First Year for the Dodge Challenger RT

1970 Dodge Challenger RT
1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. Photo by Mark Gittelman

Many muscle car fans wonder why it took so long for the Dodge Challenger to join in on the fun. When the first Challengers started hitting the beach the death of the muscle car was already fast approaching. Despite its poor timing it still managed to make a huge impact for team Mopar.

Join me as we explore the first generation Dodge Challenger in all its glory. We'll talk about the RT package as well as other rare performance options and how they boost value. Finally, we'll discuss a few movies where this automobile steals the show.

First Year for Dodge Challenger

I went to a local car show and saw an early Dodge Challenger. The owner identified it on a window sticker as a 1969 model. I stood there for a while and tried to figure out if I should engage him in a conversation about the year of the automobile. I couldn't resist hearing his story. I asked him if he was sure on the year. He showed me the build date on the door jam. It clearly showed that Chrysler manufactured the car in November 1969.

It's true, they started building these cars in the last quarter of that year. However, when they shipped to dealerships they considered them 1970 cars. Therefore, the first year for the Dodge Challenger as a standalone model is officially 1970. I emphasize the word standalone, because in 1958 and 1959 Chrysler had a limited edition Dodge Cornet Silver Challenger edition. However, they based the Triple Silver automobile on a fourth generation Dodge Cornet.

The Interesting thing about the story of the Challenger is how long it took Dodge to offer a model built around the Chrysler E-Body platform. For many years Dodge and Plymouth offered their own special versions of a given automobile. As an example, Plymouth had the successful Valiant and the Dodge boys had their version called the Dart Swinger.

The Plymouth version of the Challenger is called the Barracuda. The first Plymouth Barracuda, launched in 1964. Chrysler wanted to market the Dodge Challenger as a luxury version of the Barracuda. They felt the car should compete with the Pontiac Firebird instead of the Camaro. When going up against the Ford products it was meant to compete against the Mercury Cougar and not the Ford Mustang. The Dodge Challenger had its biggest sales year in 1970 when they sold just shy of 77,000 units.

Performance Option Packages

Generally speaking, all challengers can be considered somewhat collectible, because of their low production numbers. In the four years Dodge built the first generation cars they sold less than 166,000 units. However, cars with rare performance option packages are highly sought after by collectors. In fact, prices have been rising steadily over the last decade, despite economic pullbacks in the collector car market.

The Dodge Challenger was born in a time when automotive shoppers had freedom of choice. If you had some patients and didn't take anything out of dealer stock you could order yourself an amazingly unique automobile. In 1970 they offered 11 different engine options. You could also get the ready to go performance packages. The most popular is the RT or road and track version. They also offered a 1970 Dodge Challenger TA built to race in the Trans Am series. This automobile is similar to the AAR Cuda offered by Plymouth.

You can look through the production numbers for the first year Challenger cars and see how rare the R/T and T/A models are. Not only could you order a Challenger with a 426 Hemi Elephant motor you could also order it in a head turning bold color. When you are wrapping an already rare car in an even rarer color like Plum Crazy, Panther Pink or Hemi Orange the value can increase exponentially.

1970 Dodge Challenger at the Movies

I think my first memory of seeing this automobile is sitting in front of the television in the family room. We gathered around to watch a detective show called Mannix. The star Mike Connors drove some of the coolest cars on TV. One season he jumps behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger R/T convertible that for some reason stuck in my mind.

I remember staying up late one night and watching USA's Up All Night with Rhonda Scheer. The featured movie was The Vanishing Point. Somehow I missed the original movie when it launched in 1971. The basic premise of the movie is an ex-race car driver James Kowalski delivers muscle cars to their new homes.

Almost every scene of the film featured the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 440. The car never makes it to its new owner. Viggo Mortensen made a remake of Vanishing Point in 1997. In the second version of the movie Kowalski's wife doesn't make it and neither does the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T.

Of course, there's the Quentin Tarantino film Death Proof where a group of girls takes a Vanishing Point Challenger for a test drive. Unfortunately, they run into a crazy stuntman played by Kurt Russell. Kurt is behind the wheel of a second generation Dodge Charger in black primer. He attempts to run the 1970 440 Dodge Challenger RT, driven by the girls, off the road. The movie ends with both cars taking an epic pounding.