Challenger remains firm favourite with muscle car fans
Hannah Elliott on why owners of a 1970s Dodge Challenger are slow to part with their prized possession
The Fate of the Furious has just set a global box office record for the biggest opening of all time.
Credit Vin Diesel and Charlize Theron, of course.
But the cars in the film deserve glory, too.
Especially that 840-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon.
It’s the latest, fire-breathing installment in Dodge’s 47-year-old Challenger line, an impressive performer with a zero-to-60 mph sprint time of 2.3 seconds.
But the Challengers from the 1970s have more style. In fact, the 1970- 74 Dodge Challengers are more popular, as measured by searches and queries on Hagerty.com, than any other classic muscle cars to date.
This story is about the Challengers that Dodge made from 1970 to 1974— they’re the coolest and most valuable. But there was a “Challenger” before that, called the Dodge Silver Challenger, made in 1958.
That one lasted for a little more than a year, and it was largely a “spring special” meant to boost sales on a different line, said Brandt Rosenbusch, the manager of historical services for FCA North America.
Then, as Ford and General Motors experienced wild success with the Mustang and Camaro, respectively, Dodge developed the Challenger that we know today. It came in six engine variants — from an inlinesix to a huge Hemi — and sold 83,000 units in the first year, at a starting price of $ 2,953 for the hardtop to $3,500 for the R/T convertible. (This was comparable to the prices of other muscle cars during the era.)
People loved them because they had the same American-strong engines of the Dodge Charger and the Dodge Coronet but were 500 pounds lighter. That equalled speed, which meant drag- racing dominance.
“It was very much a performance vehicle,” Rosenbusch said.
The two-door coupe came in hardtop and convertible forms; a Special Edition sports hardtop and performance-tuned “R/T” package were also available, among other variants.
Standard for the early R/ Ts was the 383 Magnum V8 engine, at 335 hp, with tuning options that reached 425 hp. The most coveted Challenger version was the 1970 Hemi R/T convertible. Only nine of those were built.
Since then, Challengers have appeared in pop culture ( Gone in 60 Seconds; Curren$y music videos) and on racing podiums alike. Baby boomers are the biggest fans (52% of queries on Hagerty come from this group), though the cars continue to command interest across all generations. This is especially notable as Generation Xers and millennials continue their generalised obsession with “modern classics” — cars from the 1980s and 1990s. It proves that Challengers have the rise-above x-factor only the truest classics possess.
They also make very good investments, on a par with other muscle cars of the era — including Mustangs and Camaros.
In the past five years, the median value of all Challengers from the 1970-74 era has risen 28%, according to Hagerty data.
Of course, there are crazy outliers. The average value of the rare 1970 Challenger R/ T Hemi Convertible is $ 931,000, and the average value of a 1970 Challenger T/A Hardtop is $93,800. But standard examples will gain a few percentage points of value each year, Klinger said, with a couple of the more powerful variants seeing bigger jumps.
One note: The Challengers from 1970-71 are considerably more desirable than the others, thanks to a redesign in 1972 and thennew emission restrictions that affected engine performance.
The world- record price paid for any 1970- 74 Dodge Challenger was for a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Convertible that fetched $1,815,000 at a Mecum auction in in 2016. (The model was one of nine in the world.)
Prices vary because the cars themselves vary. The presence of a “shaker” hood (the air intake mounted directly over the car’s engine) can increase the price of a car 20%, a four-speed transmission will raise it 15%. The exterior colour of the paint can make a significant difference in value and sal- ability, too.
“The good thing about those from an enthusiast standpoint is that you can buy a car and have some fun, and you won’t lose anything,” Klinger said. “What you gain in value offsets what it costs to own it.”
In general, look for versions that have low miles, good maintenance and repair documentation, and matching VIN numbers. Most crucially, go against your natural instinct. In this case, as opposed to, say, with humans, the condition of the body is more important than what’s inside.
Don’t get too caught up in the Fast and Furious hype, though.
Yes, the new film will spur excitement about the original Challengers — much as Gone in 60 Seconds did for the Eleanor Mustang. That happens any time a movie like this comes out, but it passes.
But ask anyone who has been around collectable and high- value cars for long, and they’ll tell you to forget buying an empty investment. Buy something that makes you happy.
“The Challengers are inexpensive fun,” explained Klinger. “You should always just buy what you want to drive.”
At Cogan’s Toyota, Carrigaline, are (from left) Steven O’Sullivan, sales executive; Brendan Maloney, sales executive; Ken O’Neill, sales director; Rob Cogan, managing director, and Shane Spillane, sales executive.
The stylish 1970 Dodge Challenger XV001 vintage muscle car.