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The 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger

by Kelly Doke and the Allpar staff

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See Challenger T/A and Challenger R/T

1964 was a important time in the Challenger's history, though the car had not yet been created. John Z. Delorean converted the Tempest into the GTO, a car that had young buyers flocking to Pontiac to get their own high-octane-burning cheap thrills. Then, in April, rivals from Dearborn unveiled the Mustang at the World's Fair, grabbing attention and sales despite Plymouth quietly beating them to the punch, weeks earlier, with the Barracuda.

In terms of power, Dodge was no slouch that year. Tom Hoover's brainchild, the 426 Hemi, loosely based on the 426 Max Wedge, dominated Daytona and much of the NASCAR season. To Lynn Townsend's chagrin (or perhaps to his credit), a few 330s with Hemi power were clandestinely let loose on Woodward.

It didn't take a marketing analyst to figure out that the children of the baby boomers were becoming financially aware, and the proliferation of Mustangs and GTOs on the streets were proof of that. Chrysler had to make a move, and make one fast. Thus, in 1968, Plymouth launched the popular Road Runner, which took off like wildfire. Still, some believe they needed a small, lithe, agile compact, much like the "Panther" project GM was cooking up. While the Valiant and Dart had athletic aspirations, they were no match for the Camaro and Firebird.

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A sporty car based on the Dart and Valiant (as the Barracuda had been, and the Duster would be) could be perfect. Burton Bouwkamp, product planner, wrote that, in 1967, 1.5 million specialty compacts were predicted for 1970; and Chrysler predicted market penetration of 15%, for 225,000 cars per year. They could, based on those projections, easily make 200,000 Challengers and Barracudas, perfect for plant scheduling.

Clay models for the new "pony car" started taking shape, literally, in 1967. Late 1968, Bill Brownlie and Carl Cameron's mockups looked almost production ready. Roger Struck (Dart/Challenger Product Planner in 1967) wrote,

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.
In 1968, another event altered the course of the Challenger's evolution. Over at General Motors, Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen had, years earlier, imposed a moratorium on engines larger than 400 cubic inches in the mid-sized (A-Body) model range, along with a ban in official factory participation in motorsports. That year, Pandora's Box was opened with the end of that moratorium, and a 455 cubic inch V8 appeared on the option list for the Cutlass 442. Others followed: Camaros with 427s, Mustangs with 428s.

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This was a new problem for Chrysler. The new pony car was only intended to have the 383 as the largest engine (the most the Barracuda could handle), but still remain based on the A-body, as the Barracuda was (the Barracuda itself could only barely handle the 383, and most reviewers preferred the lighter 340). 716 pounds of Detroit pig iron up front in the form of the Hemi wouldn't translate well for a platform based on agility. Chrysler had seen its share of headaches in the Hurst Hemi Darts and Barracudas, and even in the 440 Darts and Valiants. A big motor in a small car, on the manufacturing scale that Chrysler needed, wasn't feasible. Again, to quote Burton Bouwkamp:

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. 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.
The new car would have to use the B-body cowl (radiator core support to firewall), and most of the underpinnings of the larger cars.
The E-body tag reflected current Chrysler Corp. body styles: the compacts were As, mid-size to large were B, and C and D were reserved for oversized Chrysler models. [Challenger creation stories]

In terms of safety, Challenger and Barracuda alone got a new energy-absorbing steering column, added roof rollover protection, crash-resistant inner door beams, and safer latch strikers and door handles.

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The 1970 Dodge Challenger arrives

Friday, August 1, 1969 saw a fervor of excitement at Line One and Line Two at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. While numerous plants around the country were producing new 1970 Plymouths, Dodges, Chryslers, and Imperials, Dodge Main was, for the moment, the only one constructing the all-new Challenger and its platform sibling, the Barracuda. (Van Nuys Plant in Los Angeles would begin weeks later.)

