Challengers Cornered – Then and Now

 
Photo Credit: Hotchkis Sport Suspension
 


Dodge Challengers live up to their namesake when given a chance to prove it on the road course after some suspensions changes.


Back in the heyday of the musclecar, everyone thought straight. The usual purpose for owning cars like these were ‘stoplight’ victories, stomping on the loud pedal and feeling the tires spin as you headed down the boulevard against a real or imagined opponent. Illegal, yes, but typical for the era. On the weekends, things were more serious; drag slicks might have been bolted on the rear axles in place of the Goodyear Polyglas tires and the clock-cleanings took place at the local drag strip. To go fast in that era, the cardinal rule was that ‘there is no replacement for displacement.’ That meant 400-plus cubes under the hood, multiple carburetors, and bulletproof drivelines, with big compromises in going around corners (and in gas mileage).

Dodge and Plymouth both catered to this ‘in-crowd’ with their E-body Challengers and ‘cudas, respectively, but they also decided to offer vehicles that would more be more at home on the curves of Riverside and Watkins Glen. The Trans-Am racing series had became a big deal with Chevrolet (who was officially ‘out of racing’), Ford, and AMC all participating, where pilots like Mark Donahue and Parnelli Jones were battling it out in late-model ‘pony cars’ like the Camaro and Mustang on a weekly basis. So when the new E-bodies arrived in 1970, both Chrysler divisions entered that fray as well. Plymouth created a special ‘cuda AAR model; the initials stood for All-American Racers, which was headed up by the legendary Dan Gurney. The Dodge model was called Challenger T/A (for Trans Am), and their racing effort was spearheaded by noted driver Sam Posey. The engines were special 340” LA-series small-blocks, destroked to 305” (the legal 5-liter limit in the series) and assembled by noted engine guru Keith Black. This factory program only lasted a year, and ended quietly with the many other corporate changes that occurred for 1971, so unfortunately the Trans Am program never fully developed into a competitive effort.


 
Photo Credit: Hotchkis Sport Suspension
 

The 1970 T/A Challenger was a sporty-looking package, but it handled more like its big –block brethren in many regards. Thanks to 21st century tires, Hotchkis’ changes, and a skilled driver like SCCA champ Mary Pozzi, this one that serves as Hotchkis’ test vehicle screams on the racetrack but remains street legal.


In fact, it might not even be remembered, but to homologate (or legalize) the body package for the race series, the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) required a certain number of production cars to be built, so street editions of both models were made available for sale at dealerships nationally. They did not get custom 305” engines; instead, under the hood was a fortified 340” engine topped with three Holley two-barrel carbs, better valvegear, and special heads. The bodies featured spoilers, fiberglass hoods, special graphics, and trim; the exhaust exited in front of the rear tires through chrome tips as a special final touch.

For those handful of cars that actually ended up on the racetrack, the parts bin from the factory offered some special pieces while the racers themselves adapted already-known technology to make them handle. The street cars received a special steering box and pitman arm, plus some changes to the standard springs and torsion bars. The package was also one of the first American production cars sold with different-sized tires front and rear, with E60x15s up front and G60x15s under the back, creating a distinct rake. Frankly, despite all of this, they left a bit to be desired due to body roll and understeer. They sure looked good, though, and while most today are restored to museum quality original shape, the modern aftermarket is creating parts to make them handle.


 
Photo Credit: Hotchkis Sport Suspension
 

John Hotchkis hosted these two Challengers at his display trailer during a recent test day at Willow Springs Raceway in California; Dodge had brought the new SRT8 in. Hotchkis Sport Suspension is offering products for both and new Challengers, with the benefit of all changes being fully reversible and utilizing the basic factory engineering principles. John calls it ‘maintaining the soul of Mopar.’


