The Chrysler Challenger always seemed to be one pony car that always seemed to arrive to the stable late. However, upon its arrival, many would take notice.
The late 1950s saw a period of waywardness from America's car companies. While the 1950s had seen sporty models, like the Thunderbird, come and go, there really wasn't a class of car to fit the attitude beginning to surface throughout the country. However, with Ford's Mustang and GM's Camaro, the wild heartbeat of America was allowed to roam free. Chrysler, however, was missing out on the act.
Dodge introduced its Charger, but it fit into a category between the pony cars and the more luxurious models like the Ford Thunderbird. Mated with the 7.0-liter 426 cu.in. Hemi engine, the Charger would be popular and innovative, but it still would not directly do battle with the Mustang and the Camaro, and even then, the Charger would blossom rather late.
Though slow to enter the more specialized pony car market, Chrysler recognized the need to lay claim to a little niche of the market. The problem was that the Mustang and the Camaro had been around for a while and people were familiar with what they had to offer. Therefore, Chrysler, in order to enter the competitive market, had to offer a car like no other.
Chrysler needed an angle to attract attention when it entered the pony car category. About the only angle left the company could use would be in the power department. Envisioning a clean design with a robust appeal, Bill Brownlie would set to work designing a car capable of hosting a litany of engine possibilities. What Brownlie would end up fashioning would be a car capable of hosting every single one of Chrysler's engines because of the car's front sub-frame. Following the two-door styling of Mercury's Cougar, the Challenger, as it would become known, would benefit from the Charger and Coronet having a larger front sub-frame to help hold all of the possible engine sizes.
The Challenger would draw something else from the Charger as well. There had been a concept of the Charger on the drawing board that would never see the light of day. However, the front grille of the Charger concept would end up providing the perfect starting point for the subtle, vigorous lines of the new Challenger.
Combining clean and stout looks with the ability to house a whole array of engines, Chrysler was finally ready to make its presence known in the pony car market. While the car would attract a good deal of attention on its own, its 7.0-liter and 7.2-liter 426 and 440 cu.in. variants would make the biggest noise, quite literally.
Having experience with the larger Charger, Chrysler fully intended to take the fight to the Mercury Cougar, which was slightly larger and more luxurious than the Mustang. When the car debuted in 1970, the Challenger would come available in four hardtop models: Challenger Six, Challenger V8, Challenger T/A and Challenger R/T. A convertible version of the R/T would be available as well, but just between 1970 and 1971.
Sales for the Challenger would do quite well in its first year with nearly 77,000 units being produced for the 1970 model year alone. However, sales would drop significantly over the next couple of years and production would cease altogether in 1974. After starting out strong in its first year of existence, production would slow to the point that only 165,437 would be sold by the end of its production run of about five years.
While the success of the Challenger would be debatable, one variant of the car that would not be debated for its performance and place amongst the pony cars would be the R/T Challenger.
Standing for 'Road/Track', the R/T model variant would be the performance model of the Challenger. The R/T would come with a 383 cu.in. 6.2-liter V-8 that was rated at 335 bhp. However, the R/T would also come with the option of the 375 bhp 440 cu in. 7.2-liter Magnum, the 390 bhp 440 cu in Six-Pack, or, the 425 bhp 426 cu in 7.0-liter Hemi engines. Therefore, while the Cougar, Mustang and Camaro may have been around a while longer with some of the same features as the Challenger, Chrysler's late-comer to the corral would certainly make some noise. When mated with the 4-speed manual transmission, the R/T model could also make some serious tracks all the way up to 150 mph.
The T/A Challenger, which stood for 'Trans Am' would see some racing with such drivers as Sam Posey and Ronnie Bucknum driving for Dan Gurney. And while the car would earn a number of top finishes it was clear the car needed to be developed as it had a bad understeer and other drawbacks. However, on the drag strip, the Challenger would find itself right at home.
The R/T version would go on to find success not on the track as much as in entertainment. Specially built models would be built for the TV program 'Mod Squad'. The R/T would also be the car of choice for Kowalski in the movie 'Vantage Point'. The Challenger would also find itself useful for other special promotions on TV.
While its demise may have been eagerly longed for, the Challenger would become something of a legend in its own right. Of course, most of the car's legend would be authored by the memories of the incredible sound of the 440 Six-Pack or the 426 Hemi.
Those at this year's RM Auction in Arizona would have the good fortune of being able to reminisce as a very special Challenger R/T would be up for auction. Not only would this be a Challenger R/T, but its lineage would make it something wholly more.
The chassis number available at this year's auction would roll off the assembly line in 1971 and would already be something special. However, its history was about to get even more intriguing.
Being just one of 71 Hemi Challenger R/Ts produced during 1971, chassis JS23R1B108804 would already make for a collector's dream. It came with the 'Super Track Pack' and the 'Shaker' hood options. However, after production it would be shipped to 'Mr. Norm's' Grand-Spaulding Dodge located in Chicago, Illinois.
Norm Krause would become famous as one of the earliest high-performance new car dealers and for having one of the first high-performance parts departments as part of the dealership. Krause's associate, Gary Dyer, had developed some of the quickest 'funny cars' and would help the dealership gain notoriety for taking Chrysler muscle cars and turning them into something beyond belief. This is what would happen to this Hemi Challenger R/T.
Charles Starr would become the car's first owner and he would trade in a car in order to have upgrades done to it, which included Stage III dyno-tuning, exhaust headers, lightweight fiberglass lift-off hood and other finishing touches. This would turn the car into an absolute performer. Late in 1971, Starr would sell the car to a friend who would take the car and coat it in WD-40, and then, put it in storage for the next 35 years.
In 2006, the car would emerge from storage for the first time and it would be noted as having been well-preserved despite some minor cosmetic issues that were cleaned up. After a basic tuning, the car would roar back to life and would even make an appearance at the Barrington Concours d'Elegance in Illinois. Featuring some wonderful paperwork and historical documentation from Chrysler and Grand-Spaulding, the car comes to auction with only about 5,400 miles and was expected to earn between $300,000 and $475,000. A truly wicked muscle car, this model represents beautifully Chrysler's method of using its engine power to create an a large charge in the pony car race and doing it in style.
'Muscle Cars: Classic Muscle Cars: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Six Pack', (http://musclecars.howstuffworks.com/classic-muscle-cars/1970-dodge-challenger-r-t-440-six-pack.htm). HowStuffWorks: We Love to Wonder. http://musclecars.howstuffworks.com/classic-muscle-cars/1970-dodge-challenger-r-t-440-six-pack.htm. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Dodge Charger (B-body)', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 December 2011, 04:08 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dodge_Charger_(B-body)&oldid=466634180 accessed 4 January 2012
Wikipedia contributors, 'Dodge Challenger', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 December 2011, 04:02 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dodge_Challenger&oldid=467857878 accessed 4 January 2012