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1970-1974 Dodge Challenger / Plymouth Barracuda memories

by Burton Bouwkamp, Dodge and Chrysler Product Planner

challenger.jpg
I
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).

TA.jpg


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.jpg


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. ...

TA.jpg


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.

by Roger Struck

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.jpg


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-challenger.jpg
political
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.

challenger-line-drawings.gif


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.jpg


* 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, 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.

Burton Bouwkamp interview | Bill Wetherholt interview


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