(first posted 12/17/2014) I am a big Mopar fan. While I am primarily a Ford Guy, that doesn’t mean I engage in silly Ford vs. Chevy vs. Dodge stuff. Simply put, both my maternal and paternal grandparents drove Fords and Lincolns, so that’s what I gravitated to (and the Volvos my parents drove, but I’m off-course already on the subject matter at hand!). But my brother had a serious Mopar jones in his middle school days, and I got sucked into his love for Mopar Muscle.
It seems to have started with Andy’s love for the TV show Nash Bridges–or rather, his yellow 1971 ‘cuda convertible! He loved those cars, and in short order announced he wanted a ‘cuda for his first car. Sometimes, such childhood dreams come to naught, but in fact, my brother’s first car was a genuine 1973 Plymouth ‘cuda 340 hardtop.
It was also a money pit, and my mother dubbed it the “Bondocuda.” But my brother loved that car, and drove it from 1999-2001 as his only car. It was finally replaced with an Amber Fire 2001 Dakota Sport 4×4 in August of ’01, and was a much better year-round vehicle for him. But better to have loved and lost, and all that.
By ’73 the ‘cuda’s performance was not exactly the tire-burning muscle car it was in 1970, but they were still very sharp cars. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today, we talk about the Plymouth’s Dodge Division sibling, the Challenger. The Cougar to the Plymouth’s Mustang, if you like.
This may be hard to believe, but in the late ’90s Mopars were undervalued compared to Dearborn and Mr. Goodwrench products. Hard to believe, as the 1970 Challenger was such a sharp car! I am seriously digging that Ivy Green convertible with white interior!
The Challenger was Dodge’s first pony car, having made due with the intermediate Charger from 1966-69 while Plymouth got all the Ma Mopar pony car love with its Barracuda. But unlike the 1970 Barracuda, the Challenger was meant to be more in the Mercury Cougar vein, with a longer wheelbase and luxurious models like the Special Edition, with its limousine-style rear window, overhead console and plusher upholstery. A mini-Monaco, if you will.
But of course, it was the last salad days of the muscle car era, and so many hot versions were on offer too. A Slant Six was the standard engine on a base Challenger, but all manner of V8 Mopar goodness was available to those with the cash and the desire for door-sucking power!
You could start out with a “cooking” 318 or 340 CID V8, and those were perhaps best for a blend of handling as well as power (as the Challenger T/A was, with its 340 mill, front and rear spoilers and “trumpet” side-exiting exhaust), but for the drag strip or out-and-out straight line performance, there were the big blocks!
How much power? How much money you got? Depending on your needs and cash flow, you could get a 383, 440, 440 Six Pack or even the mighty (and pricey) 426 CID Hemi V8. Fuel economy, you say? Bah! Go buy a Ford Maverick!
Yes, the Challenger was the more uptown E-body. My brother and I always had friendly arguments about which E was best. I liked the Challenger better, with its four-eyed nose, fancier door panels and seats (I gave big points to the chrome and woodgrain insert in the doorpanels), longer wheelbase, and wide taillights. Andy always defended the Barracuda’s more purposeful lines, hockey stick rear quarters and more blunt looks. We never changed each other’s mind, by the way!
I especially loved those taillights. So smooth and sleek, with chrome “DODGE” letters inset into the central back-up light. A touch of class, compared to the Barracuda’s more common square units.
I think the extra wheelbase made the Challenger sleeker from the side too. It is not immediately apparent from a casual glance, but I think the stretch is between the far end of the door and the rear wheel well.
As you would expect, the Challenger R/T was a member in good standing of Dodge’s Scat Pack. Standard features of the R/T included a 383 CID V8 engine with four-barrel carburetor, Rallye instrument panel with electric clock and tachometer, Rallye suspension with a sway bar, heavy-duty drum brakes (front discs were optional), F70 x 14 raised white letter tires, R/T emblems, and your choice of full-length stripe (as seen here) or a “bumblebee” stripe circling around the trunk lid and rear quarters.
