Walking across the parking lot at the hardware store, I heard a deep “thumpa, thumpa” and smiled as I looked up. Seeing any Dodge Challenger on the street is a rare treat; seeing a Challenger convertible was almost too good to be true.
Since finding this Challenger mere hours before starting this essay, all manner of things have swirled through my head. The biggest was wondering who bought such a Challenger when new. The mental picture goes something like this…
On a warm Sunday afternoon in mid-October 1969, Jack and his father pulled into the Dodge dealer in the family’s 1961 Dodge Dart Seneca. The old Dodge was looking a bit beleaguered but was still running fine. Jack’s father, Ralph, figured it best to get rid of it before it started to become problematic. Ralph had taken his thirteen year-old youngest child, and only son, with him.
Getting out of the Dart, Jack’s eyes lit up when he looked at the showroom. “Dad! Look at that! It’s a Challenger! I’ve been reading about these in the car magazines. Chrysler figures they are going to sell about 200,000 of these per year. Whoa! Look at that – it’s a convertible and an R/T model! Dad, you need to come see this!”
Humoring the boy, Ralph walked up to the showroom window.
“Jack, that car is purple. I’m not buying a purple car. Besides, where would you sit?”
Undeterred, Jack had it all figured out.
“Dad, think about it. Lorraine is already out of the house with one kid and another on the way. Shirley is getting married in six weeks so she’ll soon be out of the house. Greta is a senior in high school this year so she’ll be leaving soon enough. Besides, the way I saw her carrying on with her boyfriend last night she may have to get married real quick…”
“Boy, what are you saying?”
“Dad, what I’m saying is you will soon have only me at home with you and mom.”
“Well why do I need a purple car? And why one that size? I need some room to stretch out. I’m liking the Polara; I wonder if they have one with a six-cylinder?”
Jack knew where this could lead. The old Dart had a slant six with a three-speed manual and was the textbook definition of what he considered to be dull, dreary, and boring. Jack was concerned his increasingly crusty and grumpy old father would repeat his last performance, knowing old people were creatures of habit and his dad had just turned fifty. Jack was getting concerned…
“Son, that Challenger is nice and all, but it’s not for me….”
“Dad, I never said it was for you. Think of mom. She is such a tiny woman and you’ve had her in that old Dodge for nearly all of my life. She needs something more her size and this Challenger would work well for her….”
“So would a Dart. Where do they have the Darts parked, anyway?”
“Dad! Think of your wife, the mother of your four children. Do you want to stick her in some compact Dart? That wouldn’t be kind and you just said you need room to stretch out. Think of all the effort she has put into raising us kids. Why, Mom is always reminding me of how I hard I was to deliver, being a breach baby and how I weighed nearly twelve pounds. You would put her in a Dart? She’s a colorful lady so she needs a colorful car.”
Ralph wanted to blame this quick talking part of his son on his wife’s side of the family. He would have never dreamed of trying to put such a con-job on his old man. Ralph figured it was time to turn the tables.
“Jack, do you see any Polaras? I’m thinking something basic, six-cylinder, three-speed, you know, nothing fancy. I just need a car.”
Knowing he needed to appear somewhat agreeable before his second round of attack, Jack looked around. “Dad, there they are, just on the other side of that row of Coronets.”
“Oh, good. Hey, those are some nice colors on these Polaras. I really like this green color; that light gold doesn’t look too bad, either. Say, Jack, how many colors are available for a Polara?”
Jack wasn’t sure where this was going but knew his father was not going to stop with whatever he was thinking. Jack had deduced his father was a lot like General George S. Patton whom he had served under in North Africa and Sicily – like Patton, his dad kept going and going and couldn’t be stopped. But Jack knew he had to try.
“The Polara has eighteen available colors, Dad. Some of them look like the stuff Lorraine’s baby leaves in his diaper. It’s not very exciting. Hey, did you know the Challenger has a lot of colors too, some of which are pretty groovy?”
“Yeah, like purple. Do they have pink also? Really, son, who buys a car like that?”
“Sophisticated and non-conformist people, Dad. You are pretty sophisticated, doing what you do at work, and you just got another promotion. You deserve something that announces you are your own man, a car that doesn’t blend in with everything else in the parking lot. You don’t blend in, so why should your car? Anybody can get an upchuck colored Polara, but not anybody can get a Challenger.”
Ralph tried to not smirk. Jack reminded him so much of….him, at that age.
“Son, anybody with a damn checkbook can get a Challenger. Same as with a Polara. Say, this Polara here looks pretty spiffy…beige with a three-speed and a 318. I like it. Think I may take a few hours off tomorrow and come check this sweetie out.”
Jack looked defeated.
