Buyer's Guide: 1970-1974 Barracuda/Challenger RT
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.
Hemicudas were often drag raced, meaning light on options and ill tempered for everyday driving.
Desirable Options: The favored engines are the 426 hemi, 440 Six Pack, 383 and 340 V8s in that order. Since the 340 was optional and the 383 standard equipment, you'll find the 340 is rare, commanding a premium over the 383 especially if four speed equipped. Other favored performance options include Super Track Pack which includes Dana 60 axles, heavy duty suspension and engine cooling. The Shaker hood induction system is rare especially on Challenger R/Ts. A true shaker Challenger commands a noticeable price increase over the regular sports hood model. Rally dash instrumentation, Rally wheels, rear wings and High Impact paint colors or graphic decals are desired options that dressed up the car. Some E bodies had unusual interiors such as plaid or hounds tooth fabric inserts in garish colors. The option list was large and we're just covering the more popular items here.
What to Look For: Buyers should spend sixty percent of their time inspecting the body of a Challenger R/T or 'cuda and the remaining forty percent on the drive train. The major problem you're checking for is rust as they're unibody cars. Secondly, you're checking for alterations. These cars have been popular for over twenty years and many clones have been produced from shells with straight six or 318 powered cars.
Desirable options include Rally dash, Pistol Grip four speed, console and Shaker hood and High Impact paint. Expect to pay more for these items.
For rust, you need to check the torque boxes just past the firewall on the front floor pans. Also inspect the torsion bar cross member for rust. The floor pans, rear frame rails, trunk floor and inner fender aprons are all rust areas. Another rust area is the sheet metal behind the shock tower where the hood hinges bolt in. Patch panels are commonly seen on old restorations from the 1980s. It's common to have entire rear quarter panels rust out along with trunk floors. Be sure to inspect the leaf spring perches and surrounding metal for integrity. True performance 'cudas and Challengers will have metal box reinforcements surrounding the front of the leaf spring perches. They were gusset spot welded at the factory. If you see poor weld work and peculiar gaps around the reinforcements, dig further. They may have been added by someone building a clone.
Severe rust around the front windshield pillars is common especially on vinyl roof cars. The rocker panels including the door sills, inner rail where fuel lines are located are bad for rust as well. Reproduction sheet metal is available for most pieces but factor in the cost of tear down and welding. It may be cheaper to find a solid car.
Performance E bodies were complete packages with different suspensions, frame reinforcements and numerous upgrades compared to the humble 318 or slant six cars. They had leaf spring torque boxes, proper big block V8 engine saddles (called K-members), thicker torsion bars, different leaf spring counts, specific engine and transmission identification and a host of other related hardware, all of which should be present on a restored car or unmolested original.
Check the shock towers and all sheet metal behind and in front of fender apron for rust, patch repairs including front frame rails.
Authentication is a good news-bad news deal for Mopars. The good news is the factory was pretty thorough with identification with engine size and type marked on the VIN plate, door sticker and fender tags. All factory installed options are stamped on the fender tags and build sheet if the car has one. This data is easy to find in enthusiast books.
The bad news is ALL of these items are reproduced now. You can have a VIN tag or fender tag made to order. I've even seen fake build sheets for big block Mopars. You must dig deeper to verify a factory car. I'll be blunt, a well done clone by an aficionado is almost undetectable from the real thing. If you're looking at a big dollar car, please bring someone along who knows the model well. Let an impartial set of eyes work for you to catch any changes.
Check rear frame rails including leaf spring perches for rust, alterations including owner added reinforcement torque boxes to produce clone cars.
In addition to decoding the fender and dash VIN tags, look for additional hidden VIN stampings to verify a true performance car. The radiator cradle has a partial VIN stamp located underneath the top rail. It should match the dash tag. Reproduction rad cradles exist but won't have VIN stampings. All transmissions and engine blocks have partial VIN numbers as well. On small block engines, the partial VIN is stamped along the passenger side oil pan rail. The big block V8s have the partial VIN located above the oil pan rail as well. Automatic transmissions have partial VINs stamped halfway up the driver side of the case near the bell housing mating surface. On 440 Six Pack and Hemi models, the engine K member has a skid plate welded on to protect the oil pan during hard collisions with the road. The Hemi and 440 Six Pack rad and related cradle cut out must be the correct width. An inferior clone car made using a small block body may have the smaller torsion bars, incorrect leaf springs, rad cradle and brakes. Some of the poor clones are actually dangerous to drive without the correct hardware.
The 440 Six Pack offers best value for rarity and performance.
When shopping for an E body, you may encounter an ex drag race car. If the car was raced in a mild class of competition where the elapsed times were above twelve seconds, it might be possible to return it to stock condition without major cost. To compete in the sub 12-second ET mark, the car undergoes too many changes to convert back to a suitable street machine. The cheap way to get into the E body is buying a 1972- 1974 model. There are less "one year only parts" to hunt down and no big block version to inflate the price.
Be aware that project cars aren't great deals if lots of parts are missing. Many body and optional parts are expensive. A 1972-74 'cuda grille is a $1,000 part. If that scares you, don't ask about six pack carbs, shaker hoods or other 1970-71 "golden era" parts. It's time to talk about "numbers matching" cars. The most expensive muscle cars are numbers matching, meaning the drive train, trim, paint and all the related pieces are the same ones that came from the factory when new. As E bodies were drag raced and abused by early owners, number matching vehicles are understandably scarce. The degree of perfection restorers take to build one of these show cars rivals that of Bloomington Gold© or NCRS© Corvette standards. These cars aren't practical for hobby usage. A car with a non original but date correct replacement engine may be a better choice for enjoyment. If you plan to restore one to concours standards, understand you can exceed the value of the car easily. That said, most of the cars available are very nice driver quality and affordable during this current market downtime.
340 cars command a premium over 383 base engines due to power and rarity.
The drive trains are pretty rugged and can take high miles if maintained. It's the body you have to watch out for. Keep these in mind and you'll be able to pick a primo pony car.