Ah, but for those wanting a little Brougham in their street rod, creative folks could combine both the R/T and plush Special Edition packages, making a very nice boulevard cruiser, while at the same time sucking the doors off of unsuspecting 350 Camaros or 302 Mustangs. Yes, you could have your Brougham and street it too!
So how did I find this most excellent example to share with all you CCers? Well, believe it or not, this car belongs to my boss, Kathy Mosley. It is only one of many collectible Mopars she and her husband Greg own. Some are Kathy’s, and some are Greg’s, and some are “theirs.” But, the Panther Pink Challenger is most definitely Kathy’s! Don’t feel bad for Greg though, as he has a Limelight ’70 Challenger R/T with no vinyl roof and the rare Chartreuse bumblebee stripe!
But this car was the first one that really stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps because it was unexpected. I was at the office, and walked downstairs to reimburse our driver for his weekly expenses, when I saw this car for the first time. Wow! I’m not one to actually own a pink car, but the combination of this one, with the black vinyl top, and black stripes, with the white interior really looked good to me. And what’s that emblem on the C-pillar? Whoa, an SE too!
As you can see, with the overhead console, badging and the limousine-style backlight.
These colors just look right on a muscle car, in my opinion. A 1970 Cadillac or 1970 Plymouth Fury III would just look silly in this hue, but on a 440-powered Challenger, it looks good–very good.
Kathy purchased this car about ten years ago off of the electronic bay. Apparently the seller was a bit of an odd duck, and the car was indeed an original Special Edition (one of 6,584), it may have had the R/T equipment added at a later date. Kathy didn’t really care at the time, she just loved the colors, and the car was in mostly good shape, and they got it for a fair price.
It is not the most perfect example in their Mopar collection, but Kathy likes it because it’s a good driver, it’s got that 440 power, and, best of all, it’s pink! But her dream E-body would be a 1970 Hemi ‘cuda in pink, and while they have some rare cars (like the original Hawaiian drag car, for one), the pink ‘cuda would still be a challenge to acquire, as I believe only two pink Hemi ‘cudas were made that year. Still, this is still a pretty spiffy ride for nice days!
While the Challenger and Barracuda were well styled and clearly had as much power available as your taste (or wallet) could stand, it debuted right on the cusp of the end of the muscle car era. It did not help that Chrysler was going through one of its periodic crises at the time. So, both Challenger and Barracuda production was much less than the Highland Park execs had hoped for.
Oh sure, the sales weren’t totally terrible, but Mopar had invested a healthy sum in these E-bodies, and well, it just didn’t really pay off. Only 1970 and 1971 did production fare reasonably well, and with the death or the Hemi and high-compression V8s in 1972, Chrysler had a great looking car that was effectively de-fanged. Gone were the R/T, the Hemi, the 440. All that was left with a sporting intent was the 1972 Rallye–with a small block.
Not that the 1972 Challenger Rallye was a bad car, and certainly a good handler with the big-blocks removed from the front suspension, but it just wasn’t the same. Most of the fun, High Impact colors were gone too. An era was ending, and the kids who bought these in 1968-71 were now starting to get married and looking at Buick Regals and Olds Cutlass Supremes instead.
By 1973 the Challenger was a shadow of its former self. Only four years old, but the Great Brougham Epoch was in full swing by this time and a whole bunch of people were more interested in a cosseting ride, opera windows, coach lamps and velour instead of smooth power and clean good looks. And in that environment, the Challenger continued to sink, as its lesser siblings, the Dart and Duster and Valiant, sold like free beer at a ball game. Impending bumper and emissions regulations, combined with steadily sinking sales finally called the game, in 1974.
But people remembered those tire smoking, brightly hued Mopars of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the good old Challenger made a dramatic comeback in 2008 with the limited-production SRT-8. In 2009, an SE, R/T and R/T Classic joined the lineup, and today, the 2015 Challenger Hellcat is an amazing piece of 700-bhp machinery. Long live the Challenger!