The next day Ralph went back to the dealer, chuckling about how Jack, in his earnest attempts to sway him, had never mentioned a Charger. Forever unbeknownst to Jack, Ralph did ever so briefly look at the purple Challenger R/T convertible sitting in the showroom. Ultimately, Ralph bought a burgandy Monaco four door sedan with a 383. Jack had been right, the wife did need something nicer. And Jack couldn’t argue about his engine choice, being the same displacement as that purple Challenger.
And we still don’t know the type of person who bought a purple Challenger when new. I say that as we really don’t know this particular Challenger was born as a purple R/T. Has any Challenger ever been altered into a “tribute” car? That’s like asking if bears and skunks sleep outside. But for the sake of this article, let’s assume this purple Challenger R/T is indeed the real deal.
Challenger convertibles have never been plentiful with inaugural model year 1970 Dodge seeing 4,243 convertibles produced with around 75% being base model with the remainder being in R/T trim. The number of Challenger convertibles produced is about 500 fewer than the number of Monaco sedans like Ralph bought. When was the last time anyone saw a 1970 Monaco sedan?
Yet there is one tidbit that makes me suspect this Challenger could indeed be the real deal. No, I didn’t get pictures of the interior to find some obscure clue. It’s something else. What is it?
The badges on the hood say “383 Magnum”. The 383 Magnum was the base engine for R/T models with the 440 and 426 Hemi engines being optional. If you were to alter and adulterate a base Challenger convertible into an R/T clone, would the type of person doing this really jettison a 318 only to dink around with a 383 instead of the also available 440 and 426 Hemi? Likely not.
But you never know. It could have been a genuine 383 car when it was made, making a great basis for what we see here.
Either way, it’s a 1970 Challenger convertible. When was the last time you saw one, regardless of its provenance?
Found June 7, 2020
Jefferson City, Missouri
Jason – I love your imagination and admire your car knowledge.
I was 14 in 1970 and in full car-nut mode – easy to understand given the smorgasbord of automotive delights over the previous decade (and even prior). I have to say the Challenger was one of my top three – the shape (the perfect muscle car profile in my view; a synthesis of all the right elements and proportions), the engines and to top it off, the wild colors, combined with the sheer audacity of their names.
Here’s my dilemma – Chrysler still makes a faithful homage to the original, with the same shape, even better engines and the same colors. The siren still calls, and i now have the means. The problem is there are now so many other things – trips, desired renovations to the house – which compete with the Challenger dream. I fear that like so many other things I’ve wanted and then gotten, that the wanting would be better than then having, or that the now 64 year-old me would look like just one more dissonant old fart that we all see driving corvettes these days. In 1970, the kids drove these cars, which is what nature and Mopar intended.
I have no answers.
Thanks again for the great write-up.
My sister started working for Chrysler Financial in Hamtramck in 1969 right out of high school, and in 1970 went with my father (who was a welder at Chrysler) to the Lynch Road “Executive Car” used car lot to buy a car so she could stop taking the DSR bus to work. That lot had super low mileage used cars available to employees to buy at a discount. They came back with a 1970 Challenger hard-top, Plum Crazy with black vinyl roof and steel wheels with hub caps. The car had the R/T badges but the engine was a 318 and the trans was automatic. No stripes of any kind, no hood bulge. Pretty impressive for a 19 year-old girl to own.
It turned out to be a good car for her, with no mechanical issues to speak of. The only issue she had was the plum crazy paint had a tendency to literally blow off the car randomly in 3 or 4 inch rough diameter spots, leaving only the primer showing. We nicknamed the car the Chipped Challenger for this effect. However the primer must have been pretty tough because I don’t recall it rusting at those blow-off blotches.
I bought it off her in 1977, and by then the car had a terrible time handling Detroit’s winter salt: heavy rust especially on the front quarters, with the rust eating the flat tops of the quarter panels nearly completely away and taking chunks out of the wheel wells. Both bumpers rusted where the salty water would run down the drain channels off the trunk and hood onto the bumpers. The big expanse of black dashboard was cracked all over from the sun.The vinyl seats were in tatters. I used Bondo and some good steel on the rust and prepped it for paint and my auto-shop teacher laid down a beautiful coat of Plum Crazy on top it. After a couple years the rust was back worse than ever and it was my turn to buy a car from Lynch Road so I sold it. My sister ended up working for Chrysler Financial for over 40 years until TD Bank bought it.
I’m not typically a fan of unconventionally-colored cars, but in my opinion purple works better on this car than on any other car I can think of. In fact, it’s almost a shame when you see one that’s not purple.
And I empathize with Jack in the story. He gave it a good try.
Here’s a Plum Crazy 1970 Challenger ad for folks’ viewing pleasure as well:
I still think it was a good looking color back then. Many colors were used that popped. Certainly far better than gray/gun seen today.
For me, this is the quintessential Hot Wheels and ’70s cartoon car.
