 liter] V8 – 275 HP Optional with 3-speed manual. 290 HP with T/A package with TorqueFlite automatic transmission.
• 383 cubic [6.3 liter] V8 – 290 HP. Optional with 3-speed manual.
• 383 cubic V8 – 330 HP
• 383 cubic Magnum V8 – 335 HP. The performance model with R/T package an standar 3-speed manual.
• 426 cubic [7 liter] HEMI V8 – 425 HP
• 440 cubic [7.2 liter] V8 – 375 HP
• 440 cubic V8 – 390 HP
The street legal T/A limited edition was one of the first to have different size tires in the front and back. The aim for this edition to appear was meeting the requirements for Sports Car Club of America. Challenger was also driven in Hot Rod Association’s Pro Stock drag races. In 1971 this class was ruled by Hemi powered Challengers and Cudas. Quite a show-off for a rookie.
1971 was the second year for the first generation and the first time for Challenger to Pace Indianapolis races. Designer made some subtile styling changes by providing new tail-lamp and grille treatment. Emission standards caused some power-reduce changes in engine range: 375 HP 440 and 340 cubic engines were eliminated, 383 Magnum – detuned down to 300 HP. Luckily, 390 HP 440 and 426 Hemi were untouched.
1972 came with more emission regulations, new insurance rates and gross-to-net power rating model. Net ratings naturally reduced all ratings in 20-30%. Only 3 engines were available that year and all were fed with unleaded fuel [new at that time] – 225 cubic [110 HP], 318 V8 [150 HP] and 240 HP 340 cubic V8. From design point 1972 Challenger got new grille and twin lights at the tail-end. Rallye package replaced the R/T and that was it for 1972.
1973 model met new bumper-impact standards that made bodywork look a bit unnatural. 225 engine was gone, 318 was standard and 340 became an option. The next year was also the last for the first generation. It came with new regulation again. This time – more safety equipment. The car could not be started if seatbelt was not buckled-up. 318 became standard, 360 cubic engine replaced the 340 cubic one and had 245 HP.
After about 188600 Challengers sold the first breed was over.