Dodge reinvents its 1970 stunner
Dodge is out to challenge Ford’s Mustang with its own pony car, just as it did 36 years ago.
Now, as then, Dodge’s weapon of choice is a two-door notchback coupe wearing the Challenger nametag. It’s Hemi V8-powered, rear-wheel drive and promises blistering performance – a top speed a shade under 280km/h, 0-100km/h acceleration in less than five seconds, and a 13-second elapsed time for the quarter-mile sprint.
The Challenger was unveiled as a concept car at the Detroit Motor Show on January 8, and at the moment remains just that – a concept. But in the modern use of the phrase, a concept car is more usually a thinly-veiled prototype that can fairly rapidly be turned into a production model. Holden did that with the Monaro which was shown at the 1999 Sydney Motor show as a Commodore Coupe concept and turned up at the same venue two years later as the production Monaro. Chrysler did much the same with its Crossfire Coupe which lost little more than the split windscreen and some other extreme styling touches in the transformation from show car to production model.
Dodge’s Challenger is seen as a test-the-water exercise to gauge public reaction: if DaimlerChrysler considers there’s sufficient demand, the Challenger is likely to resurface as a 2008 model in the Dodge line-up. And though the Detroit show car ran an automatic gearbox, American pundits are suggesting Dodge would also offer a manual to meet the demands of muscle car buffs.
The Detroit concept bears the name, layout and looks of the 1970 Challenger which was Chrysler Corporation’s rather belated entry into the pony car high-performance category. Ford started the genre with the Mustang in 1964, and was followed by Chevrolet with the Camaro and Pontiac with the Firebird. The now-defunct American Motors later weighed in with its elegant Javelin.
Dodge’s Challenger, which debuted in 1970 in R/T (Road and Track) form, was a formidable rival, with a 425bhp 7.0-litre Hemi V8 that channelled more than 500Nm of torque through its leaf-sprung, solid rear axle. A limited slip diff did its best to tame that muscle and make the car manageable. There was a second version, a T/A roadgoing variation of the Trans-Am racer. In 1970 Trans-Am race cars were production-based racers far removed from modern Trans-Am cars which use generic spaceframe chassis and bodywork that is an aerodynamically-enhanced suggestion of the lines of the street car the racer is based on. The 1970 Challenger was a nicely-proportioned notchback two-door, with tucked under sides and long front and rear overhangs. It has become a sought-after collector’s car, and was immortalised by its starring role in the movie Vanishing Point. Those nicely-honed lines were the starting points for Dodge’s designers when they penned the 2006 Challenger concept.
Dodge, like Chevy which showed a Camaro concept at Detroit this month, clearly believes the runaway success of the current retro-look Ford Mustang, is the right way to go with a reborn pony car. "Challenger draws upon the initial 1970 model as the icon of the series,” says Dodge’s advanced vehicle design boss Tom Tremont. “The 1970 (Challenger) is the most sought-after by collectors, but instead of merely recreating that car, the designers (tried) to build a Challenger most people see in their mind’s eye – a vehicle without the imperfections like the old car’s tucked-under wheels…and imperfect fits.”
They used as a basis the rear-drive LX platform used in the four-door, high-shouldered Chrysler 300C sedan and Charger high-performance four-door coupe. To achieve the wide-bodied look of the 1970 car, they extended the LX chassis’ width. To make sure they got the essence of the original, they brought a 1970 Challenger into the styling studio. Exterior design chief Michael Catsiglione says that “for me, (the 1970) car symbolises the most passionate era of automotive design.” The new Challenger is a genuine four-passenger car, he says. “You can sit up in the back seat.”
It has a longer cabin than the original’s, and the front and rear screens are more sharply raked. The windows are frameless and flush with the body, and the car is a genuine pillarless hardtop: there is no B-pillar at the rear of each door. The bodysides are more vertical, with less tumblehome at sill level. The wheels are flusher with the body, and are tightly encased by the wheelarches.
If DaimlerChrysler gives the reborn Challenger the green light, expect to see it go on sale in 2007 as a 2008 model year car.