The ’72-’74 Dodge Challengers: The Horse Race Comes to an End

With the pending revival of the Dodge Challenger for model year 2009 by Chrysler LLC, enthusiasts are waxing nostalgic over the original Challenger, which bowed as a 1970 model, the last of the pony cars to come to market. Styling of the new Challenger is very close to the original, and with Hemi power promised from the start, it’s deja vu all over again.

challenger1.jpg
With a smaller grille that would continue through the 1974 models, the 1972 Dodge Challenger was available only in two-door hardtop form. This base model featured Rallye equipment, the most visible component being the raised, scooped hood.

However, the 1970-’71 Challengers are the ones being emulated. Challengers were originally manufactured for five model years, and those of 1972-’74 are far less legendary than the R/T and T/A ilk of the first two seasons.

Pony cars’ popularity hit the skids after 1970 due to insurance penalties, emission/safety regulations and changes in tastes of the younger buyers. By the time the first so-called “energy crisis” of 1973-’74 got done with us, only two would be left: Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.

Challenger and cousin Plymouth Barracuda would soldier on into the 1974 model year. So would the AMC Javelin. Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar names stayed, but the vehicles they were attached to changed after the 1973 run.

For Challenger and Barracuda, convertibles were gone for 1972, as were big-block engines, including the second-generation Hemi. Remaining were two-door hardtops with basic equipment and a choice of six-cylinder and small-block V-8 power.

Choice of 1972 Challenger offerings was limited to the base model and Rallye. Rallye equipment was available on the base model, which was somewhat confusing. Standard on the base was the 110 net horsepower slant-six, while options included the 150-horsepower 318-cid V-8 and 240-horsepower 340. All were low compression. California engines and ratings were different. Standard was a floor-mounted, three-speed manual transmission, with three-speed TorqueFlite optional with column or floor controls. Only if you had the 340 could you order the four-speed manual.

challenger2.jpg
Making its final appearance in the Dodge lineup (at least at the time) was the 1974 Challenger hardtop. The optional Rallye package provided the trick hood and side simulated vent, among other things. Power came from a 318- or 340-cid V-8.

For the record, big-blocks also disappeared from the Mustang and Cougar for 1972, and Camaro’s was gone after the model year. Only Firebird kept the faith. Javelin’s biggest engine, the 401 V-8, was around to the end.

Minor changes marked the 1973 Challengers. Standard was the 318, and the Rallye model was gone, but Rallye equipment package continued on the lone base model. After sales declines in 1971 and 1972, Challenger sales were up about 6,000 to 32,596 for 1973.

An optimistic announcement proclaimed that things were picking up going into the 1974 model year, but that was written before the energy crisis. From the performance standpoint, things were also looking better, as the 245-horsepower 360 V-8 replaced the 340 on the option list, and four-speed gearboxes could still be attached to it.

However, it all came apart, sales dived and production ended before spring of 1974 did.

Not leaving well enough alone, the Challenger name resurfaced on a series of Mitsubishi-built sport coupes from 1978 to 1983, but if you think the 1972-’74 Challengers have been forgotten, try finding any mention these days of those vehicles.

Collectors today are sending Challenger muscle cars (especially if Hemi powered) and convertibles into the dollar stratosphere. Later hardtops with small-block power are priced but a fraction of them. Even in number one condition, the small-block coupes are priced well south of what the new 2009 models will sell for.

COMMENT