The new Dodge pony car rode on a 111-inch wheelbase, while the high-strung 'Cuda had a shorter 108 inches, spindle to axle. The cars shared some parts, glass, underpinnings, and interior trim pieces, but were still unique to each other. The Challenger had enough options, trim packages, and colors (18, including the Hi-Impact colors that added $14.70 to the bottom line) for the most discerning consumer. With styling echoing the contemporary Chevrolet Camaro, and with the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird market segment in its crosshairs, this car was envisioned for "The Peformance Guy Who Is Married With Two Kids."

Auto part Tire Rim Automotive tire Wheel

At Dodge Main, the Challengers were built on two dedicated lines, the R/T models, and convertibles would be built on line 1, along with any big block specialty cars. Line Two would see any Challenger (non-R/T, 383 engine and smaller) that didn't have a big motor or no top built alongside six cylinder Darts, 318 Chargers, and Coronet sedans. A quick check of a fender tag will annotate that by a "LN1 or LN2" on the fender tag.

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On the outside, the Challenger featured new, flush pull-up door handles, a new interior door lock recessed in the armrest, and high-back bucket seats with built in head restraints, or bench seats with folding center armrests in the Hardtop. Paint schemes included the colors Plum Crazy, HEMI Orange, and accented "bumblebee stripes." Door glass had no vents and was curved. Roger Struck wrote:

Vehicle audio Automotive exterior Technology Electronic device Vehicle
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 ... 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.
Burton Bouwkamp added, "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."

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Optional on Special Edition was an overhead console with low-fuel, door-ajar, and seat-belt lights. Seats could be manually tilted and moved fore and aft, or up and down; they were counterbalanced with springs to make movement easier. A stereo tape player, cruise control, rear defogger, power windows, headlight delay, and other luxury items were optional. Safety precautions included a collapsible steering column, two-piece door impact beam, and a box-section roll bar.

A Slap-Stik Shift Gate was sold with the console-mounted TorqueFlite; 60-series tires were on 15 inch wheels, fairly aggressive for the time, as long as you got an engine beyond the non-Magnum 383 (such as the 340 or 383 Magnum); the 225, 318, and 383 non-Magnum engines came with 14 inch wheels. Tires (fiberglass belted) ranged from E78 to F60 (Hemi only). Wheels were 5.5 inches wide, except for the 340 and Hemi, whose wheels were 7 inches wide.

The Challenger R/T started with a 383 cubic inch V8, with a 9.5:1 compression ratio and 335 gross hp at 5,200 rpm; torque was 425 lb-ft at 3,400 rpm. The premium-fuel-only powerplant had a single four-barrel Holley carb, hydraulic lifters, overhead rocker arms, and dual, reverse-flow mufflers.

The standard transmission was a three-speed floor shift with a 2.55:1 first, 1.49:1 second, and 1:1 third; cam timing was 268° intake duration, 284° exhaust duration. Heavy duty drum brakes were standard, along with a rallye instrument cluster (including tachometer, trip odometer, variable speed wipers, 150 mph speedometer, and oil pressure gauge); a bumblebee stripe or longitudinal tape stripe were optional, at no extra cost. Vinyl bucket seats with head restraints and a 3-spoke "simulated walnut" steering wheel helped complete the package (Rick Ehrenberg of Mopar Action noted that these tend to wear out relatively quickly).

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Safety features included dual channel brakes, padded instrument panel, day/night rearview mirror (standard on R/T), seat belts in all positions, and an energy absorbing steering column.

According to a contemporary brochure, legendary record-setting drag racer Don Garlits said:

They watched the whole pony car thing develop, then built their own super-tough version... the Challenger R/T. Compact like a Dart. Wide like a Charger. Just the right size for anyone who likes his own personalized backyard bomb. Dodge should sell a million of 'em. Challenger and especially Challenger R/T are young people's cars with young persons' price tags."
Los Angeles-built cars only had one line at the plant in Van Nuys, so a big block R/T could be built in sequence after a Dart Sedan. No Hemi or Six Pack cars came from the Los Angeles plant, due to the extra chassis work necessary for those cars.

