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