Dodge Challenger - buyer & value guide

By: Cliff Chambers, Unique Cars magazine

Presented by

dodge challenger There's nothing subtle about a Challenger. dodge challenger

These Mopars are a breed apart and offer solid value

It took a long time for Chrysler Corp to develop a design that could take a serious crack at the ‘Pony Car’ segment of the market. When sold as a Dodge the car was called Challenger. With a shorter chassis , the ‘budget’ version was badged as a Plymouth 'Cuda.

On its 2795mm wheelbase the Dodge Challenger was seen as a direct rival for the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird. It was available with a six-cylinder engine but 87 per cent of buyers chose to specify one of several V8s including Chrysler’s potent 426 cubic inch Hemi.

Challenger buyers were offered two levels of trim; the basic Hardtop and a more upmarket SE with vinyl roof covering. There was also a convertible but with legislators threatening the continued existence of open-topped cars in the US market, Chrysler decreed that 1971 would see the end of Challenger and ‘Cuda convertibles.

Base model Challengers with a 6.3-litre (383 cubic inch) V8 and auto transmission hit the market around $200 below the 350-engined Pontiac Firebird Esprit but almost equal in price to the market-leading Mercury Cougar with a 351 and auto tranny.

Where the Challenger excelled was in the contest to build America’s most powerful and ferocious pony car. Into that arena stepped the R/T 440 with Six Pack (triple) carburettors or a single-carb Hemi. Both cars produced around 300kW and would run the standing 400 metres in under 14 seconds.

1971 brought minimal change to the Challenger but storm clouds were gathering. Sales figures plunged from 83,000 at introduction to just 26,000 for 1971.

By 1972 the rot was institutionalised. The new Challenger Rallye model had as standard a 5.2-litre V8 with automatic transmission and 126kW. Those still hopeful of extracting some performance from their Challenger could buy a 5.5-litre 340 with manual transmission but even it was strangled by rudimentary emission controls to just 142kW.

MARKET REVIEW

Decades ago it was hard for Australians to buy a Challenger without jumping on a flight to the USA. Since the late 1990s though, the numbers of cars arriving have surged and prices remain relatively low.

However, the quality of vehicles on offer can fall short of the standard a dedicated enthusiast might require. Some recent examples in the $45-$60,000 price bracket were running non-original big-block engines and in only fair condition. The lower prices ranges included solid cars needing some restoration work. but which would clean up nicely.

Hemi-engined examples are very scarce here and generate high prices when they do appear. US buyers are hard on anything not authentic or documented but, even then, top money for a Hemi 426 convertible is US$250- 300,000.

CHECKLISTS

BODY & CHASSIS

E Body Mopars weren’t paragons of build quality and even cars that have never been crashed may display panel gap inconsistencies. If the bonnet and doors don’t fit properly, though, do have the car checked for correct body alignment and bent rails. A car that has had the ‘rotisserie’ restoration treatment might cost more than one that hasn’t been touched but over the longer term cost less in maintenance. Rust attacks floors and the turret, closely check window apertures and rear pillars for bubbling plus floors, the lower door skins and sills. Bumpers are available at US$500 (plus freight) but replacing an R/T grille could cost up to $700.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

Basic cars will have a 383 big block which came to Australia in a range of models. Plenty of parts are available and rebuilding is easy. Overheating is the enemy so check for ‘milky’ oil, stains around hose connections and the water pump. Revamping the cooling system, including a new radiator, should cost around $1000. Replacements for the ‘Six-Pack’ carburettors, aluminium manifold and even the correct linkages are available but allow $3500 plus freight and fitting. Manual and automatic transmissions used in these cars have a great reputation for durability. Be wary if a manual baulks when shifted quickly or an auto shudders when downshifting.

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Mopar vehicles were for many years characterised by their torsion bar front suspension. The system is light and simple but as the bars age they can delaminate and metal around the mountings rusts. Creaks when u-turning or cracking noises from the front end over bumps are danger signals. For owners who want a car that handles like a modern version there are now complete replacement front ends available which eliminate the torsion bars. They do cost several thousand dollars but are said to improve ride and lateral loadings and reduce weight. Cars with bigger engines generally have front disc brakes already but conversion kits are available for those still running front drums.

INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

The SE was intended to deliver luxury to the Challenger line-up but even it was built to a price. Interior trim unless recently replaced may be sagging or split. Replacement seat covers and foam padding are available but installation is a job for a professional unless you are experienced. New door cards to complete the job cost around $700 per pair plus freight. Peeling plasti-wood trim, cracked dash plastics, door trims and armrests can be replaced but try to view a sample as quality is variable. Basic electrics are available and affordable.

VITAL STATS- DODGE CHALLENGER

NUMBER MADE: 132,780 (approx) all models 1970-72

BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe or convertible

ENGINE: 5211cc, 5565cc, 6275cc, 6974cc or 7206cc V8 with overhead valves and single or triple downdraft carburettors

POWER & TORQUE: 290kW @ 4800rpm, 529Nm @ 3200rpm (440 4bbl)

PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 5.7 seconds, 0-400 metres 13.3 seconds (440 4bbl)

TRANSMISSION: three-speed automatic, three or four-speed manual SUSPENSION: Independent with torsion bars, wishbones & anti-roll bar (f) live axle with semi-elliptic springs & telescopic shock absorbers (r)

BRAKES: drum or disc (f) drum (r)

TYRES: F70x14 bias ply

 

VALUE RANGE - DODGE CHALLENGER

FAIR $25,000

GOOD $42,000

EXCELLENT $65,000

(Note: concours & special cars may demand more.)

Numbers from our 2017-18 Muscle Cars Value Guide.

Muscle Car Value Guide home page

Sell your car for free right here.

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition