The 1970 Dodge Challenger is a classic muscle car. cleverness conceived its mid-sized muscle car as a “challenge” to the Mustang and Camaro pony cars. They made it. With its chiseled physique, this tough car demands attention. And, available with the legendary Hemi V8s, this intimidating Challenger certainly packs a punch.
Updated February 2022: The Dodge Challenger remains a highly sought after classic muscle car today. We’ve updated this article with information on the current value in the used car market so buyers can get an idea of how much it will cost to buy their dream car.
Hollywood noticed the Dodge Challenger and made it the star of the 1971 vanishing point. The Challenger also saw some racing success in the Trans-America Championship. Despite the positive publicity, the first Dodge Challenger arrived late to the pony car party and didn’t sell nearly as well as Dodge had hoped. In addition, impending emissions regulations would limit the life of the first-generation Challenger to just four years. The entire production of early Challengers was only 165,437 cars.
Read on to discover how the 1970 Dodge Challenger came to be, making it one of the greatest muscle cars of all time, and the unfortunate set of circumstances that sent the price of these classics skyrocketing.
The 1970 Dodge Challenger, unpopular when it was introduced, is now gaining the recognition it deserves as a rare collector’s car.
The Pony Car Party
When Ford launched the Mustang, Americans couldn’t get enough of the powerful, agile and affordable car. Ford had to build more than 500,000 Mustangs by 1965 and the pony car segment took off. General Motors threw all its resources into a Mustang competitor. GM was the second to market with this quickly developed and launched Camaro. Chevrolet introduced its new car in a media blitz in September 1966 and achieved success making more than 220,000 1967 Camaros to meet demand.
It’s clear that Dodge Mopar’s parent company was desperate for its share of this new market. But they had a big problem: The Dodge V8, with its semicircular combustion chambers, was the engine of choice for drag racers and hot rod builders. But it was way too heavy to fit in a pony car.
Mopar’s Plymouth division had launched the revolutionary Barracuda based on the compact Mopar A-Body platform. The agile and stylish Plymouth did well in ponies sales. However, Plymouth’s engineers were frustrated that they couldn’t get the car to run well with a Mopar big-block V8.
Dodge wanted to make a pony car, but was told not to compete directly with the little Barracuda. Mopar’s first attempt at answering the cheap muscle frenzy was the Dodge Charger, B-Body. Dodge designer Carl “Cam” Cameron wrote the exterior of the groundbreaking mid-sized car. The first-generation Charger was a massive two-door car, weighted with luxury options but with straight-lined power. It also came in with a higher price tag than its alleged pony car competitors. The Charger completely missed the pony car mark. Sales slumped, with only 53,000 units produced before the major redesign of the 1968 model year.
In the late 1960s, Dodge and Plymouth began working together on a new, medium-sized chassis. Their goal was the smallest possible car that could handle a big-block Hemi V8. Their project would be the famous third generation 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and a brand new 1970 Dodge. They combined components from the second-generation Barracuda’s A-Body design and the Charger’s B-Body design. The engineers agreed to use the 1970 B-Body firewall and dashboard, which adjusted the seam height of the windshield and door. Then they shortened the wheelbase: Dodge chose 110 inches and Plymouth shaved their wheelbase down to 108. With the key design points determined, Cameron created an aggressive, iconic exterior for the 1970 Challenger.
Muscle Car Marvel
At launch, Dodge offered an unprecedented number of ways to customize the 1970 Challenger. The Challenger was available as a base model or a high-performance Road/Track model. Body styles include the hardtop coupe, the two-door convertible, or the Special Edition (SE) coupe.
The base model Challengers came with a Slant-6 engine. The base engine for R/T or SE models was the 318 V8 with a 2-barrel carburetor. Optional engines included the 340 V8, the 383 V8, the popular 440 Magnum V8, and the legendary 426 Hemi engine. The 440 Hemi was a huge engine with wedge-shaped combustion chambers, but with relatively low compression and only 335 horsepower. The 426 Hemi started out as a homologation engine for Dodge’s NASCAR teams and featured high compression and semicircular combustion chambers. The 426 delivered 425 horsepower.
The standard transmission was the Dodge 3-speed manual transmission, while the TorqueFlite automatic transmission was optional. The larger V8s were available mated to a 4-speed manual transmission.
The Road/Track or R/T option came with a Rallye instrument cluster, including an oil pressure gauge, an 8,000 rpm tachometer and a speedometer that ramped up to 250 mph. R/T Challengers were available with carburetor setups like the Six-Pack and air intakes like the shaker hood, an air filter that protruded through a cutout in the hood.
The Challenger SE was a more luxurious car designed to compete with Mercury’s “Luxury Mustang”, the Cougar. The Challenger SE had a vinyl-covered roof, leather and vinyl bucket seats, and a smaller rear window. It was decorated with SE medallions and an overhead console with a door ajar, seat belt and low fuel warning lights.
To enter the Trans-America Championship, Dodge had to sell their race-ready powertrain in a TransAm homologation car. The street version of the race car was called a Challenger T/A with the 340 V8 fed through an aluminum manifold and three two-barrel carburetors, all under a huge snorkel-style air intake. Manual T/A Challengers had a pistol grip Hurst shifter. The T/A also had different sizes of front and rear tires, which was unusual at the time. Front disc brakes and limited slip differentials were optional on all performance Challengers, but were standard on the T/A.
The Challenger’s Popularity
The first generation Challengers were only produced until 1974. But since then they are gaining popularity. Vintage Challengers never went out of style and continue to appear in movies like Tarantino’s Dead Evidence, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The bucket listand 2 guns.
Several unique Challengers have achieved record prices at auctions. In the early 2000s, muscle cars were considered good project vehicles, but a poor choice for collectors. Then a 4-speed Plymouth Hemi’ Cuda convertible – one of only two produced and the only one with its original engine – went up for auction. It was the first muscle car with a price tag of more than a million dollars. In 2014, that car was sold again for $3.5 million. After the headline-grabbing Cuda was sold, its rare Challenger cousins began to appreciate in value as well. The National Historic Vehicle Register even has a rare Challenger on its registry.
Finally, in 2008, Dodge launched a new retro-style Challenger. The marketing and popularity of the new car pushed the prices of the few remaining first generation Challengers even higher.
Classic Dodge Challenger Values Today
Since this high-profile sale of E-Body’s for collectors, many people want a striking Challenger. High-equipment challengers from 1970 in pristine condition continue to show up at exotic car dealerships and carry six-figure price tags. Today, no one will deny that the 1970 Dodge Challenger is a classic. Unfortunately, since so few were made, the prices of most cars are rising to meet this new demand.
Classic.com keeps track of the prices for models that have gone up for auction. Over the past five years, the most expensive 1970 Dodge Challenger sold at auction cost $1.4 million, while the lowest sold was $15,950. The 1970 average Challenger cost is $86,805.
The 1970 Dodge Challenger is the perfect mid-sized car to showcase the Dodge Hemi engine. It’s good to see the Challenger getting more recognition every year, but a shame that the remaining first-generation cars are so expensive.