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1970-74
Dodge Challenger
Plymouth Barracuda
The Ultimate Pony Car?
1973 cuda

Muscle cars were king in the late 1960s, and if you didn't own one, you might as well stay home with mom and dad to catch the Brady Bunch on TV. Sure, carmakers were still concerned with producing daily-drivers for the masses, but it was performance that built the brand and brought the people to the stores.

By the late 1950s, full-size performance vehicles were available from most all manufacturers. Chrysler cross-rams, fuel-injected Chevy's and supercharged Fords sprang up seemingly overnight. Multi-carb set-ups, aluminum heads, high-lift cams, special exhaust headers and other hi-po toys were available, giving the motoring public a wide array of transportation thrills not available before.

With the introduction of compact and mid-size cars in the early 1960s, it wasn't long before full-size engines were being placed in these smaller vehicles. It was this formula that gave birth to the American "muscle car". The boys from Mopar were not taking any back seats in this competition. After all, arguably their 1955 C-300 Chrysler had launched this horsepower race. In the 1960s, cross-ram induction, Max-Wedge V-8s, and the rebirth of the Hemi all helped propel both Plymouth and Dodge vehicles to the head of the performance pack.

In 1964, a Valiant-based Barracuda was introduced packing a small but capable 273 cubic inch V8. No one seemed to notice, however, as 1964 saw mid-year introductions of two legends: the Mustang and the GTO. In 1967 a larger Barracuda was brought into the "Pony Car" fray and it could be had with some pretty potent big block iron.

1970-pink-cuda 1971-cuda 970-challenger 1972-challenger
The '70 'Cuda employed dual headlights. 1971 brought a new front fascia with quad headlights, returning to duals for '72, '73, and '74. The '70 and '71 Challengers were largely the same. A restyled front greeted Challenger buyers for 1972.

For 1970, the all new Dodge Challenger and the entirely redesigned Plymouth Barracuda hit the market. With their market sights set on the likes of Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, these two new Mopar pony cars were fitted with the company's new "E-Body" platform. A multitude of high performance drive-train packages were offered, and, for the most part, shared between these two brands.

Challenger was Dodge's (late) response to the "pony-car" craze. Based on a wheelbase of 110", its smooth, "Coke Bottle" styling gave the appearance of movement even while standing still. Offered in two body styles, coupe or convertible, several trim levels could be ordered. The base edition featured nylon cloth seats, full carpeting and the basic amenities. Stepping up to the Special Edition or SE models, one found extra sound insulation, plusher interiors, more exterior bright trim and a padded vinyl roof for the coupes. Chrysler's venerable 225 cubic inch "Slant Six" was the base powerplant, with 318 and 383 cubic inch V8's optional.

71-cuda-dashboard
The Challenger and Barracuda's dash was largely the same.  The rally dash was particularly attractive.

While the base and mid-range models were the best sellers when the cars were new, (and this was the aim of the program), the real stars were the R/T editions. This was where the real muscle was hiding, offering the most powerful engines in the Mopar stable. Under the hood the base power plant was the 383ci Magnum V8, equipped with a big gas-sucking Holley four-barrel carburetor and putting out a healthy 335hp. Even more power was offered: a 440ci Magnum V8 at 375hp, the 440-Six Pack with triple Holley two-barrels and pumping out 390hp, and for those who really didn't know when to quit, the 425hp, 426ci street Hemi. For all of these selections either the trust-worthy Torque-Flite automatic transmission or the mighty rock-crusher 4-speed (usually equipped with the "pistol-grip" shifter) could be ordered.  A heavy-duty Dana 60 rear end, with a 9.75 in (248 mm) ring gear, was standard equipment on 440 six-barrel and 426 Hemi engines with the 4-speed manual, and was optional on those with the automatic transmission.

In January 1970, the Challenger series received what many consider to be the ultimate package with the release of the "T/A". Created to take part in the new Trans-Am series of rallies sponsored by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the Dodge Challenger T/A was driven successfully in a number of events by several drivers, most notably Sam Posey. This special package was powered by a smaller engine, the 340ci V8, but was fitted with its own special version of a 'Six-Pack', which produced a healthy 290 horses. While these numbers may sound smaller than the big-block 440's, the power-to-weight advantage and handling abilities with this lighter engine made up for much of the horsepower shortage.

