1970 Dodge Challenger Classic Review Nov 30, 2016 by Cedric (Driver Weekly)

If you can get your hands on one, the 1970 Dodge Challenger is a worthy addition to any collection. Not only can you see the styling cues still found on the current model, but this was the first year was when the Challenger entered the ring to compete with other muscle cars. Introduced in the fall of 1969, the 1970 Challenger was Dodge’s attempt to build the best pony car on the market, and this menacing beauty has its own style and its own appeal to dedicated enthusiasts.

History

Carl Walski

The Dodge Challenger was conceived in the 1960s, but it took almost ten years to get this horse ready for the race. Back in 1964, Dodge dealers demanded models that could compete with the brand-new Ford Mustang and the more luxurious Ford Thunderbird. Chrysler had launched the Plymouth Barracuda that same year, but Dodge was bereft of a new performance vehicle to put buyers in the seat. In 1968, Dodge updated the Charger with a graceful new design and top-of-the-line performance package. This turned the Charger into one of the best muscle cars of the era, but dealers still needed a legitimate pony car to round out the lineup. Unfortunately, it took until 1969 to finalize the Dodge Challenger. When it arrived, it suffered from competition with the Charger, but Dodge finally had a genuine pony car in size and power. While the Challenger now competes with the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, at the time, it was slightly larger and more luxurious and intended to challenge the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird, while the Plymouth Barracuda would compete with the Mustang and the Camaro.

Basic Design

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The original Dodge Challenger was available as a convertible or hardtop. Although it was based on the same platform as the Plymouth Barracuda, it had a slightly longer 110-inch wheelbase and larger dimensions. The result was a muscular car with a long hood and austere lines. Carl Cameron, who also worked on the 1966 Dodge Charger, led the exterior design, explaining some styling commonalities between the two vehicles. The straightforward and bold style was revived in an exaggerated form in 2008.

Powertrains and Performance

As with the current Challengers, the 1970 version was known for its powerful performance and came with an impressive choice of engines—everything from Chrysler that was worth putting under the hood. There was a 225 slant six with 145 brake horsepower, a 440 V8, and the 426 Hemi with 425 brake horsepower, the last of which was reminiscent of a racecar. The available 440 V8 engine features a four-barrel Magnum that had 375 brake horsepower or a Six-Pack tri-carb with 390 brake horsepower. The V8 and the Hemi were both paired with a three-speed automatic TorqueFlite transmission in most cases, although you may find a four-speed manual transmission with a pistol-grip shifter, as well. The 1970 Challenger R/T had a 383 engine along with two hood scoops to help performance and style. The T/A had the 340 5.6-liter engine but a Six-Pack version with dual exhausts by the rear tires, an even larger hood scoop, and a heavy-duty suspension to enhance performance. This engine finished a quarter mile in around 14 seconds and had about 350 brake horsepower.

Pick Your Challenger

You may find a 1970 Challenger in eight different configurations. The base model was available as a two-door hardtop or a convertible. The SE trim offered upscale interior features. Finding a model with the SE Package will mean it has a smaller rear window and leather seats. At the top of the pack was the R/T (Road/Track) performance package. A rare option introduced mid-year was the A93 Challenger Deputy, a low-priced option that was similar to the more common base hardtop. There are two special options that were only offered in 1970. The first was the Challenger T/A, and the second was the Challenger R/T with SE interior features.

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A and Challenger R/T

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The Dodge Challenger Trans Am was conceived in 1969 to compete in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Trans America series. At the time automakers had to make production models to compete in some motorsports. Dodge had already released the Dodge Charger Daytona to compete in NASCAR; they would also release the Challenger T/A to put one racing car on the track of the SCCA. Pontiac had already released the Firebird Trans Am in 1969, so the name was shortened for the Dodge Challenger, and the Trans Am was sold as the T/A.

The Trans Am was sold as the A35 options package for the Challenger Highline with a 290-horsepower 340-cubic-inch V8. Although the racing version ran a de-stroked version, the homologation model added increased webbing in the mains, valvetrain revisions, and a trio of two-barrel carburetors atop an aluminum intake manifold: the 340 Six Pack. Some estimated that the engine actually put out almost 320 brake horsepower rather than the conservative figures advertised to get the car on the market. This model had different wheel sizes in the back and front; a rear ducktail spoiler; and the choice of side stripes, rear stripes, or no stripes. The cars had a flat black fiberglass roof, Hemi fender pins, and unique striping that extended the character line from the leading edge of the C Pillar gave the limited T/A models a unique appearance. The T/A was only available from, give or take a few days, March to May 1970, making this a revered model among collectors.

But at the top of the options pack was the Challenger Road/Track. The R/T came with a 383-cubic-inch  Magnum V8 under the hood, rated at 335 horsepower. While available in other model years, in 1970 clever buyers could order the R/T hardtop with SE specifications: leather seats, an overhead interior console with warning lights, smaller rear window, and vinyl roof.

1970 Challenger vs. 1971 Challenger

Other than the Trans Am and the R/T SE, you could find most Dodge Challengers with all the trims and performance features available in 1971. If you are interested in driving a Dodge Challenger Coupe that is a genuine classic, you will have to opt for the 1971 model year or later. This coupe version was a basic vehicle with fewer features and was available with an inline six or a V8 engine. By 1972, on the other hand, most options were cut back. The convertible, interior upgrades including leather seats, power windows, and power seats were gone. Worst of all, the 440, 426 Hemi, and 383 cubic inch engines were yanked from the lineup. The bold styling cues were altered or stripped down. The best performance option was a detuned 340 cubic-inch V8. Rising insurance costs, the looming fuel crisis, and safety regulations doomed this nascent pony car almost right at the start.

Availability

The Dodge Challenger was discontinued in 1974 after just four years. Critics were unenthusiastic about the new vehicle and the market for pony cars was on the verge of collapse at the time that the Dodge Challenger had arrived on the market. Low production numbers and legendary performance models with even more limited production numbers mean that a genuine classic is now a prestigious collector’s car.

Article updated 4 August 2017.

 

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