How the Dodge Challenger Has Changed Over the Years



A lot has changed since the 1950's - pompadours are (nearly) gone, almost nobody goes to the malt shop anymore, and the Dodgers have been in LA for decades. Those things that have managed to survive the test of time - like polaroid cameras and vinyl record players - have done so with style, and often not without some notable upgrades and improvements along the way.

This is also particularly true of cars, of which very few models can trace their origins back that far. Those that do, however, tend to have pretty amazing histories - often cataloguing changes in both design and consumer tastes over a traceable timeline. The changes visible in these models as they transition across the decades fairly accurately matches the changing social and aesthetic ideals of the public at the time, and can reveal a great deal about what car buyers wanted in a premium vehicle.

Perhaps no other car model better shows this transition with time than the Dodge Challenger. From humble beginnings as a special edition in the late 1950s to today's awe-inspiring performance machine, the Challenger has taken on some of the industry's biggest challenges and made it through to the other side.

This is an ode to the Dodge Challenger, which has stood the test of time and lives on to tell the tale still today. If you're the proud owner of a Dodge Challenger in Miami today, it's the result of years of hard work on the part of countless engineers to bring today's impressive driving machine to fruition.


An Origin Story That Stretches Back Almost Sixty Years


Although we today know the Challenger as its own unique model line, the name actually began with a special edition of now-defunct model line, the Dodge Coronet.

First released in 1958 as the Dodge Silver Challenger Club Sedan, this special edition helped introduce the line of 1959 Coronets and promised all the luxury a Dodge owner could ask for. Available in only silver paint, this model featured a standard three-speed manual transmission or an option automatic, and cost as little as $2,297 for its basic features.

With the classic quad-headlight setup and 50's-style tailfins, the original Challenger was an impressive sight for the time, and offered drivers tons of extra amenities at no extra cost over the typical Coronet. This would be the only model the bear the Challenger name, except for a short-lived Studebaker model in the mid-sixties, until the end of the next decade.


The First Full Generation of Challengers - Muscle Model


Described as "Dodge's answer to the Mustang and Camaro" by auto historian John Gunnell, the 1969 and 1970 Challenger represented the first full line bearing this nameplate, and offered serious competition to the two giants of the muscle car industry.

This generation of Challenger surprised the auto industry in that it offered a ridiculously high number of customization options, with dozens of trim options and just about every Chevy engine available. The 1970 Challenger - available in hardtop coupe or convertible - was described as the "most potent pony car ever" by car historian Robert Genat.

Notably longer and larger than its predecessors and bearing optional amenities like air conditioning and a rear window defogger, this first Challenger model made a bold move onto the scene that would give it serious legs in the industry for five years, until 1974. Although sales were high compared to other competing models, sales of pony cars were dropping overall in the early '70s and so the Challenger was discontinued by the middle of the decade.


Generation Two - Changes to A Classic Muscle Model


The Challenger name returned briefly in the late 70's and early 80's as the North American version of what was then sold in Japan and elsewhere as the Mitsubishi Sapporo.

Although the second generation Challenger shared the same frameless hardtop style as its previous generation, its performance on the road dropped greatly thanks to its standard inline-four cylinder engine, as opposed to the six- and eight-cylinders found in the first generation. Thanks to an available 2.6 L Hemi engine, however, this model somehow managed to salvage the Challenger's reputation as a performance model, especially with Dodge's emphasis on sportiness through tape stripes and bright colors.

This generation only ran until 1983, which would be the last anyone would see of the Challenger name for 25 years.


Third Generation: Back With A Vengeance


After two and a half decades of silence from the Challenger line, Dodge resurrected the name - along with the classic style - in early 2008 with the third generation, a powerful muscle car that harkened back to the design style and performance goals of the original Challenger. This includes a bold, muscular front profile, the Dodge standard quad headlights, and a focus on V6 and V8 powertrains, many of them with Hemi engines.

This generation also saw extremely high demand from its initial limited release, which prompted Dodge to release the full run in Canada in 2009 and in the U.S. not long after. Several engine and design updates through the years have led to the current 2015 model, complete with the available Supercharged 6.2L HEMI SRT Hellcat V8 engine that can pump out 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, making this the most powerful muscle car ever.

This engine is available on the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat model, the most recent - and most powerful - of a long line of Challenger special editions and limited performance models throughout the third generation. The Hellcat features meticulous design details, like the high-flow front fascia that removes one of the front lights to allow more air to reach the engine, which increases torque. This, plus the impressive lineup of tech upgrades and the luxurious available interiors, make the Hellcat one of the most impressive vehicles to date to bear the Challenger nameplate.

And so, after what has been almost sixty years, the Dodge Challenger has seen four iterations that have spanned across decades. These models represent the changing wants of the consumers over the course of time, and we think the Challenger especially has risen to meet that demand with an unparalleled style. For those in the market for a great muscle car with a history of excellent performance, look no further than the mighty Dodge Challenger.