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A special Hemi Challenger Convertible, the first off the line, was converted into the Dodge Yellowjacket, making the car show circuit for the 1969 season. Painted a honey-gold color, it showcased styling elements for future offerings.

The grille of the car was a harbinger for the '71 model year cars, with a distant rear panel treatment of the '72-'74 cars, and a targa type roof, with fully-faired headrests that stylistically flowed into the rear decklid, much like the Jaguar E-type of the fifties and the Thunderbird roadsters of the early sixties. At the New York and Los Angeles Shows, a beautiful woman was displayed with the car, wearing as little as possible in that era, and served as a living canvas. Passerby could draw on her with markers to their heart's content. The car was largely overlooked. It would reappear the next year as the Dodge Diamante, and thanks to a scratch recieved somewhere between shows, it was now a pearl white.

The second incarnation of the car would have taillights that would be directly duplicated on the '72-'74 cars, and an aerodynamic rubber-coated nose, much like the Elastomeric bumpered cars of the era, along with pop-up headlights. Steven Juliano owns the Diamante now, and it has been restored to its 1970 show season status.

When the Challenger hit showroom floors in the fall, Chrysler expected to send 200,000 units to new homes, so all aspects of the market had been covered, with the low end Deputy Coupe, the bread-and-butter Highline coupes, sizzling hot convertibles, the agile T/A, the posh Special Editions, and the pulse-quickening R/Ts, with two 440s, a stout 383, and the coveted 426 Hemi. These cars were the first in the industry to utilize injection-molded plastic interior panels, and T/As were also the first in the industry to utilize different sized tires on the front and rear axles.

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1970 Dodge Challenger models

For 1970, there were numerous Dodge Challenger models, from the low-end (late-introduction) Deputy to the limited-edition top-end T/A, with the luxury SE and hot R/T in between. The company was planning on 200,000 sales, and the wide range of models reflected that.


The model year had started out with the Challenger Highline, JH23, and unlike the Deputy, it was available in almost every trim and luxury option. The base engine was the humble slant six, but the "starter" V8 was the 340, producing a rated 275 hp (gross) and 340 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,200 rpm.

Western Sport Special (WSS)

One unique package was the Western Sport Special. The WSS cars were based on the Challenger Highline, and had small block power, pedal dress up-kit, a vinyl top, and the requisite Western Sport Special Appliqué on the rear quarter panel. These cars were available only to the San Francisco and Los Angeles sales regions, and it was accepted that WSS cars were built at the Los Angeles plant, recently, a handful of 340-powered cars with the documented WSS option were found, having been built at the Hamtramck plant.

One Challenger Trans Am is known that also had the Western Sport Special badging. The T/A cars had a lot of the pre-existing WSS options (pedal dress-up kit, vinyl top), and it was originally an East Coast car, so it is a very likely story that a dealer installed the WSS decals to move the car off the lot.

Dodge Challenger Deputy

The Deputy was a lower priced package, and these cars were very spartan, coming from Hamtramck and Van Nuys devoid of amenities such as air conditioning, power steering or brakes; the JH21 and JL21 Deputies also used base Barracuda seats. Some of the rarest Challengers that year were the 383 3 speed challenger Deputies, with examples numbering in the single digit territory.

Steering part Rim Circle Line art Drawing

1970 Dodge Challenger SE

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The Special Edition Challenger, JS23 and JS29 for R/Ts, was a separate model, denoted by the second character in the VIN (The Deputies had "L" for low, Highlines had "H"), S for special. The most obvious difference was the "Formal" or smaller rear window, meant to emulate a limousine's back glass. A fiberglass plug was placed over the rear window, and covered up by a vinyl top.

SE cars had a velour headliner (non-SE cars had a standard headliner, with fabric and bows), and an SE-only overhead consolette, that had warning lights for low fuel and open door. SE and R/T SEs also had leather seating unique to that series, and a "credit-option" of leather seats with fabric inserts. Opting for these seats meant a credit could be utilized towards another option. The Special Edition would be discontinued for the 1971 season, but the vinyl-covered roof with the smaller window would continue as the A78 formal roof option.

