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Dodge’s first Challenger was their late entrant to the pony car market segment in the United States, finally launched for the 1970 model year. Intended as a competitor to the Mercury Cougar, it was based on the similar Plymouth Barracuda’s new E-body platform. The 110 inch wheelbase was two inches longer and it had substantially different outer sheetmetal than its Plymouth cousin, much in the same way that the Cougar was related to the Ford Mustang. Exterior design was done by Carl Cameron, who also did the exterior for the 1966 Dodge Charger.
For the 1970 Challenger grille, Cameron based it 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. 1970 would be the banner year for the model, with sales falling each year thereafter. Only about 165,500 Challengers were sold over the course of its five year lifespan.
Initially, four models were offered: Challenger Six, Challenger V-8, Challenger T/A, and the top-of-the-line Challenger R/T. For the first two years, Challengers could either be hardtops, coupes, or convertibles. The standard engine on the base model was the 225ci Super-Six, while the base engine on the V-8 was the 230 horsepower 318ci V-8 with a 2-barrel carburetor. Optional engines were the 340ci and 383ci V-8s, all with a standard 3-speed manual transmission, except for the 290 horsepower 383ci engine, which was available only with the Chrysler TF727 automatic transmission. A 4-speed manual was optional on all engines except the Super Six and the 383ci V-8.
Above all the rest, however, was the R/T (Road/Track), with a 383ci Magnum V-8, rated at 335 horsepower. Optional R/T engines were the 375 and 390 horsepower variants of the 440ci, the latter with ‘Six-Pack’ tri-power carburetion and the 425 horsepower 426ci Hemi. Transmission offerings ran the gamut from a 3 or 4-speed manual to the tough and reliable Torque-Flite 727 automatic transmission. The Challenger R/T also came with a Rallye instrument cluster which included a 150 mph speedometer, an 8,000 rpm tachometer, and an oil pressure gauge. The convertible Challenger was available with any engine, as well as in the R/T and SE trim levels.
The ultra-rare 1971 Dodge Challenger Hemi featured here at Russo & Steele’s 10th Anniversary auction is one of just 59 such Hemi Challengers for the model year that left the factory with a 4-speed manual transmission. Documented with two copies of its original build sheet and exhibiting its original fender tag and door decal with a matching chassis number, it benefited recently from a rotisserie restoration of its completely original body to Concours-quality specifications; no expense or time was spared in re-creating this masterpiece of Mopar muscle. The car retains its original 4-speed transmission and its engine is date-code correct to the time the car was initially built. Nicely optioned from new with a spoiler, bucket seats, console and the Hurst pistol-grip shifter, an original Shaker hood was added for the ultimate in looks and performance the era had to offer.
While anyone can buy a new Dodge Challenger, very few can do so and park such an immaculate example as this car next to it in their garage.