1971 Dodge Challenger Buyer Guide

By: Steve Nally, Unique Cars magazine, Photography by: Coventry Studios

Presented by

L8I2422 Square-edged snout does nothing to hide its size. L8I2422
L8I2465 Classic seventies cruiser profile. L8I2465
L8I2497 The lines work well from pretty much any angle. L8I2497
badge2 In case you missed the fact it's got a big engine... badge2
badge3 Lots of feel-good factor in the trim. badge3
ENG1 Engine bay on this car is a stunner. ENG1
zINT Plenty of room to spread out. zINT

The Barracuda’s big brother had a short but spectacular life, and a performance options list as long as your arm

1971 Dodge Challenger Buyer Guide
The Challenger cuts a sharp profile.

The Dodge Challenger was Chrysler’s third entry into the pony car wars after the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Charger but whereas the Barracuda, in particular, was seen as a direct rival to the Ford Mustang and General Motors Camaro, the larger, more luxurious Challenger was aimed more at the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird buyer.

Sold from 1970-74, these big coupes, SE (Special Edition) hardtops, and convertibles initially had a huge range of trim, engine and performance pack options, many of which were lifted straight from the Barracuda inventory. Styling was by Carl Cameron, who designed the 1966 Dodge Charger and features the classic long bonnet, Coke-bottle-hip lines of the era. Under that expansive bonnet Chrysler first offered a choice of eight engines from a 198ci slant six to the fire-breathing 426ci Hemi and 440ci V8s and three transmissions: three- and four-speed manuals and the three-speed TorqueFlite auto.

The performance R/T (Road/Track) pack upped the base car’s ante with a four-barrel 383ci, Rallye suspension, and heavy-duty drum brakes. Extra greenbacks bought you the 260kW 440ci Magnum V8 and if that wasn’t enough grunt, there was the 280kW 440 or the 290kW ‘Six-Pack’ with three two-barrel Holley carbs.

More? The Street Hemi Challenger R/T packed a 317kW 426ci V8 and that got you a 14-second 0-400m car. In 1970, Dodge also produced 2500 T/A versions to homologate components for Trans-Am racing. The race cars were powered by a de-stroked 340ci (to 305ci) V8 that pumped out 328kW. The street version got the 216kW 340 engine with Six-Pack carbies, side-exhausts, bonnet scoop and bold graphics, heavy duty suspension, Sure-Grip diff and front discs, and could hit 100km/h in six seconds.

Almost all 1971 Challengers (93 per cent) were V8s and the R/T model could be further up-specced with the luxury SE pack. But it was the last year for the R/T (replaced by the Rallye model) and the Street Hemi V8, which was killed off due to emissions and insurance concerns. Only 71 R/T Hemis were ordered that year, which is why they are so collectable.

Almost 77,000 Challengers were sold in 1970, but sales declined rapidly over the next four years and only 11,354 (all V8) left dealers in 1974, the final year of production. As sales foundered options were cut and from 1972 engine choice narrowed to the 225ci six, 318ci and 340ci V8s.

The six was dropped from 1973 the 340 V8 was replaced by a 183kW 360ci and in ‘74.

Our beautiful feature car is owned by Ian Craven, president of the ’60s American Muscle Car Club in Melbourne. Convertible Challengers are thin on the ground and Ian calls it his "mobile superannuation policy". He bought it in 1993 and it sat in his garage for two years until he decided to detail the car and rebuild its very tired engine in stages as his budget allowed. But he got a little "carried away" and the car was taken back to bare metal, repainted in its original Butterscotch and R/T-style stripes added. Some 15 years later his dream Challenger

car was finally finished.

It’s not totally original under the bonnet; the 383 big-block has an aftermarket Weiand manifold, mild cam, and Hooker headers which give it around 223kW and much better fuel economy. It runs the

trusty TorqueFlite auto and the rims are optional 15-inchers with wider rubber.

He also tidied up the interior with a replica upholstery kit from the US that includes carpets and seat covers. "It’s not a show car but I went the whole hog on it and it’s as good underneath as it is on top. I’ll be leaving it to my son," Craven says.

 

MARKET GUIDE

COMING LATE to the ‘pony par’ party didn’t do the Challenger or its Plymouth Barracuda sibling any harm in the long-term value quest. Convertible Challengers didn’t sell very well or for very long when new, but Mopar fans seem very keen to own open-top versions. Challengers with the 6.3-litre 383ci V8 aren’t common, with just 126 autos and 41 manuals reportedly built in ‘71. Recent sales suggest an auto can be bought, freighted and landed in Australia for around $100,000. Where the big spenders become involved is in bickering over scarce variations such as the 1970 Challenger 440 Six-Pack convertible, of which just 99 were sold. Importing one of those in top condition will likely cost more than $300,000. But that’s about a tenth the price of a 1971 Challenger R/T Hemi convertible. Just nine in total (four manuals and five autos) were built.

 

BODY & CHASSIS

‘Unibody’ construction employed by Chrysler since the 1950s made these cars strong enough to accommodate heavy engines without adding undue weight to the structure. That’s fine while the metal is sound but rust can create problems , especially in convertibles. If the doors are hard to close and the body sags noticeably over the front tyres then structural steel could be rotting away. First places to check are under-floor torque boxes, inner mudguards, firewall, sills and rear floors. Convertibles have extra strengthening which absolutely needs to be rust free.

 

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

The 383 V8 is ultra-reliable and really needs to have been seriously neglected or abused to stop it putting 300,000 kilometres between rebuilds. An overhaul when it does come can cost very little, or give the Challenger owner an excuse to splash out on some mechanical upgrades. Kits of basic engine parts sourced from a US supplier would cost $850 but freight on the weighty parcels adds $350. Manifolds for dual-quad and triple two-barrel carbs can be found for under $1000, the same amount that a new dual-plate clutch adds to the bill. The stock 8 3/4 inch differential is tough but can whine and clunk with age.

 

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Chrysler’s signature torsion bar front suspension limits options for those trying to battle the nose-heavy handling that characterises big-block cars. Weakened torsion bars let the nose sag and make nasty cracking noises when subjected to sharp bumps. Low profile tyres make the situation worse by transmitting heavier shock loads to the suspension. If you aren’t concerned with authenticity, coil-over suspension units are available from several sources at $1000 a side plus fitting. Stock drum front brakes struggled even when new and would give a scarily soft pedal after just a bit of downhill running.

 

INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

E-Body Chrysler cars were criticised from new for poor assembly practices. This applied especially to trim that worked loose, dash rattles and fittings that broke easily. Complete seat frames are now available at $550-700 each and seat trim ranges from $700 to $2000 depending on the quality and material you prefer. Internal handles and winders need to be checked, as does all the dash-mounted switchgear, noting anything loose or not working. Headlights are hard to check during a daytime test drive but they are rarely any good. If you like to see where you’re headed at night, budget around $500 for a set of H4 lights.

 

VITAL STATS

ENGINE

6276cc V8, OHV, single carburettor

POWER & TORQUE

249kW @ 5200rpm

574Nm @ 3200rpm

PERFORMANCE

0-100km/h 7.3sec

0-400m 15.2sec (383 4-speed)

TRANSMISSION

3-speed automatic

SUSPENSION

Independent, coil springs, torsion bars, control arms, telescopic shocks, anti-roll bar (f); live axle, semi-elliptic springs, telescopic shocks (r).

BRAKES

Power-assisted disc or drums (f) drums (r) .

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