As is so often the case when it comes to lucky car deals, timing was everything for Tom Wangerin.
Five years ago, Wangerin, a resident of Daggett, Mich. — located in that state’s Upper Peninsula — came across a rare Panther Pink 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A. Not only was the car rare (1 of 124 in the memorable pink), but it was in amazing condition and, best of all, had a great story behind it. The Challenger belonged to an 82-year-old woman who had treasured it since she bought it 25 years earlier.
“She had the pink one and her husband had a green AAR ’Cuda, and they traveled all around the United States showing them,” said Wangerin.
Wangerin admits he never envisioned himself wanting a pink car, but he was smitten with the Challenger and worked up the nerve to ask the woman her plans for the car.
“I met her at a show and I said, ‘How long do you plan on keeping the car?’ And she said, ‘We’re ready to give them up right now.’
“It got to be too much for them and they wanted to settle down and not travel so much, so I talked her into selling it to me. It was a freak thing. You don’t find that every day.”
Wangerin already had nine other cars in his collection and jokes that he really didn’t have room for another, but the opportunity to acquire a car he had long admired was simply too tempting to pass up.
“I had a friend that had bought one brand new and he smashed it. I always said, ‘Boy, if I could ever find one, I’d like to have it.’ He had a yellow one. And wouldn’t you know, I went to a car show and found this one.”
The fact that the car had been nicely restored and lovingly cared for over the years sealed the deal.
“She gave me a book on it. They owned it for 25 years and she had a scrapbook and it told everything, all what they did to it. It had pictures all the way up of the work they did to it,” Wangerin notes. “I think she said the car came out of Kansas City, and her husband did a lot of the work on it. He worked at a body shop and he fixed both of their cars up.”
Tough new kid on the block
The 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A was a kissing cousin to the Plymouth AAR ’Cuda. The Plymouth often gets more attention than its Dodge counterpart, but the Challenger T/A was a fast machine that hit 60 mph in a mere 6 seconds.
There were a few “wild and woolly” muscle machines prowling the streets in 1970, and the hot Challenger T/A sport coupe could hang with the best of them. Chrysler allowed the Dodge Division to schedule production of 2,500 copies of the model. The plan was to build just enough to meet the requirements for racing its new Challenger “pony car” in the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Trans-American Sedan Championship series. In the end, only 2,399 of the one-year-only T/As were produced.
The Trans-Am was a competitive venue for small-block-V-8-powered two-door hardtops and two-door sedans (coupes). Chrysler’s Pete Hutchinson used a de-stroked 340-cid V-8 block as the basis for the competition version that ran a small 305-cid V-8, but cranked out 440 hp. Ray Caldwell — who worked for a company called Autodynamics — built the Challenger T/A that driver Sam Posey piloted to fourth place in SCCA standings.
The package was based on the new Dodge Challenger, which arrived in fall 1969, and featured the same E-body short-deck, long-hood design as the newly redesigned Barracuda, although the Challenger’s wheelbase was 2 inches longer. A few months later, in March of ’70, the Challenger T/As arrived to challenge established stars such as the Camaro, Firebird Mustang and Cougar.
Street-ready T/As had the same snorkel-type hood scoop, side-exit exhausts and lock-pin-secured flat-black hood as the all-out racing cars. Of course, if you raised the hood, you would spot differences in the engine compartment. The street version carried some special under-hood goodies including a 340-cid “Six-Pack” V-8 with three two-barrel carburetors. Buyers had a choice of the TorqueFlite automatic transmission or a four-speed manual gearbox.
A “ducktail” rear deck lid spoiler was part of the Challenger T/A package, along with heavy-duty underpinnings. The package also included a Sure-Grip differential, performance axle ratios, semi-metallic front disc brakes, semi-metallic rear drum brakes, a specific black body-side tape stripe and mixed-size tires (E60-15 tires were used up front with G60-15s mounted in the rear). To provide clearance for the pipes of the dual exhaust system with the fatter rear tires, the T/As were “jacked up” in the rear through the use of increased rear spring camber.
The 1970 Challenger T/As were good for 0-to-60 mph in a flat 6 seconds. They could hit 100 mph in 14 seconds and do the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds.
Pretty in Pink
Wangerin couldn’t find much to improve when he first brought his Challenger T/A home five years ago, but he did have one change in mind. The car needed a black vinyl top.
“It never had a vinyl top on and I decided to put the black top on it, because I bought [a Challenger] brand new and it had a black top, so I wanted that,” he chuckles. “Other than that, I haven’t done much to it. It comes one way from the factory, with a 340 Six Pack — that’s the only way you could buy it. It’s got special headers on it, and it was one of the only cars back then that had two different-size tires on it... and the side exhaust comes out each side, and it’s got air shocks on the back.”
Buyers did have the choice of a four-speed manual or automatic with a console. Wangerin’s car has the automatic, which was just slightly more common — about 1,300 to 1,100 — than the four-speeds.
“I always liked the 340, and I like anything with a Six Pack in it, the three deuces,” Wangerin says. “I had a ’69 GTX 440 Six-Pack and I sold that because I didn’t have any more room in my garage, and two years later, I ran into that woman and she had this one and I had to buy it. I wasn’t going to buy any more, but … I don’t know what to do. I don’t even have a will! [laughs].”
He estimates he’s only put about 200 miles on the pink Challenger’s odometer since he’s owned it, in part because he has so many other cars, but Wangerin says the T/A never disappoints when he fires it up.
“Oh, it’s fast … It’s a fun car to drive,” he says. “The steering is very responsive. Because of that Trans American racing, they put a different steering box on it so it’s quicker. The steering is a lot quicker than a regular Challenger.
“They completely went through the engine right before I bought it, so it runs great.”
Of course, no matter what the car’s history is or how great it performs, Wangerin knows discussions about his ’70 are always going to include one topic for certain: the color. He says Panther Pink wouldn’t be his first choice, but it’s certainly hard to beat for getting attention.
“They only did it for two years, the Pink and Plum Crazy [purple],” he says. “I’d say the color stands out more than anything. Yeah, [the color] bothered me. I didn’t think I’d ever drive a pink car in my life. I loved the Plum Crazy. But it’s not bad, it’s more like a girl’s car, but you get a lot compliments on the color. And with the white interior, too, it seems like more of a girl’s car to me.
“But if somebody is not even into cars and you are going down the street, they just automatically turn and stare, like, ‘What’s that color? I didn’t even know they made cars like that!’”
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