By Patrick Smith
Plymouth stunned the auto world when they released their all new Barracuda in the fall of sixty-nine. The brand new Challenger was Dodge's version. Convertible, hardtop and coupe models of the "E-body" were offered. You could get any Chrysler engine available from the slant six to the incredible 426 hemi V8. The performance models were 'cudas and Challenger R/Ts. They're long time favorites of car fans and are the ones we'll focus on.
Loaded cars like this Plum Crazy Purple 340 Challenger convertible are expensive. Be sure it's genuine before paying market value.
Year to Year Changes: The 1970 'cuda sported an argent grille with single divider and turn signal lamps mounted on the upper corners near the headlamps. The tail lights were finned units cast with back up lamps inside one housing. The Challenger grille was an egg crate pattern with stainless steel trim and "Challenger RT" badge on the driver side. 1970 Challengers had dual headlamps and turn signal lenses were in the lower valance. The 1971 'cudas had a new op art grille with repeating wedges fanning out from the center. 1971 Challengers had twin rectangular grilles. From 1972 -1974, the 'cuda grilles were similar with a central divider and black screens with orange trim. The Challenger grille resembled an inverted mouth with steel trim. The '72-74 'cuda tail lamps were circular like the Corvette while Challenger lamps were angled squares, repeating the op art motif from 1972. The convertible body was dropped after 1971.
Drivetrains: The high performance engines were the 383 four barrel, 440 four-barrel, 440 tri carb, and the 426 dual quad. The lone performance small block was the 340. All of the big blocks were cancelled after 1971 making the first two years the popular ones. The 340 remained until 1974 when replaced by a 360-four barrel option. There were 340 six pack engines sold only in Trans Am homologation specials known as T/A Challenger and AAR 'cuda. They were special models with many unique features and will be covered in a separate article. We will concentrate on the regular performance engine E bodies here.
E bodies can be gaudy or plain like this 71 'cuda Six Pack with Burnt Orange paint and column shift automatic.
You should consider what engine combination best suits your purpose. Many buyers gravitate towards the 426 hemi thinking this is the ultimate setup for appreciation and enjoyment. While hemi E bodies are rare and offer good investment potential, a real hemi can be tiring to drive around town. Everything is geared toward track performance including the suspension, transmission and axle gearing. If long drives and cruise nights are your thing, consider a 440, 383 or a 340 model. They're less expensive to operate and offer lots of fun. A 440 six pack is a good compromise of rarity, power and drivability compared to a hemi four speed.
Available transmissions include a base manual three speed, followed by Torquelflite 727 automatic or the New Process 833 four speed manual. Starting in 1970 as a marketing strategy, Mopar offered some of their engines with a three speed manual transmission. The favored gearboxes are either the Torqueflite 727 with floor shift, or the 833 four speed "Pistol Grip" floor shift. Performance rear ends are either the 8-3/4" or Dana 60 9-3/4" inch housing.