PLYMOUTH introduced the A-body Valiant-based Barracuda in 1964 and it went head-to-head in sales with the Ford Mustang. Because of the lack of room in the engine compartment, the car was limited to small-block V-8 engines, while the competition went with big-block V-8s. Other than a few 383 cubic-inch powered cars or specially prepared 440 models available in 1969, interest from performance buyers began to wane. In 1967 Chrysler had slated a new E-body Barracuda for release in 1970. The E-body series shares the same front sub-frame member with the B-body Coronet and Satellite models, allowing ample room for the installation of every engine Chrysler produced.
This also gave Dodge the opportunity to share development costs and produce a similar model on the same platform, giving them a viable pony car to compete with the popular Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. Enter the new Dodge Challenger. Available in both hardtop and convertible, with an engine and performance-options list longer than your arm, this new kid on the block could raise eyebrows and pulses just sitting on the showroom floor. Its low-profile stance, and full-width, deeply recessed grill set back behind the dual headlamps, gave an immediate visual that screamed muscle car. Working back, the raised rear fender line and full-width rear lights split by a large reverse lamp with the DODGE name in chrome block letters, made it easily distinguishable from other models.
Developed simultaneously, the Barracuda and Challenger bear a strong family resemblance, yet are two very different automobiles. The Barracuda wheelbase is 108-inches, equalling the Camaro and Mustang, while the Challenger rides on a larger 110-inch wheelbase, just slightly smaller than the 111.1-inch found on the Mercury Cougar. Another fact: there isn’t a body panel that’s interchangeable between the Challenger or Barracuda, not even the roof.
For Mike Huen of Winnipeg, he remembers his first 1970 Challenger convertible as a great car. “I had it for years and wasn’t planning on selling it, but four years ago, a fellow walked into my shop and asked if it was for sale,” says Huen. “I quoted him a price I thought nobody would ever pay and he agreed to it, so I sold him the car.”
Huen and his wife Barb have owned Mike’s General Store on St. Anne’s Road for the past 36 years and drive their vintage vehicles in the summer, so it isn’t odd to see one parked outside of their antiques and collectibles shop. Huen always looked back at the sale of the Challenger as a good news, bad news affair, and when faced with the opportunity to replace the car this year, he gladly made the purchase.
Purchased locally in August, this 1970 Challenger convertible had only been driven 1,200 miles since it was fully restored 15 years ago. Finished in Hemi orange with a black top and jewel-black vinyl interior upholstery, it stood out from the crowd. An option, the high-impact colour originally added an additional $14.70 to the invoice price.
Additional optional equipment included centre console, with Slap-Stik floor shift for the TorqueFlite automatic transmission, power steering, power front disc brakes, power top, tinted glass, slotted Rallye wheels, deluxe push-button AM radio, Rallye instrument cluster with 8,000 r.p.m. tachometer, colour-keyed Rallye mirror, power bulge hood with hood pins and matte black finish, rear-deck spoiler, Rallye wheels, side stripe and 3.55:1 rear axle ratio.
UNDER the hood, the Challenger could be had with everything from the slant six-cylinder engine to the mighty Street Hemi V-8. In this case, power comes from an optional 340 cubic-inch V-8. Equipped with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, the engine churns out a respectable 275 horsepower at 5,600 r.p.m. Nicely loaded as most convertibles were in the day, the Challenger is a great summer ride. In fact, if you ask anyone who owns one, these smallblock powered cars, ride, handle and stop much better than their big-block powered counterparts.
Huen says, “Other than a leaking valve cover gasket and a loose muffler clamp, the car is as solid as any Challenger convertible, with its inherent share of shakes and rattles.”
With only 3,173 Challenger convertibles produced and an additional 1,070 Challenger R/T convertible models seeing vehicle showrooms, these cars are rare and very sought after by collectors and enthusiasts.
For the Huens, the Challenger completes the family, but as Mike says, “We never really own these pieces of history, we are just caretakers as they change owners or are handed down to future generations.”
Dodge manufactured the Challenger until 1974, but the big-block V-8 and R/T models would disappear from the option list after 1971, due to escalating insurance rates and the rising cost of fuel. Definitely a late-comer to the muscle car wars, the early Challengers made their mark and we can expect them to be revered and appreciated for many years ahead.
Optional highlights include a Slap-Stik floor shift, woodcovered steering wheel, deluxe push-button AM radio and a 340 cubic-inch V-8 engine (below), that puts out 275 horsepower.