The muscle car is a part of America, a symbol of the freedom, spirit and adventure that has driven it forward throughout history. There is something about muscle cars that is unlike anything else, they have a presence on the road that stands out.
There have been many famous muscle cars over the years, some shined brightly then disappeared forever. One of the most interesting is the Dodge Challenger, a car that took on the best of the classic muscle car era, and today is a sales success around the world.
Challenger is Born
The first challenger appeared on the market in 1959, although it wasn’t really a challenger as we came to know it. As a 2-door sedan it didn’t look like a muscle car at all, which is not surprising, the idea was still a few years away.
Nothing like the Challenger we know, but from those humble beginnings a legend grew.
The first Challenger Muscle Car
Muscle cars were dominating sales with Ford and Chrysler bringing out new models that changed cars forever, and Chrysler has nothing to compete, especially with the all-conquering Ford Mercury. At the same time, consumers were demanding longer, more powerful cars, and it is in this environment that Dodge began development of the Challenger.
The result of that was launched in fall 1969, the first-generation Challenger. While during development the idea of launching the car with a turbine engine was seriously considered, in the end, the car launched with a choice of Inline- 6 cylinder or V8 engines. Power ranged from 145 horsepower from a 225-cubic inch inline 6, to 330 horsepower from a 440-cubic inch V8.
The new car was based on the existing Chrysler E platform, and it could be had in a 2-door hardtop or convertible form. Big, brutish and every inch the muscle car, the Challenger turned heads everywhere, a car that took on Ford and Chrysler at their own game.
Later in the year, two other versions appeared, the SE, which featured cruise control and other luxury touches and the Dodge Challenger T/a. Essentially a track car for the road, it was stripped out and drag strip ready straight from the dealer. Pioneering a number of innovations, it also set the trend for having different sized tires front and back to really push those launch times.
In 1971, the new model year Challenge Coupe introduced a few changes, notably a newly designed front grille that gave a more aggressive look and engines got a touch more power. Despite the Challenger being popular and gaining acclaim, this was the last time that any effort was put into the line.
In 1972-74, the new models looked pretty much the same with very few changes of any kind. Muscle cars had gone out of fashion and in 1974, the final version of this first Challenger rolled out with more safety features, less power, and the 6-cycilner had gone for good.
Second Generation Challenger
After 1974 the name disappeared. The market was in flux, global focus on oil supplies changed buying habits, and muscle cars faded away. However, 4 years later the Challenger name was back with the second-generation vehicle.
Much less impressive in every way, these 78 to 1980 cars had less power and less style that the original. Following the new U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard this was a compact sedan.
Third Generation Challenger
You can’t keep an icon down! In 2008 Dodge joined the growing trend for reimagining’s of classic muscle cars. The first sketches of the new Challenger were seen in 2005 showing a modern car, but very clear lines that took you back to that first 1969 model. The Challenger came in just one flavor in 2008, the SRT8. Built on a modified Dodge Charger chassis this car is longer and wider than the 1970 original and featured Mercedes derived suspension for a sophisticated ride and class leading handling. Powered by a 370-cubic inch V8 producing 425 horsepower, the impressive performance through a 4 speed auto gave a hint at what was to come.
Since the early 2000’s the range has expanded with year on year tweaks and adjustments to keep the new Challenger fresh. Soon after the SRT8 cane the R/T, with a slightly smaller engine and less power, it offered improved value and an easier entry into Challenger ownership, with the two models continuing together through 2010.From that point each year has brought new models, including manual transmission options and various trim levels.
A notable addition to the lineup in 2015 was the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. Taking the retro theme to new levels, this drag strip monster with 707 horsepower from a 378-cubic inch V8. A true 21st century muscle care, it took the industry by storm, with wait lists of up to a year for enthusiasts to get their hands on one. In 2020, they went one better, the Dodge Demon. 840 horsepower and full on drag racing spec brakes, it even comes with a spare set of wheels for the track.
With sales steady and special editions like the Demon attracting huge interest it looks like third time is the charm for the Challenger. The combination of modern technology, retro looks, and big horsepower is as attractive today as it was in 2008 or 1972.
The only question is, with the Demon reaching 840 horsepower, where will the Challenger go next?