I can tell you exactly the last time I saw a Challenger convertible – it was about 20 years ago when I saw one two or three times on the highway near my neighborhood. It was mildly rusty (bad, but not for its age) and painted Hemi Orange with a ratty white convertible top. It looked like a perfectly original car, and I wondered if it would soon be restored. I’m sure it was because I never saw it beyond two or three times.
This story reminds me of my efforts at age 13 trying to get my mother into the Viking Blue/white top & interior Cutlass Supreme convertible on the showroom floor of Collins Oldsmobile in Fort Wayne in the late spring/early summer of 1972. Nope – a green Cutlass Supreme hardtop would be the choice. Had the car been purple, I would have never even tried. I thought I might at least have a shot with the blue one.
Ahh that poor Dart sitting in the field among some old tires, with its sagging vinyl roof. Meanwhile a Challenger gets a freshening up, and a nice job at that.
It’s been many years since such a beast has been seen around these parts. A beauty she is indeed. A worthy resto from a TV show maybe, or just a well done job from someone who really knows what they are doing. This car has been turned into something worth a few bucks. We don’t know what lurks under the hood, but no matter, it’s a beautiful looking car. I love the pentastar emblems on the right side fender of this era Mopars. By the time Jack is old enough, he’ll get something he likes.
I can’t say who would have bought this in 1970, but it does remind me of one of those oddball childhood memories where the irony of the moment was lost on me, only to be fully realized in retrospect.
The only Plum Crazy Challenger I can recall seeing in the wild was in 1975-ish, parked next to my family in a Dairy Queen parking lot as we enjoyed our cones. It was an early Spring rainy afternoon and we’d stopped for a treat, since our local DQ had just re-opened for the season. (In those days DQs in northern areas closed for the Winter unless they were “Brazier” locations that served hot food.) The example we were looking at was probably on its second owner, if memory serves it was jacked up in the rear, sporting Cragers, side pipes, some dings and rust spots, hardly showroom fresh. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do recall my father making some (probably wildly politically incorrect) jokes about the car and its owner. The commentary centered around exactly the question posed here: Who would buy that thing?
The irony, missed by me at the moment, was that we were enjoying that ice cream and that commentary in our (perfectly politically correct, mind you) Antique white Cordoba with maroon landau top, opera lamps, and the interior pictured here. Who would buy that, Indeed?
Plum Crazy is my fave color for these! Even the name is cool….
I can relate to Jack. Except in my case, my dad did by a Dart, a stripper 2-door with the little /6 and 3-on-the-tree. No Polara for the Niedermeyers!
The new one mimics the old one in styling details, but the proportions are all wrong, and there is no convertible.
It’s like they sectioned it, and added six inches!
Call me crazy but the one in the brochure is the one I want, plum crazy with a black top, non-R/T, flat hood, nondescript V8 emblem, magnum 500s on polyglas tires. How many were made like that? Who would buy THAT!?
That 1970 color palette is amazing!
Plum Crazy is a very popular color around these parts (Baltimore, MD) for Challengers, well the retro ones at least.
I think it has more to do with our NFL team’s colors, than nostalgia over the original Challenger. The Ravens’ Purple is a near (if not) perfect match for Dodge’s Plum Crazy.
Add the black top that Matt suggests above, some white stripes, and maybe gold trim, and you’d be all set for tailgating before a game.
I think that Alan is overthinking it. The new Challenger is a car that you can use everyday for all your personal transportation needs. If space for four on occasion is all that’s called for. I bought a 2007 Mustang coupe which joined our minivan. We used the Mustang to carry the four of us on trips shorts and long. It had plenty of room in the back seat and a pretty big trunk. Some cars are all about the emotional satisfaction of owning and driving them. I was happy to see Chrysler reintroduce the Challenger. It was a chance for Mopar fans to relive the old days with a brand new car, not a rebuilt vintage one. You can have the car you want without the compromises.
The fantasy of the kid begging his dad to buy the Challenger seems to be taken from my life, but it was a ’68 Charger I was begging my dad to buy instead of the ’68 Imperial he ended up with. Even with a 440 and a cam and exhaust upgrades on top of it, it was no Charger.
When our neighbor came home in the fall of ’67 in his ’68 Charger R/T red with no vinyl top, I was in love. When the guy across the street came home in his ’68 blue Roadrunner, my Mopar love became even stronger. When my dad came home from work on night and said he was going to look for a new car the next morning, I was like, “Please buy a Charger R/T!”.. I knew when I said it, it wasn’t going to happen, but I had to try. The next day, he came home and said he had bought an Imperial. He had a brochure and in it was a twin to the car that showed up a couple of days later, a 2 door in an (IMHO) awful bronze with a black vinyl top. Ours had black leather interior, and, well, I just hated the looks of it.
My first car was a 1970 Dodge Challenger with a stock sunroof. Bought it in 1977, wish I still had it. 50″s on the back with air shocks and ET slotted mags all round. 318 three speed. White landau with a goldfish copper metal flake paint..Looked great going down the road!