Recently, John Hotchkis, who owns Hotchkis Sport Suspension in Santa Fe Springs, California, showed up at Willow Springs Raceway with a 1970 Challenger T/A that had benefited from some of his upgrades, which he is offering for both early and late-model Challengers. The big benefit to the owners of any of these cars is that Hotchkis focuses on creating pieces that do not require anything beyond bolt-on changes – this includes springs, subframe connectors, A-arms, sway bars and more. This allows Dodge owners to maintain the originality as well as the unique design qualities that the factory has always prided itself in, retaining ‘the soul’ of Mopar engineering. Hotchkis currently offers both single pieces and complete kits marketed as the TVS, or Total Vehicle System. It’s not just for the sporty cars either; in addition to classic and late musclecar designs like Challenger and Charger, there are TVS kits and parts for Durango, Ram, Magnum, and more. Dodge had brought a 2009 SRT8 Challenger to the same event, which gave the two generations a chance to play on the course.


 
Photo Credit: Hotchkis Sport Suspension
 

The two cars on their way out; the SRT8’s rear spoiler shows its origins in this image.


As the cars unwound at the track nose to tail, the changes that are now possible really become visible. Handling is one area that any street vehicle, regardless of its origin, benefits from, and Hotchkis is just one of several companies now creating parts that will help your machine corner, brake, and ride like never before. There has never been a better time to find yourself taking a Chrysler machine to its ‘legal’ limits on the highway, the tight corners of a parking lot autocross, or even a flat-out closed circuit road course like Willow Springs.

Obviously, times have changed. New cars are created and sold much more as complete packages rather than serving a single purpose, such as acceleration. To know that vehicles like the 2011 Challenger and Charger R/Ts will come standard with better tires, balance, and road feel than anything that came out back in the old days is a real tribute to the focus Dodge continues to engineer into their offerings. If you want more, companies like Hotchkis make that option both available and attractive. Moreover, while you can still get a chirp at the stop light if you dare to, you can also get nice mileage numbers, spectacular audio quality, interior comfort, and style as well.

Now, nobody’s told us that there is a new T/A-design package coming, but if one shows up, maybe we can field another Challenger road race team in the 21st century. Any takers…


 
Photo Credit: Hotchkis Sport Suspension
 

To fully appreciate changes that are possible, a legal racecourse is always the best place to check it out.


  • John

    I love my 2010 Challenger. I even think it looks better than the old one. However, these pictures make painfully obvious my biggest complaint about the new one: model bloat.

  • REDDOG

    That is Auto Club Speedway not Willow Springs. I’v run there in my Challenger and know the track in side out.

  • demonbydesign

    John, I agree in that I too think it’s actually looks better than the old one. The “bloat” is fine as it sits just fine within the modern car landscape. Plus, I feel infinitely more safe inside the modern one!

  • HEMIhead

    I’d still take the original Challenger any day over the new one. Love those T/A 340 six pak models!
    Love that detonator yellow color on the new challenger, my favorite, yellow and black.
    Not that there is anything wrong with the new challenger, but when you stick your head in the window of classic Mopar iron, you just can’t capture the smell and sight of nostalgia that you feel
    with the old models. The engines were also dressed way better then, and captured a lot of the excitement!

  • Vincent Castro

    The 70 challenger with out a doubt. I think it was motor trend that tested those two cars and the old one beat the new one in every test except drag race i believe. The new car looks awesome, not as good as the old, but would love to have one. IF that car went on a diet it could be a awesome performing car. Even my 68 coronet with a big block weights less than that 4200lb beast. I am glad they got the cool colors right though.

  • Alex Anderson

    Ilike the older challenger better the new one is great to but the older mopars just have that status that goes with them

  • http://www.cardomain.com/ride/3089456 Paladin06

    I simply love my 2008 SRT8 Challenger. Not to take anything away from the1970 Challenger because the car is and will always be an icon.

    My new Challenger is bigger but, it’s safer, FASTER, more comfortable and more fuel efficient (not that I care about MPH).The fact is the guys a Chrysler mademe wait 35 years formy dream car but, they took a perfect diamond and made it even better then ever.

