1970-1974 Dodge Challenger / Plymouth Barracuda memories

1970 dodge challengerI like the new Challenger but the name brings back some painful memories.

As Director of Product Planning I was the champion for the new 1970 "E" Body Barracuda/Challenger models. At the CPPC (Corporate Product Planning Committee) Meeting I promised management that we would sell 200,000 cars a year. Manufacturing loved the plan because 200,000 cars a year was perfect - two 8 hour shifts at 60 cars/hour. Finance calculated that we would make money at 200,000 per year, and consequently the program was approved.......


We never hit even 100,000 E-body cars a year. We lost money on the program and I was lucky to keep my job as Director of Product Planning. It seemed like every time John Riccardo (President) saw an "E" Body he got mad at me. Instead of a promotion to VP, I got a new boss (George Butts) who was newly appointed the VP of Product Planning. In 1974 we discontinued Barracuda and Challenger.

Now the kids love them ("E" Body 'Cudas and Challengers) and the car enthusiast's press gives glowing reports of the 1970 models. Where were they in 1970?

After the E-body fiasco I was on a dead end street at Highland Park so I "engineered" my way into the top product job in Europe. Glad I did too - we did two European Cars of the Year in four years* (we beat out new cars from BMW, Ford, GM, Renault, etc) and my confidence was restored. After four years in Europe, Chrysler Corp. sold Chrysler Europe to Peugeot. Peugeot wanted me to stay in Europe working for them but Highland Park management (Hal Sperlich) told me if I stayed with Chrysler I could have any Director level job I wanted in Engineering. I selected Director of Body Engineering because Jimmy Shank had been in that same job for 18 years.

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A

After four years as Director of Body and Chassis Engineering, the VP of International (John Day) asked me to go to Japan. I went because I learned - the hard way - that you should not be in the same job for more than four years. I was Director of Product Planning for 7 years (1968 to 1975) - too long for both me and the company.

When did you first encounter the Challenger?

We worked with the Barracuda/Challenger concept in Advance Product Planning and Advance Styling as we watched - and forecast - sales of "compact specialty cars" (Mustang, Cougar, Camaro, Firebird, Javelin - the automotive press called them "pony cars".)

In 1967, when our market forcasts showed that this new market segment would grow to 1,500,000 cars per year, we told management that we should be in it with fully competive products. (Our single market entry at that time was Barracuda - a fastback Valiant without the sporty proportions or uniqueness of the Mustang.) We projected a Chrysler market penetration of 15% of this 1,500,000 segment which would be 225,000 cars a year. Management approved the proposal because it was perfect. It was one assembly plant (Hamtramck) on two shifts at 60 cars per hour. And it made money! However, the compact specialty car market leveled off below 1,000,000 cars per year and our E body sales never hit even 100,000 per year. We lost money (unhappy management) and we did not build the cars well (unhappy customers). 1970-1974 Barracudas and Challengers are admired and collected today but 35 years ago they were seen as problems.

1970 dodge challenger

The failure to achieve planned volumes was due to an unrealistic market forecast and our failure to build high quality cars. The"E" Body product style, specifications and pricing were OK. If I could do one thing over I would not have approved polypropylene door trim panels. This innovation was hard (unfriendly) to the touch and a dimensionally unstable material which made installation difficult.

Do you recall what its original form was -- a continuation of the A-body Barracuda plus a Dodge version?

The original form was the Barracuda derived from an "A" Body. We had experience with that approach and knew that we could not get a competitive sporty proportion and "B" engine options with an "A" Body plarform.

Did the bigger engine alter the styling beyond the obvious need for a wider, longer engine bay?

The "B" engine option forced a wider car. Also we had to add width for provision for bigger wheels/tires. The additional width helped appearance but of course it added weight and cost.

Was the Challenger originally to have its own unique body or was it intended to share with existing vehicles?

The Challenger plan was always to share door openings, windshield, cowl and platform with Barracuda. We also intended to share door outer skins (á la "A" body) but during clay model development we decided that this interchangeability formula limited achieving a unique appearance for Challenger so the door skins became unique. The rest of the interchageability with Barracuda was in line with the original product plan. Challenger by plan had 2 to 3 inches more wheelbase (ala Dart vs Valiant) than Barracuda and was also planned to have a $100 higher market price.

challenger T/A

Roger Struck was a Product Planner in Advance Product Planning (1965), then a Dart/Challenger Product Planner (1967) and then Manager of Coronet/Charger Product Planning (1968). Years are approximate.

I lived the 'E' Body from birth in the Advance Plan and then followed the Challenger half into the production phase. It started as a light and nimble “secretary’s car” with Cliff Voss steering the concept.

Virgil Exner and Cliff Voss

The muscle car era was really in full swing at about this time in the planning cycle. So the big 'B' engines got stuffed in the car and then the car got fat and heavy and eventually led to a forced semi-marriage to the 'B' Body. By the time it got to market the muscle era was in severe decline--you might say--almost tanked. Insurance rates started to go crazy--and the safety issue entered the 1970 dodge challenger interiorpolitical scene.

I often wondered if we had steered the light-and-nimble course, if the car would have had a much better chance at success. We would not have the Cuda Cult around. BUT we might have made some MONEY!!

I was in the styling studio one day when Elwood Engle (VP of design) was reviewing the exterior design of the "'E' Body" Challenger clay model. Elwood suggested to Bill Brownlie (Dodge design chief) that the main character line along the side of the model (I think we called it the "B" line) was a little low and to bring it up so it didn't have a dragging appearance.

Another feature of the Challenger was the rear wall-to-wall taillights. We thought they were the “cat's pajamas.” I think they were an industry first.

On the negative side were the trim panels. Colin Neale (chief of interior design) loved the sculptured look of the plastic molded door trim panels. He said he would “soften” the hard touch of the molded panel with a textured surface. Well, it was still hard---texture or no. (How soon we forget, e.g. the “hard” interior parts of the new [2008] Sebring.) The good characteristics were that it had a cost advantage as well as the 3-D freedom of a molded part, but it was unfriendly to the touch and had no sound dampening quality and, therefore exaggerated any rattles in the door.

1970 challenger

Burton Bouwkamp added:

The door trim panels were a problem! Besides being hard to the touch the polypropylene material was unstable and every door panel was a little different dimensionally which made a problem for Car Assembly. The material was flexible so the assembler could force it to fit. Bob Steere (Chief Engineer of Car Assembly) was very critical of this new application for polypropylene.

I wonder if the material lived 38 years. The next time I see an "E" Body at an antique car show I'll pay close attention to the door trim panels.

* European Cars of the Year:

  • 1976 — C6: Chrysler Alpine / Simca 1307 / Simca 1308
  • 1977 — Rover 3500
  • 1978 — Porsche 928
  • 1979 — C2: Chrysler Horizon

On the production side: Bill Wetherholt

Their doors weighed 87 pounds [before adding hardware and glass]. They had little cranes overhead that had hooks, where you could pick up the door, and maneuver it into the rack. They didn’t work at the time, so when you got to work, you had to pick them up by hand … Today, when the doors come off the line, they have automation; no one ever handles a door any more, they’re set down on rollers. The operator just pushes the door into the rack.

Blake Keithley added: “There were other reasons the product failed. One was the oil embargo of ’72 and the price of gasoline that killed the market.”

1973 dodge challenger

Burton Bouwkamp interview | Bill Wetherholt interview

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