The First Challenger
Most car guys (and girls) think the history of the Challenger began with the first-generation Challengers in the late 1960s. Makes sense, after all it’s called the “First Generation” for a reason. Problem is, the Dodge Challenger had a proto-generation a decade before. Here’s the story about how the first Challengers were sold for just one summer in 1959.
The First-Generation Challengers
Let’s look at official first-generation Challengers, well, first. The first-generation Challengers were made between 1970 and 1974. They were based on a modified Barracuda chassis and were available with some serious muscle engines. For V8s, for example, buyers could choose between a 383, two 440s and 426 Hemi. Chrysler came to the muscle car party a little late but they made a big splash when they finally got there.
The Silver Challenger
As we discovered from DCH Chrysler Dodge of Temecula, CA, the Challenger name was first used on a promotional model of the Dodge Coronet. Introduced on May 1, 1959, it was called the Silver Challenger and was offered only as a club sedan, and only in metallic silver paint. This car was nothing special; It was simply a Dodge Coronet spruced up to allow dealers to sell cars during the slow summer months.
Even so, the Silver Challenger was a good-looking automobile. It featured a distinctive all silver metallic high-baked enamel that could go two or three years before waxing. The promotional package also included black carpeting, silver vinyl and black brocade interior fabrics, whitewall tires, and full wheel covers.
There were just two engine choices for the Silver Challenger. The 135HP 6-cylinder or 255 HP V8 high compression engines of the day. Transmission choices included a three-speed manual with column shift or for $189, a two-speed Powerflite automatic. Optional factory accessories that provide added driver comfort, convenience and control features, including swing-out swivel seats.
Modest Sales Numbers
Even though it was a reasonably attractive car, sales of the Silver Challenger were disappointing. Chrysler records say that just 352 Silver Challengers built before the new 1960 Dodges went into production in late August, 1959.
The Silver Challenger is a good example of a automobile brand name that came on quietly as one type of car (a summer promotion) and later was transformed into a roaring success as another type of car, in this case, a muscle car.