  • HEMIhead

    The new Challenger is a great car! I think it’s the best Dodge could do for anyone wanting a retro looking Challenger with todays technology. It’s definitely the best looking/ closest of the retro cars being offered today. Excellent execution of retro-styling compared to what the brand X’s are offering. It’s what I love about good ‘ole Detroit Iron, no matter what the imports do, they can never take away, or capture the spirit of these legendary machines. God Bless Detroit!
    I don’t know why they have to make the new Challenger/Charger so heavy? I guess the combination of airbags/computer controllers/ a load of sensors/ etc… all adds up. It would be nice if they could trim the fat. To anyone with a new Challenger, I say, “Right On!”

  • Harry Davis

    I think that there is no comparison between old and new chargers. They are different breeds and both should equally be embraced. Love Dodge for what they have offered, old AND new. You cant compare an apple to an orange. Just love em all, no matter what age they are, they all have their advantages, and NO ONE will ever agree. My wife wants a new SRT8, I want a muscle car….she wants AC and leather, I would rather sweat my a$$ off with vinyl. She wants a huge stereo, I could live with AM. She wants power brakes and steering…I have strong legs and arms. What it comes down to is Dodge fun, no matter old or new, and we are family!

  • Daytona

    69 or 70 Challenger R/T with the 426 would be my pick for the legacy cars – largely because there were so few made.

  • Brandon

    i like the 2015 challenger with a supercharged 440 stroker, carbon fiber body and new challenger only specific interior.

  • 69johnny

    The new challenger is definitely bloated. What happened to low and wide=muscle car? The reason is for cost reasons it needs to share a platform with other passenger cars. Back in the day, they made a platform specifically for a muscle car. The Challenger and Camaro end up kind of cartoon-ish compared to the originals. Have to give props to the 05-09 mustang for getting the proportions the closest to how it should be.

  • http://helenemullins.co.cc/ Helene Mullins

    69 or 70 Challenger R/T with the 426 would be my pick for the legacy cars – largely because there were so few made.

  • Peter Lynch

    I like both models however I want to see what the power looks like standing still and appreciate the fine details in the edlebrock manifold or the blackjack headers that really crack out the muscle cars personality. The new one doesn’t have any character with all the carbon covers in it.

  • Milton Reeve

    Both Challengers Are great. I have to go with the original all the way. My ’09 Challenger does feel bloated, but nice on the open Nevada highway 95 on my way to Mopars at the Strip.

  • kevin

    I love my 2010 rt as well as my 70 rt se but in different ways. Both have similarities but are different. This makes each as much fun to drive for different purposes

  • IndyRider

    Great pictures and story. Yes, the new model is a bit of a wide body, but that’s the way things are these days. I still love my SRT, and the perfect match would be a mint condition 1970 version!

  • Carl

    Out of all three Pony cars out today, The Challenger resembles the originals more then any of them. The one thing i really dislike is there arn’t that many stock hood options like there were for the 1970. You had the normal Butterfly hood(On all the newer challengers), The Shaker, The T/A Hood, The snorkle. But the 2010/11 Have a better front-end and headlights They just look more aggressive when it’s comeing towrds you. But i like the 1970 More because it had more color choices. B5 Blue, Top banana(On the one in the pic), Sublime, Sassy Grass Green, Panther Pink(1970 spring only), Dark green metallic, Silver, White, Black, HEMI Orange, Plum Crazy Purple, Gold. The list goes on, But i like the Top Banana on the car above better then the 2010′s Detonator Yellow. I don’t know why it just draws my eye to it but it’s not too bright, It changes color from light yellow to a florescent yellow when it goes into the shade too. I would still like to see a 2011+ T/A 5.7L(345HEMI) with the T/A Appearnce package(Includeing the T/A Hood and Duck Tail spoiler) But in my opinion a Challenger shoulden’t have a moon-roof it takes the car too far from it’s roots, it’s a Muscle Car not a Sports Car.

  • http://www.salecity.dk Coiloverkit

    I love both cars, but the old one is just more brutal :)

  • http://www.google.com/d21aaa5e2eacf0361cd8095579819c0bee79d463 here

    I was basically wondering if you ever considered modifying the page layout of your website? It is very well written; I really like what you have got to state. But maybe you can add a a bit more in the way of written content so people can connect to it better. You have got a great deal of wording for only having one or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?