Dodge Challenger: 1970, All Over Again
What’s the next “new” concept for the Chrysler Group’s successful rear-wheel-drive platform? Back to the history books. Dodge cannot resist the temptation to revive a muscle car entry, given the available rear-wheel-drive platform and current powertrains. Though Dodge may have gone this direction without the success of the latest Mustang, consumer’s response to the latest Mustang is certainly cause for inspiration.
Where the Charger played on the heritage name and some cues in an unapologetic modern package and interpretation, the Challenger is instead all about reviving an icon. The Challenger will be the star of the Dodge stage at this year’s Detroit auto show and likely previews a production car. The concept was directly inspired by the 1970 Challenger, and mirrors that shape and look as best it can on the modern platform.
It is said that the assignment for Challenger concept designers was specifically to revive the 1970 icon on the modern-day platform, in this case the rear-drive platform shared with knockouts Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum, and Dodge Charger. Historic cues include the tubular wide-mouth grille, incorporating today’s signature Dodge crosshair grille; the strong shoulders in profile; and a rear fascia with a similar wide-mouth appearance and the front, but taking modern LED lighting to line the oval shape with lighting contrast that function as brake lights.
Among the challenges of recreating an icon is to meet the mind’s eye memory, which is generally much more positive and forgiving than the actual car may have been. The Challenger concept takes today’s suspension, electronic aids, powertain advancements, and chassis advancements and puts them under a classic shape. For those who were awakening to the automotive world during the muscle-car era, the shape can evoke memories of optimism and excitement of just learning to drive and the teenage and young adult dreams of the power, image, and thrill muscle cars brought. While reminding a fifty-plus-year-old how they felt when they were sixteen and the road was open before them, today’s Challenger is in a package that addresses the level of convenience and comfort they are not willing to sacrifice today, using the convenience, powertrain, NVH, ride and handling, and safety advances that thirty-five years can bring.
The interior should offer modern fit and finish levels and materials, and will incorporate modern conveniences despite a dated look. The instrument panel includes a four-gauge binnacle cluster with a true 1970s look, but the fourth gauge is not a gauge at all. In today’s world, it is an LCD screen that will display telemetry information.
The Challenger concept debuts with the 6.1L HEMI engine and introduces a six-speed manual transmission. Challenger concept uses a shortened version of the current LX platform, with a 116-inch wheelbase versus 120 inches, though if it reaches production it could look to the second generation LX. It is reasonable to expect a power increase with the new generation, but even the current powertrains mean that Dodge’s Challenger could leave Ford’s Mustang in the dust. Assuming a similar engine lineup to Charger, Dodge could offer Challenger with the 250HP 3.5L V6, 340HP 5.7L Hemi, and 425HP 6.1L Hemi. Mustang’s base V6 offers 210HP, the V8 offers 300HP, and the upcoming Cobra expected about 450HP. Perhaps it is a good thing for Ford that Challenger is a few years away from production.
If Challenger reaches showrooms, the final version must have styling that also appeals to the current generation of sixteen-year-olds, many who do not already have a strong emotional attachment to the old days. The concept strays little from the original, with no re-interpretation for a more contemporary look. Primary differences between the design of the current concept and the 1970 Challenger are a result of packaging constraints and platform hard points.
If the retro look does not resonate with the younger generation as well as the older, the car will not as successfully serve as an image car for the brand. It needs universal appeal to ensure perpetuation of the Dodge image for performance, bold styling, aggressive attitude, and value. Missing the mark may result in strong sales in the first year or so, until devotees and converts get theirs, followed by a rapid and sharp decline once that demand is met. Pricing and sales targets are key here as well, but if Charger, Magnum, and even 300 are any indication, Dodge and the Chrysler Group understand the price-value equation and Challenger will be where it needs to be. Dodge also needs to ensure they produce at least one fewer for which there is demand; oversupply would result in lower residuals and likely incentives to move the car.