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Dodge Challenger R/T and Challenger T/A

See our separate page on the hot 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T and Challenger T/A.

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1970 Challenger in review

Beetween the falloff in the market, hot competition from the company's own Duster and Road Runner, and criticism of the cars' dynamics, 1970 Challenger sales were disappointing. There was a tremendous irony there, because two alternative approaches to the same project succeeded wildly, on far smaller budgets.

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The Valiant Charger, Australia's low-budget project which also combined A and B body components, was a wild success, albeit in a smaller market. Valiant Charger may not have worked in the US: the hottest engine was a hemispherical-head, triple-two-barrel carb six. But the other ironic success was a more modest project even than the Valiant Charger: the 1970 Plymouth Duster was merely a fastback Valiant, and with its 340, it was the performance bargain of the year. Challenger and Valiant Charger were both made by combining A and B bodies; Duster was still a pure A-body, with the same semi-formal Valiant front end, yet sales were in the hundreds of thousands.

Meanwhile, in 1970, Chrysler 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 more popular than big engines; and the slant six seems to have outsold Hemi and 440 Six-Pack combined, easily. As Burton Bouwkamp wrote:

...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..
And how did the ironic companion to the Challenger/Barracuda fare? Plymouth sold 217,192 Dusters in 1970, their first year. Though Duster fell somewhat in 1971, sales would then rise every year to a peak in 1974 with 250,000 sold (in 1975 and 1976, the Volare/Aspen cut Duster sales dramatically - but even in 1975 it outsold Challenger's peak).

Dodge Challenger 1970-711973-74
Land vehicle Vehicle Car Muscle car Classic car
Width x Height 76.1 x 50.9 76.4 x 50.9
Track (max) 60.760.7
Headroom, F/R 37.4 / 35.6* 37.4 / 35.6
Legroom, F/R 42.3/30.942.3/30.9
58.1 / 56.8
Base tiresF70 x 14 (6 x 14)7.35 x 14
Battery46 amp-hour
Alternator41 amp41 amp
Trunk capacity8.6 cubic feet8.6 cubic ft
318 axle ratio, manual3.23:13.23:1
318 axle ratio, auto2.76; 3.23 opt2.76; 3.23 opt.
Curb weight2,970 - 3,336
* Hardtop headroom: 38.2/36.4; shoulder: 56.2/56.8
1971 Dodge Challengers

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For 1971, planners looked at the 1970 sales and simplified the range slightly, otherwise largely leaving Challenger and Barracuda intact. They added in the 340 V8, a lightweight but powerful engine that gave serious performance without hurting agility; with the 340 in the line, the U-code 440 four-barrel was dropped. The 383 was detuned to 300 hp and was only available with the R/T; and the 440 Six-Pack was now 5 hp lower.

The visible changes for were switching from a single tail lamp design ub 1970 to two distinct lights in 1971; and using a new twin-inlet grille, painted silver on standard models and black on R/Ts, which also got fiberglass quarter-panel louvers.

The slow-selling ragtop R/T was not available, but a few savvy buyers optioned 340 non-R/T hardtops and ragtops with the Go-Wing, Shaker, Rallye Gauge Cluster, and the side stripes that mimiced the R/T versions. The 1971 340 R/T, like 1970's A40 340 performance Challengers (often badged as R/Ts), had a tachometer with a higher redline than their big block bretheren. By the same token, you could order a 340 R/T look-alike with a shaker and a go-wing, and most of the R/T paraphernalia, without the higher insurance premiums.

The 1971 SE's back window grew to normal size. The Challenger Deputy, a low-cost version with fixed rear side glass and a 198 slant six, joined the base, SE, and R/T models.

1971 Dodge Challenger pace carSales were dramatically lower in 1971, despite being the Indy 500 pace car - or perhaps because the pace car crashed into the press box. Production was a mere 30,000 units or so, and the R/T - again, the only car to feature the 383 and 440 - sold just 4,630 units.

The writing was clearly on the wall; the older Charger was easily outselling Challenger, as was Dart Swinger (which cleared 100,000 units in 1971). Over at Plymouth, they sold over 14,000 Road Runners - a dress-up and performance-enhancement package on top of the standard Satellite - as well as 173,592 Dusters (not including 12,886 Duster 340s and over 48,000 similar Scamps). Plymouth wasn't doing much better with their version of the Challenger, a shorter-wheelbase design called the Barracuda: for 1971, they sold fewer than 20,000 of the cars.

1971 Dodge Challenger T/A: did it exist?

It appears that the T/A was dropped before model year 1971, but a former factory employee reported that around thirty Challenger Trans Ams were converted from 340 R/Ts (four-barrel version) for the 1971 season, before Dodge pulled out of SCCA. The thirty cars were then converted back to R/Ts.

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To add fuel to the '71 T/A debate, the ad of the Top Banana 1971 T/A in the rain appeared in Motor Trend in late 1970, looking suspiciously like the rainy day ad for a Top Banana 1970 T/A. The reader can draw their own conclusions of the validity of the 1971 T/A's existence. Expert airbrush work (such as the 426 Hemi hood badging in the "No Shrinking Violet" 1970 R/T ragtop ad, an in-violet 383 automatic) was a signature of the advertising department back then.

1972-1974 Dodge Challengers

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In 1972, there were big changes as a newly struggling Chrysler Corporation dealt with its miscalculations and a failing muscle-car market (failing, among other things, because of the value inherent in the big-engined compacts, and because of rapidly rising insurance premiums).

A few 1971 Challengers were converted into 1972 convertibles for the T.V. Show "Medical Center" starring Chad Everett.

The R/T, convertible, and SE vanished, along with the 440 Six-Pack, Hemi, and 383; and the clean grilles of 1970-71 were replaced by the more aggressive "sad faced" grille. The Challenger Rallye was launched to replace all the slow-selling power models of the past. The power leader was now the 240-hp (net) 340, and the 318 (150 hp) was a more realistic base engine than the slant six (which was still around for 1972, but not 1973.) The changes were not enough, or went in the wrong direction, and production was down to just over 26,000 units.

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The sunroof, offered as an option for just over $400, became a popular alternative to the convertible. The larger "egg-crate" grille was painted argent for standard Challengers, and black on the Challenger Rallye model. The Rallye model was also equipped with four small scoops on the front fenders.

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1973 brought huge bumper guards and lost the slant six and gunmetal grey color but gained the new 360 (245 hp net). Production rose to nearly 33,000. As noted, the 318 was now standard, as were vinyl front bucket seats with headrests; a floor-mounted 3-speed manual transmission; front and rear ashtrays; heater/defroster; day/night mirror; concealed two-speed wipers; dual horns; various mouldings; and energy-absorbing steering column. Those who wanted a passenger side mirror had to pay for it.

In 1974, there were two engine choices: the 318 and somewhat more powerful 360, which was only available in 1974; it replaced the 340, which ended in 1973. The lap and shoulder belts were equipped with an inertial reel. A generally disliked, single-year feature was the federally mandated seatbelt-ignition interlock. Production was a mere 16,000 units.

Challenger production ceased in 1974, a choked incarnation of what ruled Woodward Avenue in the early part of that decade. The name was resurrected in the late seventies for a Mitsubishi built compact; and in 2008 for a visual clone of the original, the new Dodge Challenger. Ironically, the new version sales seemed to hover around those of the 1971 Challenger.

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1970-74 Dodge Challenger retrospective

In its short life, the Challenger turned out to be one of the best-looking cars produced in the muscle era, and is today highly sought after. A 1970 Challenger R/T starred in the film Vanishing Point, a high-speed pursuit movie that has become a cult favorite among muscle car fans. 1970 Dodge Challengers also made appearances on the big screen, in movies such as Used Cars, Natural Born Killers, and Phantasm I and II. They were also seen in television shows such as The Mod Squad.

