Curbside Classic: 1981 Dodge Challenger – That Thing Does Got A Hemi

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Obviously, when folks think “Dodge Challenger”, they tend to think of the original and the current one. But in between was the gen2 Challenger, a rebadged Mitsubishi Galant Lancer sold as the Plymouth Sapporo and this Dodge Challenger from 1978 through 1983. And there were two versions of this car; the pre-’81, and the ’81 and on, like this one. We covered the Sapporo here, but let’s give this second series Challenger a spin.

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These Mitsu coupes were pretty garish in their first incarnations: padded half-vinyl roofs; bright landau bands, carriage lights, garish colors and over-stuffed interiors; they were trying way too hard to be down-sized Chrysler Cordobas or Dodge Miradas. But the second series, like this ’81, took a decidedly sportier turn: cleaner flanks, a “normal” roof, and lots of graphics to suggest a sporty demeanor. Did it work?

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Now here’s an interesting thought: all three generations of Challengers came with “hemi” engines, although only the first two were true hemis. We all know about the legendary 426 hemi available in the ’70 and 71 Challengers; in reality very few were actually built that way. And the current Chrysler “hemi” isn’t really a true hemi; its combustion chamber is best described as a modified pent roof, since a true hemispherical chamber runs too dirty for smog regs. But the Mitsu 2.6 four, like so many fours back then, had hemispherical heads; not that it resulted in anything too dramatic in terms of actual performance. But why didn’t they put big HEMI badges on this little puppy? Or at least little ones?

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