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by Kelly Doke
In May 1969, a Chrysler product planner conceived the Dodge Challenger T/A; it was born nine months later, on February 12, 1970, and issued a “birth certificate” (Technical Service Bulletin 11). Pontiac had Trans Ams prowling the streets, so the name had to be shortened, but the car was created to run in the SCCA Trans America series, so the T/A name was justified.
The T/A was created because automakers had to make actual retail cars to compete in some motorsports; just as they had to make real Charger Daytonas to run the supercars in NASCAR, Dodge had to make 2,400 Challengers T/As for civilians to support one SCCA racing car.
In accordance with the Sports Car Club of America rulings, Sam Posey’s #77 Classic Wax Challenger started life as a Body-In-White, meaning it was a street car that was delivered to a racing group with a unibody structure, and little else. #77 was painted FJ5 Sublime, and at first, the massive amounts of green were overpowering. Longitudal black R/T side-stripes and a black vinyl top were applied to offer visual contrast.
The vinyl top was purported to increase structural integrity, as the Body in White was acid dipped to cut weight; and according to one report, a team member leaned on the roof during a qualifying race, and put a massive dent in the racer’s roof. A Challenger from a local dealer’s lot donated its normal roof, and Sam Posey went on to qualify the next day. Keith Black, of Hemi drag racing fame, built the 303.8 cubic inch LA-based motor that occupied the gloss grey engine compartment.
Sam Posey drove the lone Trans Am racing Challenger in 1970. Drag races Dick Landy and Ted Spehar also campaigned Challengers in the National Hot Rod Association’s new Pro Stock class.
The T/A cars that ruled the streets were a different animal altogether. Starting with a Challenger Highline (JH23), the A53 Trans Am package had a special 290 horsepower 340. Carrying a unique “J” VIN prefix, the engine had increased webbing in the mains, valvetrain revisions, and the ubiquitous trio of troublesome Holleys residing on an Edelbrock intake manifold.
The coveted Challenger Trans Am was based on the Highline, and unlike the big-motor R/T or the Luxurious Special Edition, it was not a separate trim level, but a package available on a pre-existing model.
The A53 cars had unique spoilers front and rear, the N94 Fiberglass hood (the Pilot T/A has a regular R/T dual snorkel hood), and Hemi fenders up front to house the fat F60 series Polyglas up front. On many of these Challengers, fiberglass hood was lifted off (no hinges), and the flat black color and fender pins gave the car a unique look. (Wendell Lane wrote: “my 1970 Challenger T/A had hood hinges, with lighter hood springs for the fiberglass hood, and dual hood pins up front.”)
Out back, the cars had increased camber in the rear, and G60 tires. The antenna mast was relocated to the rear passenger quarter panel, in the belief that the lack of a steel hood impeded radio reception. The cars carried suspensions from the Hemi and 440 Six-Pack cars: the K-frame with a skid plate, thicker torsion bars and sway bars, front and rear, 3/8 fuel lines, torque boxes welded to the unibody just ahead of the rear leaf springs (the passenger’s side has an extra half-leaf, like the Hemi and Six Pack cars did). The T/A cars had a fast ratio steering box as well, along with differently sized front and rear tires, and increased rear spring camber. They could do the quarter mile in 14 seconds.
The T/As had unique striping that extended the character line of the leading edge of the C-pillar, and terminated just before the front fender trim at the front of the car. The manual 3-speed was not available, nor was a bench seat, and the only wheel options were black steel wheels with dog dish hubcaps and trim rings or the Rallye wheels. The passenger side front fender is completely unique to the T/A: it has a rolled wheel well lip like the Hemi Cars did (Hemis had 15” wheels), but no provision for the radio antenna. The T/As also carried unique exhaust (California models included) whose tips peeked out just in front of the rear wheels. Concours restorers should note that few examples had these unique mufflers (exit and exhaust on the same end) painted black, depending on the vendor.
989 automatic and 1,411 four speed T/As were completed from late March to mid-April 1970. While the T/As were pretty much optioned alike, the rarest of those rare breed would be the lone Western Sport Special, which again, may be just a few stickers applied to a slow moving car. The rarest T/A known to be legitimate would be the one with a factory sunroof.
William Fayling wrote: “I have had the pleasure of seeing the first one built and it has T/A striping, fiberglass hood (single scoop), rear and front spoilers.”
The Challenger R/T cemented the car’s image in the hearts and minds of fans: a snorting big block, tape stripes, and the Shaker hood all made the car memorable. In 1970, the R/T package started with the 383 four barrel. Carrying a separate JH27 VIN prefix, single digit gas mileage, and neck snapping performance, the Challenger made its mark on Woodward Avenue.
The most coveted of the R/T lineup was the 426 Hemi, rated at 425 Horsepower, and its sibling the 440 Six barrel, rated at 390 horsepower. The “R” code Hemi and the “V” code Six pack also carried a laundry list of architectural tweaks in the body structure that differentiated it from the lower performance E-bodies. For starters, both cars did not have air conditioning. Ever.
The R/T’s base 383 cubic inch engine, putting out 335 gross horsepower, was potent; options were the legendary Hemi (425 hp but only 356 buyers), the more affordable 440 Magnum (375 hp with a single four-barrel carb), and the Hemi-challenging 440 Six Pack, with three two-barrel carburetors (sold to over 2,000 people, and featuring 390 gross hp and a stunning 480 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,300 rpm).
While the R/T had a standard dual-scoop hood, the functional scoops simply pushed air into the engine bay, rather than forcing it into the engine; for that, you needed the “shaker” hood, which was essentially an attachment to the air cleaner that protruded through the hood.
The K-frame had an additional skid plate added to the bottom. The cars had thicker torsion bars, 3/8” fuel lines, and structural reinforcements to the floor around the pinion snubber area. Immediately recognizable is the “torque boxes”, shared with the convertibles, which were situated just ahead of the rear leaf spring perches, underneath the rear seat area. Forming a square shape, they reinforced the rocker area with the rear frame rails, and after years of having jack pads and the weight of the car sandwiching them, they suffered lots of beating since leaving the factory. Also of note, most of these cars had the Dana 60 rear end, with an extra half-leaf on the passenger’s side to counter the torque produced by these engines.
Hemi cars also carried unique front fenders, due to the 15” wheel option. What made the fenders unique were that the wheel well openings were rolled more than the 14” wheeled siblings to accommodate the larger wheels. (All Challengers had a 110” wheelbase.)
A heavy duty TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission was standard on the 440s and Hemi engines, with a four-speed manual optional; the common wisdom was that the TorqueFlite could outrun the manual, despite the latter’s Hurst pistol-grip shifter and Dana 60 rear axle. A limited slip differential was optional, but a heavy duty suspension was standard across the R/T line. Even the Hemi was restricted to 15-inch 60-series tires, which today are reserved to base model economy cars.
While the R/T had a standard dual-scoop hood, the functional scoops simply pushed air into the engine bay, rather than forcing it into the engine; for that, you need the “shaker” hood, which was essentially an attachment to the air cleaner that protruded through the hood.
For 1970, Dodge sold 53,337 standard Challengers; 6,584 SEs; 3,173 convertibles; a bit over 1,000 T/As; and 19,938 R/Ts (including convertibles and SEs). In all, 83,032 Challengers were sold; 60% had the base V8, and nearly 90% had automatics. Styled wheels were actually more popular than big engines; and the slant six seems to have outsold Hemi and 440 Six-Pack combined, easily.
2009 Dodge Challenger | Challenge Creation Stories | Plymouth Barracuda | Forum
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