History of the Dodge Challenger

The Dodge Challenger originated as a special trim level for the Coronet.

You may be surprised to learn that the first car to bear the Challenger name wasn’t a muscle car. It was just a special edition of the then-current Dodge Coronet.

On May 1, 1959, the “Silver Challenger” was released by Dodge solely to elicit sales during the summer months. It was only available as a two-door Club Sedan, and as the name suggests, it was dressed only in dark silver paint. The first Challengers were made for just two years and then the name was parked.

1959 Dodge Silver Challenger – Courtesy of FCA Media

The First-Generation Dodge Challenger

The first real generation of the Dodge Challenger came into being during the 1970 model year. It was the answer Dodge provided to the marketplace to compete with the hugely successful Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. The first-generation Challenger was built on the Chrysler E platform and shared many components with the Plymouth Barracuda.

Our technical consultants at NorthWest Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram of Houston, TX, revealed that the exterior design was done by famous automobile stylist Carl Cameron, who also did the exterior for the hugely successful 1966 Dodge Charger. Cameron based the 1970 Challenger design off an older sketch of a 1966 Charger prototype that was to have a turbine engine.

The 1970 Challengers were available as a two-door in either a hardtop coupe or a convertible. The base model of the Challenger was the SE (Special Edition) trim, and Challenger R/T(Road/Track) was the performance version. Those trims received various engines, from a 225 cubic-inch in-line six-cylinder engine to a 383 cubic-inch V8. The available transmissions included two manual shifters, with 3 and 4-speeds, and a 3-speed automatic.

During its five-year run, there were minor cosmetic variations on the first-generation Dodge Challengers, and it was during this time that the R/T trim we know today was developed, as well as the original Challenger T/A (Trans Am) for racing and the street.

1970 Challenger T/A Advertisment – Courtesy of FCA Media

The Second-Generation Dodge Challenger

The oil crisis of 1974 hit the automotive marketplace hard with sales slowing dramatically. In an attempt to keep the Challenger name alive, Dodge sought out other automobile companies to work with.

Dodge eventually bought the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupé and sold it under the name “Dodge Colt Challenger.” While the Dodge Colt Challenger kept much of the look of the original Challenger, it used smaller engines to keep it thrifty on gas.

Sales were disappointing, however, because Dodge had now become known as a muscle car brand, and the Colt Challenger just didn’t live up to the name. So, once again, the Challenger name was put on the shelf and wasn’t touched again for almost 30 years.

The Third-Generation Dodge Challenger

Dodge resurrected the Challenger name in early 2008 with the third generation, vehicles that harkened to the design of the original Challengers. This includes a bold, muscular front end, the highly recognizable quad headlights, and a focus on powerful V8 powertrains.

2015 Challenger R/T Hellcat – Courtesy of FCA Media

The third generation Challengers saw high sales numbers from its initial limited release. Several engine and design updates through the years have led to the remarkable 2015 models.

In 2015, the STR-8 trim was replaced by the SRT Hellcat. The SRT Hellcat was powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI engine producing 707 hp and 650 lb·ft of torque. It features meticulous design details, like the high-flow front fascia that removes one of the front lights to allow more cool air to reach the engine. This, plus an impressive lineup of luxurious interiors, make the Hellcat one of the most impressive muscle cars ever.


And so, after what has been almost sixty years, the Challenger has seen multiple generations that have spanned eight decades. These models represent the changing wants of the consumers over the course of time, a process that has been driven by economic concerns. For those in the market for a great muscle car with a history of excellent performance, look no further than the Dodge Challenger.

Mike Sluyter
Author: Mike Sluyter
Mike is the previous manager of Driven Autos Magazine. He is software engineer and was a Computer Science major. Mike resides in Texas.

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