Dodge Challenger TA, 1970
The first Challenger was the division's late entrant to the pony car market segment in the United States, launched for the 1970 model year.
It was strongly based on the similar Plymouth Barracuda's new E-body but with two inches (51 mm) of extra wheelbase and somewhat different outer sheetmetal. Exterior design was done by Carl "CAM'" Cameron, whom also did the exterior for the 1966 Dodge Charger. For the 1970 Challenger grille, CAM' based it off of an older sketch of his of a 1966 Charger prototype that was designed 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 80,000 sales in 1970 alone), it was criticized by the press, and the pony car segment was already declining by the time the Challenger arrived. Challenger production ceased after the 1974 model year, only having lasted five years; performance dropped off dramatically after the 1971 models. About 165,500 Challengers were sold over this model's lifespan.
Challengers could either be hardtop coupes or convertibles (through 1971 only). The performance model was the R/T (Road/Track), available in both body styles; both standard and R/T hardtops could be ordered as the more luxurious SE specification, which included leather seats, a vinyl roof and a smaller 'formal' rear window. The convertible Challnger was only available as an R/T in 1970. In 1972, Dodge dropped the R/T badging and now called it the "Rallye". Other options, as well as engines and a manual transmission, included steeper rear axle ratios, a limited-slip differential, and a shaker hood scoop were gone for 1972.
A 1970-only model was the Dodge Challenger T/A (Trans Am) racing homologation car, which used a specially tuned Six-Pack version of the 340 in³ (5.6 L) engine, topped with a giant hood scoop on a fiberglass hood. 'Megaphone' exhaust outlets were fitted in front of the rear wheels. These cars came standard with front and rear sway bars to enhance handling. Unusually, different-sized wheels were fitted front and back, with very fat rubber on the rear. The T/A also came with a rear ducktail spoiler and front ground effect spoilers as standard equipment.
By 1972, all big-block engines were gone, maximum power was down to 240 hp, and production ceased in mid-1974.
Although the body style remained the same throughout the 5 year run, there were two notable changes to the front grille. 1971 models had a more stylized "split" grille, and the final manipulation coming in 1972, with the incorporation of the "sad-mouth" design. With this change to the front end, 1972 through 1974 models had little to no variation. The only way to properly distinguish said models is by the front and rear "bumperettes" which exponentially increased in size during each consecutive year. These changes were made to meet US regulations regarding crash test safety.
The 1970 taillights went all the way across the back of the car, with the backup light in the middle of the rear. In 1971, the backup lights were on the left and right instead of the middle. The taillight array also changed for 1972 onwards, with the Challenger now having four individual lamps similar to the mid-size Mercurys of the time.
As the Chrysler E-body line reaches legendary proportions, so too do the prices to buy them. 1970 and 1971 models tend to generate more attention from potential (and usually deep pocketed) buyers, as the performance and style options had not yet been toned down. However, with the popularity of these vehicles on the increase, coupled with the number of useable and restorable Challengers being on the decrease, many collectors have begun looking towards the later models to create their own customizable dream machines. Indeed, many "clones" of the more visceral 1970 and 1971 Challengers have been created by using 1972 through 1974 donors; The front and rear grilles/bumpers on these vehicles are easily interchangeable. However, the tail panel is not so easy to change, since the 1970 and 1971 tail panels are quite different from the 1972 to 1974 models.