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Challenger sales were never satisfying for Chrysler, which had invested quite a bit in the Challenger and Barracuda - rather than in the A-body. Buyers found the interior space to be small for what was a fairly large car, critics slammed the handling, and the muscle-car market dried up rapidly with insurance company premium hikes and, later, gas shortages. The car had far too much overlap with Chrysler's existing cars - the Charger, Road Runner/Super Bee, and Duster/Demon. It seems that Chrysler could have simply restyled its existing B-body line to much better advantage; it would then have extra money to invest in A-body variants or even a replacement for the already-aging A-body line.

Approximately 188,600 Dodge Challengers were sold over its lifespan.

Dodge Challengers versus the competition

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The chart below is from 1972, so horsepower figures are net, not gross (as in the chart above).

1972 figuresDodge ChallengerFord MustangChevrolet CamaroAMC JavelinPlymouth Duster
Front headroom37.437.237.437.537.5
Rear headroom35.636.036.135.636.5
Front legroom42.341.843.842.541.5
Rear legroom30.928.230.730.829.9
Trunk space (cf)
Base Six hp/torque110/18599/184110/185100/185110/185
Base V8 hp/torque150/260141/242130/230150/245150/260
Brake swept area314267337255/267254.5 / 251.4
Lube interval36,00036,0006,00024,00036,000
Rare Dodge Challengers

A plethora of options could safely make no two Challengers alike; for example, a 318 Challenger was special-ordered in DY3 Cream, with a Red Vinyl top!

In the spring of 1970, Gator Grain vinyl tops, with a texture mimicing an alligator's skin, appeared on the option sheet, as well as flourescent green and Panther Pink longitudal tape stripes. What really set those stripes apart was 3M's reflective technology; at night, they would reflect direct light, as street signs do. Many unique possibilities were available in cars built by Chrysler.

The Diamante show car was constructed from a Challenger Convertible, but that wasn't the only custom-bodied Challenger built. Taking a cue from Sergio Scaglietti's rebodied Corvettes of the late fifties, Pietro Frua constructed a one off "Challenger Special" for a Swiss businessman in 1970. Starting with a R/T SE, and with styling rivaling Paninfarina's best offerings, the car had Borranni wire wheels, a 440 4 barrel/727 automatic, and an interior that was unmistakingly Dodge Challenger.

That wasn't the only Dodge E-body in the European Union. Chrysler at the time owned the French car maker SIMCA, and around 200 partially completed white cars made the journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway, and on to final production in France, because shipping without headlights and a few trim pieces evaded the tax laws. The most obvious differences were speedometers in metric, which leaves this author to wonder if the odometers were geared for miles and kilometers; clear parking lamps/turn signals as opposed to amber; and door-mounted rear view mirrors manufactured by Talbot, of Talbot-Lago fame. Other European Challengers had special turn signal stalks with a button at the end to actuate all four headlamps, for passing that pesky slow-moving Porsche on the Autobahn.

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Other noteworthy Challengers are the R/T SEs specially ordered by Dandy Dick Landy. Covered in an Iridescent Silver Metallic from the Imperial's pallette, it would be months before a short-lived silver was available, and a whole model year before GA4 Light Gunmetal Metallic would appear on the order books.

More homegrown customs include the handful of 1971 Challengers that got '72 noses and tails for Paramount Picture studios, after the demise of the convertibles from dealership floors in the 1971 season. Chad Everett always raced to the hospital just in the nick of time in a pretty '72 ragtop.

The Indianapolis 500 that year was marked by disaster on the opening lap with the destruction of a red ragtop pacing the event. Eldon Palmer, a local dealer, misjudged the car's braking ablity going into a turn. The car was subsequently repaired, and others took its place to finish pacing duties. Replicas were available at local dealerships around the Indianapolis Metropolitan area. [Challenger pace car]

Some 1970 Dodge Challenger Accessory Groups



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