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1970-74

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.

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, projecting a Chrysler market penetration of 15% of this 1,500,000 segment, we believed we would sell 225,000 cars a 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.

At the 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 eight-hour shifts at 60 cars per hour. Finance calculated that we would make money at 200,000 per year, and consequently the program was approved,

BUT — 

We never hit even 100,000 E-body cars a year. Compact specialty car market leveled off below 1,000,000 cars per year, and our E body sales never reached 15% of that. We lost money (unhappy management) and we did not build the cars well (unhappy customers).

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A

The failure to achieve planned volumes was due to an unrealistic market forecast and our failure to build high quality cars. The style, specifications, and pricing were okay.

If I could do one thing over, I would not have approved polypropylene door trim panels. They were innovative but hard (unfriendly) to the touch, 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, the Chief Engineer of Car Assembly, was very critical of this new application for polypropylene.

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 vice president, I got a new boss (George Butts) who was newly appointed the Vice President of Product Planning. In 1974, we discontinued Barracuda and Challenger.

1970 dodge challenger

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.

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

... 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 that 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. ...

challenger T/A

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 (á la Dart vs Valiant) than Barracuda and was also planned to have a $100 higher market price.

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, it almost tanked. Insurance rates started to go crazy and safety 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.

1973 dodge challenger

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

* European Cars of the Year:

On the production side: Bill Wetherholt

Their doors weighed 87 pounds, before adding hardware and glass. They had little cranes overhead that had hooks, so you could pick up the door with the crane 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, 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.

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