In the Plymouth camp, the story was largely the same. Like the Challenger, it was offered in just two body styles, convertible and coupe. Sitting on a slightly smaller 108" wheel base, the Barracuda was also offered in three trim levels. The base models were aimed for the guy looking to own an economical car with sporty looks. If this same buyer wanted a few more amenities, like plusher seats, wider selection of colors and trim options, and a vinyl roof, the Gran Coupe series was available. Despite its name, this option package was available on the convertible model.

Then there was the line for serious drivers, simply marketed as the 'Cuda. Like the Challenger R/T, the base powerplant for this model was the 383ci V8, with 335hp, and just like the Dodge, all the other optional engines were also available here. While a "Trans-Am" edition wasn't specifically offered, a "340 Six-Pack" did make it under it the hoods of the AAR 'Cudas. These cars were also successfully campaigned in SCCA competition, most notably by Dan Gurney, whose All-American Racing Team lent its name to the model designation.

While the engineers made the cars go fast, the design team put together a package that looked good. When it came to colors, Chrysler led the way with "wild", producing such hues as Sub-Lime, Plum Crazy, and Panther Pink. Options such as flower decorated "mod-top" or paisley print vinyl roof coverings are something that will probably never be seen in a production car again. It was simply "Groovy"!

Engine Availability 1970* 1971 1972 1973 1974
225ci I6 1V 145hp 145hp 110hp na na
318ci V8 2V 230hp 205hp 155hp 150hp 150hp
340ci V8 4V 275hp 245hp 240hp 240hp na
360ci V8  4V na na na na 245hp
340ci V8 3×2V 290hp na na na na
383ci V8 2V 290hp 275hp na na na
383ci V8 4V 330hp na na na na
383ci V8 4V Magnum 335hp 330hp na na na
440ci V8 4V 375hp        
440ci V8 3×2V 390hp 330hp na na na
426ci Hemi V8 2x4V 425hp 350hp na na na
* Gross rating          

Both Dodge and Plymouth brought most of their new E-body model offerings back for 1971. Biggest change was the new, 4-headlight front of the Plymouth. Missing was the Challenger T/A, and AAR 'Cuda, but big engines with lots of horsepower could still be applied, including the Hemi V8. Taking the biggest block and putting it under the hood of the smallest car, the "440 Six-Pack" was still the top-banana for most performance buyers, but production was very limited to about 250 Challenger coupes, while just a little over 70 coupes were equipped with the Hemi V8. A similar number of these same options were found in the Plymouth 'Cudas.

Changes for the 1972 model year reflected the market as a whole.  The era of the muscle car was clearly over. New federal emissions and safety standards, combined with astronomical insurance rates, curbed the horsepower race. Challenger continued to use the E-body for 1972, but with a trim and a fascia make-over. First, the convertible was deleted, and second, the coupe was offered only in base form or as the new Rallye edition, which effectively replaced the R/T. This model now came with a 318ci, 150hp V8 as standard, a far cry from just a year earlier. Gone from the menu were the big block V8s.

Predictably, the Barracuda got the same treatment. Interestingly, 1970 Barracuda front end styling returned for '72 and remained that way through '74.  Offered only as a coupe in Base or 'Cuda dress, much of this mighty Plymouth's thunder had also been stolen. The 'Cuda's base engine was the 150hp, 318 V8, with the 340-V8 an option. While these sold well, the excitement level had clearly dropped. To be fair, most of the decrease in horsepower ratings was due to the new, net horsepower ratings, but lower compression and revised tuning to meet emission requirements made their contributions, too.

With a mild face-lift for 1973, which mostly included more rubber parts to meet crash-test standards, the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger both continued to be about the most sought after former muscle cars around. Just in time for the first energy crisis, the unbreakable "Slant Six" was no longer offered.

In January 1973, a new 245hp, 360ci V8 replaced the 340. Thus was born the 'Cuda 360 and Challenger Rallye 360. This new engine was supposed to be cleaner and easier to maintain but it's personality was far more docile than the outgoing 340, even with its degraded performance profile.

Giving it one last go before even more stringent regulations arrived, Plymouth and Dodge returned with their E-body coupes for the final year in 1974.  It marked the end of an exciting era.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

If you are a serious collector and/or investor of muscle cars, numbers are all important. For the 1970 to 1974 Challenger and Barracuda models, the VIN or identification number is most important for determining the authenticity of these cars. Consisting of 13-digits, this sequence can tell you the series, body style, engine, year, assembly plant, and unit sequence number. This should be the first thing checked. Several guides have been published that help break down and decode what the numbers and letters represent. The easiest place to find the VIN is on an embossed metal plate riveted to driver's side of the dash board and visible from outside of the car. Careful inspection and verification of these numbers should be a priority.

challenger ad
Something tells us this ad copy wouldn't make it today!

