Detailed Introduction And History

Part three: Barracuda & Challenger 1970-74

In the sixties the Ford Mustang and Plymouth Barracuda had been changed from small sporty cars into larger "muscle" cars and the emphasis had changed from good handling to straight line performance.
The Barracuda was still too small for the big block engines and so a third generation car was planned that would be able to handle any engine Plymouth managers wanted, from the smallest straight six, to the big 440 wedge and 426 hemi V8s.
To achieve this, the cowl from larger B-body cars like the Road Runner was worked into the design. Advanced styling at Plymouth were responsible for the basic platform which was to be called the E-body. Once the layout of the car had been approved by management it was passed on to Plymouth Styling to design the outer skin.

 

Plymouth had wanted a full urethane front end on the car like GM had developed. However neither the budget or the technology were available to Chrysler so a more conventional design was chosen with body coloured urethane bumpers as an option.

 

It was at this point that Chrysler management decided to offer the platform to Dodge. Chrysler wanted an up-market version of the Barracuda, in the same way that the Mercury Cougar was an up-market Mustang, and so Dodge started work on a longer wheelbase E-body that would become the Challenger.

This early drawing by Carl Cameron (who had designed the Charger) is dated 4th Feb. 1967.

 

Here are some other early drawings.

 

These clay models show how the car was to compete with the Cougar. In fact you can see a Cougar parked behind the model as it takes shape.



Some people at Dodge felt they had missed out on the "ponycar" market so, even though the end was in sight for this type of car, they decided to market it as a performance model. Dodge realized that by using the Plymouth platform they could reduce their own development costs enabling them to recover their investment with fewer cars sold.

As the deadline approached for the outer skin proposal Chief Designer Bill Brownlie contributed his own concept. In the end it was his design that was chosen. The body was given a more pronounced "coke bottle" effect in the rear quarter and it flared out into a character line that ran the length of the body reflecting the upper beltline.
Originally the wheelbase was to be 3 inches longer than the Barracudas at 111 inches. This made it the same as the Dodge Dart. Remembering that Plymouth had been criticized for using the Valiant platform in 1964, Carl Cameron suggested that the Challenger wheelbase be reduced, by one inch to 110 inches, just to make it different. Bill Brownlie liked the idea and got it changed.

 

At first glance the new Barracuda and Dodge Challenger look very similar. However no body parts on the cars interchange. Under the skin everything was traditional Chrysler unibody, with torsion bar front suspension and semi-elliptical leaf live rear axle. The driver and passenger doors featured side impact beams and the steering column was collapsible in the event of a crash. Nine different engines were available in the two cars and all could accommodate things like air con., power brakes and steering - even with the biggest engines (although some multi-carb. engines could not have air con.).
The Challenger used more chrome and brightwork than the Barracuda for a more up-market look and used dual headlights instead of the Plymouths larger single units.

Both companies offered their cars in EIGHT body styles, including performance versions of the hardtop, sports hardtop and convertible. Plymouths performance badge was again the 'Cuda and Dodge used the R/T (Road & Track) name from its other model lines. These cars were not just base models with badges and stripes. The 426ci and 440ci engined 'Cuda and R/T had convertible style body re-enforcement in key areas and all had beefed-up suspension and drivetrains to match the power and weight of the big blocks.

The Plymouth Formula S model was gone but Plymouth and Dodge had entered the SCCA Trans-Am Racing Series so, in order to homologate the E-Body race cars, a certain number of street versions had to be built. This worked out to be 2,800 cars for Plymouth and 2,500 for Dodge.
These cars were called the AAR 'Cuda and the Challenger T/A.

 

Both had side exit exhausts, fibreglass hoods with air scoops and were powered by special 340 blocks, heads and triple carbs (called the six-pack). The racing cars used de-stroked versions of the same block and heads but with a single 4bbl carb.


It was the big block R/T and 'Cuda models that got the attention of the motoring press though. The 390hp 440ci six-pack and 426hp 426ci Hemi cars could run the quarter mile in the mid 13 second range which gave them a very powerful reputation on the street.

However the expected large increase in Barracuda sales never happened. They only sold 22,877 units more than in 1969. This was very disappointing for Plymouth. Dodge, on the other hand, had good news and bad news. For their small investment they had sold 80,000 cars. Unfortunately their Charger sales were down by 40,000 units, which makes one suspect that a large number of people traded their Chargers for the newer looking Challenger. On top of this, the development of the next generation of cars was not going well.

The decision was made by management at this point to kill off the two cars within a few years.
Pressure was now being brought to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. This process started with the 1971 line up where the 383 received a drop in compression and the 440 4bbl engine was dropped completely. Although the 440 six-pack and Hemi engines remained untouched, this was to be their last year in an E-body.

For 1972 the largest engine you could order was a 340. Dodge renamed the R/T model "Challenger Rallye".

In 1973 the 340 was replaced with the new 360ci engine. The "Rallye" was no longer a separate beefed-up model but just a dress-up package on the base model. Sales actually picked up slightly this year but the '74 model was short lived. The last Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracudas were made in April 1974 as the Arab oil embargo hit the final nail in the coffin.

There were just 250,000 Barracudas ('64-'74) and 165,500 ('70-'74) Challengers built in total. Only a fraction of these have survived to this day.

New 1975 models had been designed when work on the 1970 had finished.
Dodge took a Hemi Challenger convertible and turned it into the Diamante show car. It displays some of the design elements that they wanted to pursue in the next generation Challenger.

 

 

The other car companies carried on with their "muscle cars" although the muscle had now long gone out of them. The late '70s and early '80s produced some of the worst cars ever in the US.