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The Ultimate Pony Car?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"!
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
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.
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.
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
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.