Elana Scherr: Avoid Challenger Memories

Elana Scherr: Dodge Challenger Challenge AcceptedDilek Baykara – Car and Driver

From the November 2022 issue of Car and driver.

I got the T-shirt long before I got the car. I couldn’t even drive a car at the time, so the muscle car graphics meant nothing to me other than a clean replacement for what I was wearing before I spilled something at a slumber party. I don’t know why Kelly Crowe had an oversized T-shirt with a blue 1974 Dodge Challenger Rallye, “So Rare!” written underneath in a late 70s typeface, but she was older and cooler, and willing to part with it. When I offered it back, Kelly told me to keep it. “It suits you,” she said.

I don’t know what insider Kelly possessed, but several years later I finally bought a 1972 Challenger. Perhaps all that time in the shirt had subtly influenced my search, turning my head away from the Road Runners and Chevelles my car friends liked filtering out the mini-pickups that fellow art school kids drove, and pointing me at the Dodge E-body.

At the time, as the shirt said, Challengers were quite rare. Dodge only made the E-body for five years, and its successor in the late 1970s was so different in spirit and shape that most people forget it ever existed. The first-generation Challenger has a beautiful design, a very long hood and a sharply arched rear. It’s a Camaro in more stylish pants, an E-type Jag in a trucker’s cap. If Dodge hadn’t been five years late with the pony car game, the Challenger would have sold in the same huge numbers as Mustangs and Firebirds. Even in its later days, with the frowning grille — and, in the case of my car, significant body damage, uneven black primer, mismatched wheels and a bare metal interior — the Challenger was an eye-catcher and tire burner. I won my first (and only) race money in that car, a check for $200 from Los Angeles County Raceway, which was probably just enough to cover the cost of installing the cheater shot of nitrous oxide we used to win.

Shortly after my triumph on the drag strip, I sold the ’72 and swapped the undercarriage for a 1970—more collectible, more respectable. It had luxuries like door panels. During my restoration of that car, Dodge released the third-generation Challenger. At first I hated it because it ruined my eBay parts searches. “No, I don’t need lowering springs for a 2009. I need leaf springs for a 1970!” Suddenly my so rare car was everywhere. People with new cars were talking about Challenger.

I liked the look of the new one, in a crowded Oreo-esque way, but it seemed stodgy, not fast enough, not rough enough. Sure, the SRT8 ran a 13-second quarter-mile, but so did a slightly tuned 40-year-old R/T. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Hellcat variants that the modern Challenger really impressed me. That annoyed beehive whine, the fat rear tires ready to liquefy like butter in a microwave, the Manic Panic colorways—it was the first new Challenger to offer the same pleasures as the classic, but faster. One of my favorite jobs of the past decade has been testing, road tripping and racing Dodge’s hellish range.

All this comes to my mind now as Dodge is releasing a slew of special edition cars to mark the end of the LX-based Challenger and possibly the end of the gas-powered Challengers. Future challengers, if any, will likely be in the electric muscle camp. As Hank Williams Jr. says, even the rowdy friends settle down. Some Dodge fans are angry. It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend, especially one who’s been a reliable party animal for 15 years. I think it will be fine. Challenger survived the second generation after all, and an EV version couldn’t be worse than that. Still, I sympathize with third-generation owners when their eBay parts searches turn up “2025 Challenger Battery Packs.” In the meantime, I still have the 1970 – and the T-shirt.

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