You can double-check the numbers on the build or buck tags located on the left inner fender well. Held on with philips head screws, these can be easily switched (and reproduced), so a match here is no guarantee of authenticity. In addition to the numbers on these tags, option codes consisting of two or three characters are also included. These identify everything the factory originally put on the car, including heavy duty and performance suspension parts, as well as convenience items such as AM-FM radio, power accessories and the original paint and soft trim colors. For the AAR 'Cudas and Trans-Am Challengers, unique fender tags were used that identified these cars.

Another important ID number to inspect is on the engine. The last eight digits of the VIN were stamped on a boss on the left side of the block, and also on the transmission. Finally, there are two other locations with the VIN on the body of the car, the radiator core support and on the cowl. When all of these numbers are the same, this is a true "numbers matching" car. Of course, builders know this, too, and number manipulation is all too common.

Desirable options include the shaker hood (option code N96, 1970 and 1971), elastomeric (rubber) colored bumpers (1970 and 71), and the Spicer-built Dana 60 rear axle (1970 and 71). The shaker hood was available with 340, 383, 440 four-barrel, 440 six-barrel, and 426 Hemi engines. The elastomeric body-colored bumpers were available as a front-only option, code A21, or on both front and rear, option code A22.

MARKET CONDITIONS

In the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, muscle cars were shooting up in price at a pace far greater than the rest of the collector car world, with the possible exception of '59 Cadillacs and anything with a Ferrari badge. When the market's bottom fell out around 1990, muscle cars were not immune.

Unlike many collector cars, over the past decade muscle car prices have cautiously crept back up to the levels (and past for many) of the last peak (constant dollars). Recent years have seen a strong market for top-shelf muscle cars. Performance 'Cudas and Challengers, along with other premiere Mopar iron, have been at the forefront of this group.

Update 2015: Just after the publication of this article, the collect car market crashed again. The signs were there for Hemis early (read our famous Hemi prediction in 2007). Values took an even larger hit than the first crash, and while segments of the market have come roaring back, most muscle cars have not. Mopars, probably the most speculated of all muscle cars, have been notable market laggards. An over building of replicas and endless reports of fakes have undoubtedly contributed to caution in the E-body market.

There are two things to remember with these cars. At the top of the list are the numbers. Clones are everywhere. It isn't unusual to find a 1970 Challenger with a big 440 under the hood and all the right parts, only to see the letter "G" in the fifth position of the VIN. The "G" represents a tame 318ci V8.  Good luck finding a six cylinder car. Although over 14,000 were built, most have been tossed aside to make all those big block replicas you see running around.

Prices can be up to 75% (though not usually that much) less for even a nice clone, so be very careful. There's nothing wrong with a clone--they're fun to build and you'll get the same driving experience as the real thing without the worry. What is wrong is the way many are represented--as real. Often these are sold to enthusiasts who aren't that knowledgeable. There is never a shortage of unscrupulous sellers looking to make that quick e-body buck.

The other item that is very important among collectors of these cars is workmanship. When prices for these were rising, just about any e-body in any condition was rebuilt, often into a 'Cuda or R/T.  Basket cases with bent or distorted  unibodies were brought back, sometimes with less than satisfactory results.  Most drive poorly, rattle, have uneven panel gaps, etc.  Buyer beware!  At several recent auctions and collector car events, we have seen a wide variety of restorations from those where passion and skill was the major concern, to those where a "cheap and cheerful, make a quick buck" applied. Don't be afraid to ask questions, to look under things like the chassis, carpets, inside under the c-pillars, and deep inside the engine compartment. The person selling a true top-notch restoration will happily show off these details, appreciating the fact that someone cares enough to look.

Current Values:  1970 Dodge   1971 Dodge   1972 Dodge   1973 Dodge  1974 Dodge 

1970-dodge-challenger-se-ad
Right:  Most Challengers and Barracudas looked something like this when new -- how many do you see today? This particular example is a mid-level SE with the small rear window.

P. Skinner and the editors at Collector Car Market Review

This profile was written in June 2008 and first appeared in the August 2008 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.  (C) Copyright 2008- VMR International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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