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The Dodge Challenger
The first generation Dodge Challenger was a pony car built from 1970 to 1974, using the Chrysler E platform and sharing major components with the Plymouth Barracuda. The second generation, from 1978 to 1983, was a badge engineered Mitsubishi Galant Lambda. The third, and current generation, was introduced in 2008 as a rival to the evolved fifth generation Ford Mustang and the reintroduced fifth generation Chevrolet Camaro.
First generation (1970–1974)
The Challenger was described in a book about 1960s American cars as Dodge's "answer to the Mustang and Camaro." It was one of two Chrysler E-body cars, the other being the slightly smaller Plymouth Barracuda. "Both the Challenger and Barracuda were available in a staggering number of trim and option levels" and were intended "to compete against cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, and to do it while offering virtually every engine in Chrysler's inventory." However, they were "a rather late response to the ponycar wave the Ford Mustang had started." In his book Hemi Muscle Cars, Robert Genat wrote that the Challenger was conceived in the late 1960s as Dodge's equivalent of the Plymouth Barracuda, and that the Barracuda was designed to compete against the Mustang and Camaro. He added that Chrysler intended the new Dodge as "the most potent ponycar ever," and positioned it "to compete against the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird." Genat also noted that the "Barracuda was intended to compete in the marketplace with the Mustang and Camaro/Firebird, while the Dodge was to be positioned against the Cougar" and other more luxury-type musclecars.
The Challenger's longer wheelbase, larger dimensions and more luxurious interior were prompted by the launch of the 1967 Mercury Cougar, likewise a bigger, more luxurious and more expensive pony car aimed at affluent young American buyers. The wheelbase, at 110 inches (2,794 mm), was two inches longer than the Barracuda, and the Dodge differed substantially from the Plymouth in its outer sheetmetal, much as the Cougar differed from the shorter-wheelbase Ford Mustang. A/C and a rear window defogger were optional.
Exterior design was done by Carl Cameron, who also did the exterior for the 1966 Dodge Charger. Cameron based the 1970 Challenger grille off an older sketch of his 1966 Charger prototype that was to have a turbine engine. The Charger never got the turbine, but the Challenger got that car's grille. Although the Challenger was well-received by the public (with 76,935 produced for the 1970 model year), it was criticized by the press, and the pony car segment was already declining by the time the Challenger arrived. Sales fell dramatically after 1970, and Challenger production ceased midway through the 1974 model year. 165,437 Challengers were sold over this model's lifespan.
The Challenger name was revived in 1978 for a version of the early Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe. It was known overseas as the Mitsubishi Sapporo/Scorpion and sold through Dodge dealers as a captive import. It was identical except in color and minor trim to the Plymouth Sapporo. Although mechanically identical, the Dodge version emphasized sportiness, with bright colors and tape stripes, while the Plymouth emphasized luxury, with more subdued trim. The cars were slightly restyled in 1981 with revised headlights and other minor cosmetic changes. Both cars were sold until 1984, until being replaced by the Conquest and Daytona.
The car retained the frameless hardtop styling of the old Challenger, but had smaller engines (inline-4s instead of the six and eight-cylinder engines from the old Challenger) and was a long way in performance from its namesake. Nevertheless, it acquired a reputation as a reasonably brisk performer of its type, not least because of its available 2.6 L engine, exceptionally large for a four-cylinder. Four-cylinder engines of this size had not usually been built due to inherent vibration, but Mitsubishi pioneered the use of balance shafts to help dampen this effect, and the Challenger was one of the first vehicles to bring this technology to the American market; it has since been licensed to many other manufacturers. During its six-year run, sales of the Challenger averaged between 12,000 and 14,000 units per year.
Third generation (2008–present)
On December 3, 2007, Chrysler started taking deposits for the third-generation Dodge Challenger which debuted on February 6, 2008 simultaneously at the Chicago Auto Show and Philadelphia International Auto Show. Listing at US$40,095, the new version was a 2-door coupe which shared common design elements with the first generation Challenger, despite being significantly longer and taller. The chassis is a modified (shortened wheelbase) version of the LX platform that underpins the 2006–Current Dodge Charger, 2005–2008 Dodge Magnum, and the 2005–Current Chrysler 300. The LX was developed in America from the previous Chrysler LH platform, which had been designed to allow it to be easily upgraded to rear and all-wheel drive. Many Mercedes components were incorporated, including the Mercedes-Benz W220 S-class control arm front suspension, the Mercedes-Benz W210 E-Class 5-link rear suspension, the W5A580 5-speed automatic, the rear differential, and the ESP system. All (7119) 2008 models were SRT8s and equipped with the 6.1 L (370 cu in) Hemi and a 5-speed AutoStick automatic transmission. The entire 2008 U.S. run of 6,400 cars were pre-sold (many of which for above MSRP), and production commenced on May 8, 2008; Chrysler Canada offered a further 670+ SRTs uniquely badged as the Challenger 500 (paying homage to Charger and Coronet 500s) all of which were shipped to Canadian Dodge dealers. Chrysler of Mexico offered only 100 of these cars for that country with a 6.1 liter V8 and 425 brake horsepower (317 kW) (SAE); the version of which was the SRT8. Chrysler auctioned off two 2008 SRT8 for charity with the first car going for $400,000 to benefit the notMYkid non-profit organization. A "B5" Blue No.43 car fetched a winning bid of $228,143.43 with proceeds going to the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
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