The Dodge Challenger arrived in 1970. Along with its sister, the Plymouth Barracuda, it was intended to take on other muscle cars like the Pontiac Firebird and the Mercury Cougar. These were all bigger cars than the sports compact cars of their day – the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. In contrast to the pony cars, the Challenger five-passenger coupe offered a large cabin with decent rear-passenger legroom.
By 1974, the Dodge Challenger was relatively tame compared to the earlier models produced in 1970 and ’71. Gone were the powerful 426 Hemi and the massive 440 six pack. In 1974, the largest engine was a 360 cu-in V8, capable of a relatively modest 245 hp.
The 1974 Dodge Challenger with the bigger V8 was a legitimate muscle car, although it really represented the end of the muscle car era. Production ceased in April 1974, and the Challenger would not re-appear until 1978, when a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant Lambda was marketed as the next Dodge Challenger. Edmunds acknowledges the 2011 Challenger’s status as a bonafide muscle car, but it also gives it credit for being a superb grand touring coupe as well.
Engines and DrivetrainsThe Challengers from both eras are rear-wheel-drive designs that put a premium on performance. The 2011 Challenger SE came standard with a V6, while the 1974 Challenger came standard with a 318 cu-in V8.
In 2011, Dodge upgraded it Challenger engines to make them even more powerful. The Pentastar V6 in the modern base SE is very different from the V6s of four decades ago. In the 2011 Challenger, the V6 generates a very respectable 305 hp, which is up 55 hp from 2010. The SRT8 got a bigger engine for 2011 as well. The 6.4 L, 392 cu-in V8 engine led to a new designation for the top-of-the-line Challenger – the SRT8 392. This behemoth supplies a maximum 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. Low-end torque is an impressive 90 lb-ft greater than that generated by the biggest Hemi in the 2010 lineup.
Today’s transmissions are more complex and sophisticated than those in the original Challenger. Five-speed and six-speed manuals and an automatic are all available. Compare this to the three and four-speed manuals and three-speed TorqueFlite automatic available in the 1974 model.
Design and Features
The effort to replicate the look of the early ’70s Challengers four decades later was successful. The long hood and sleek styling communicate speed. However, the stance and look of the modern Challenger is arguably more hefty and powerful. With curb weights of approximately 4,000 pounds, modern Challengers are significantly heavier vehicles. The curb weight of the 1974 Challenger is about 700 pounds lighter.
The modern Challenger rides on significantly larger wheels than its predecessor. Seventeen-inch rims are standard while 18-in and even 20-in wheels are available. In 1974, OEM wheels were either just 14 or 15 inches in size.
Of course, the 1974 design cannot compete with the technology featured in the modern Challenger. A quick look at the optional Connectivity Group illustrates the point. It includes Bluetooth and an iPod/USB interface and satellite radio; even the terminology was unknown to early ’70s car enthusiasts, much less the actual technology. The auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlamps and heated front seats were not to be found on the 1974 version either. Garmin GPS navigation with a touchscreen interface is also a feature unknown to those driving in the earlier muscle car era.
AccelerationGiven the fact that the 426 Hemi and the 440 six pack were no longer available in the 1974 Dodge Challenger, the 2011 versions accelerate far faster than those from 1974. The base 1974 Dodge Challenger V8 produced rather pedestrian 0-60 times in the nine-second range.
Compare this to the most powerful 2011 Dodge Challenger, the SRT8 392. It is capable of a 4.5-second 0-60 mph time as tested by Motor Trend. This powerful muscle car can cover the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds. Even the 2011 Dodge Challenger SE is capable of a 6.4 second 0-60 time. The base model can cover the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds.
By 1974, the Challenger R/T was no longer produced but the Challenger V8 remained. In fact, the standard V6 had been retired in 1973, leaving only two V8s to choose from – the standard 318 cu-in engine and the bigger, more powerful 360 cu-in engine. The former generated 150 hp while the latter was good for a hefty 245 hp.
Even with the larger 360 engine, the 1974 Challenger took over nine seconds to reach 60 mph from a standing start. Compare this to the high-end 2011 SRT8, capable of completing the 0-60 mph dash in about five seconds. Equipped with either a 426 Hemi or 440 six pack in the 1970-71 Challengers could compete, completing the 0-60 test in a little more than six seconds. However, those engines were no longer available in 1974.
The engineering that goes into today’s engines yields a far better combination of fuel economy, low emissions and power than in the Challenger engines produced for the 1974 model year. The Se base is EPA-rated at 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Even the SRT8 392 with an automatic transmission will provide 14 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
By comparison, a 1974 Challenger with a 318 engine and a three-speed manual averaged 12-13 mpg. A 1974 Challenger equipped with 360 engine and the optional performance package averaged around 10-11 mpg, depending on whether it was equipped with a manual or TorqueFlite automatic.
Cost to Own
The MSRP of a base 1974 Dodge Challenger was $3,145. By comparison, top-of-the-line SRT8s retailed for more than $40,000. The buying power of a 1974 dollar is 4.56 times that of a 2011 dollar. Even when one adjusts for inflation, a new car buyer in 1974 received a lot of car for the money.
Another way to compare the original to the modern challenger is on the basis of what it would cost to own one today. The best 1974 Challenger restorations beat the 2011 Challenger rather handily. Hagerty calculates the average price of a 1974 Challenger Concours-quality restoration at $37,500. By comparison, the top-of-the-line 2011 Challenger SRT8 392 is typically priced used in the $27-33,000 range. Challenger R/Ts often run in the low to mid 20s, while the base Challenger is often priced at well under $20,000. However, pristine SRT8s with under 5,000 miles on the odometer come close, at $34-$35,000.
Today, collectors covet the early ’70s Challengers, especially the 1970 and 1971 models with the most powerful engines. Some enthusiasts swap out the smaller V8s in the 1974 Challengers to replicate the performance of earlier versions. However, in a straight-up comparison between production Challengers from 1974 and 2011, the modern one wins hands down.
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