If you’ve got a good name, flaunt it — that was clearly Dodge’s thinking regarding the Challenger tag, which has featured on three distinct generations of car. The first two appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the name returned with a bang in 2008. Granted the fact that all three incarnations were completely different, it is maybe unsurprising that the rationale behind the first generation was not altogether clear. Perhaps the reasoning process went something like this.
Better late than never — we’d just love a piece of the lucrative ponycar action begun by the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro. Plymouth came up with the clever idea of challenging those small ponycars with the slightly bigger, more luxurious Barracuda. We’ll launch a new model called the Challenger (to make our intentions plain) that goes wheel to wheel with the Barracuda. We’ll market the Challenger as the most potent pony car ever and offer a choice of eight engines and two body styles and endless option packs so everyone can be happy, especially us.
Whatever, it wasn’t a brilliant plan, though ironically the car was excellent. The basic body styles were both two-door versions —hardtop coupe and convertible — though engine selection and choice of various option packs made for a formidable number of variations on the theme. But they all shared a classic wide, low, long-bonnet, short rear-deck ponycar appearance.
The performance model was the R/T (Road/Track). Once Year One novelty wore off, annual sales plunged from a respectable 77,000 to 23,000 in 1972, after which the multiple choice approach was canned leaving just the V8 hardtop for the dying years of ’73 and ’74, after which the first generation Challenger was discontinued. Muscle-car movers agree that the ’70 Challengers were awesome, the ’71s were great and the rest came nowhere.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1970 (until 1974)
ENGINE: Various, from 3.2 I (198 cid) Straight Six to 7.2 I (440 cid) V8
PERFORMANCE: With 7.2 litre V8 – top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.2 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: If at first you don’t succeed … The second generation Challenger was the Dodge-badged version of the imported Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe (Plymouth’s identical car was called the Sapporo) – this time the big idea was to give the Challenger a sportier feel than the Sapporo with bright paint colours and go-faster stripes.