The First Challenger
Mention the words "Dodge Challenger" to any gearhead and they will likely break into a big smile and pontificate about the Chrysler-built muscle cars of the late 1960s. Or, perhaps about the awesome Hellcat Dodge Challenger built in just the last few years. Ask them about the first Dodge Challenger, however, and you will probably get an "I'm not sure about that one." This is because few know that the first Dodge Challenger was a special car built almost a decade before the muscle cars of the 1960s. Fortunately a classic car expert we contacted at Fred Martin Superstore of Barberton, OH had the whole story for us.
The first-generation Dodge Challengers, made between 1970 and 1974, were "pony cars" made by Chrysler Corporation. Based on a modified Barracuda chassis, these vehicles were good looking and available with some real muscle car engines. For V8s, for example, buyers could choose between a 383, a 440-2 barrel, a 440-4 barrel and a 426 Hemi. It's true that Chrysler joined the pony car party a bit late in 1970, but when they got there, they made a big splash. The ride lasted until 1975 when Chrysler pulled the plug on the Challenger name.
Fast forward to 2011 when the Challenger name was pulled off the shelf and once again applied to Chrysler high-performance cars. These seventh-generation Dodge Challenger borrowed styling cues from the classic second-generation models and they boasted very powerful engines. Take, for example, the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 with 707 horsepower, this car had the world staring in disbelief.
The Silver Challenger
The raw-horsepower Challengers of the first and seventh generations stand in quite some contrast to the very first Challenger. This is because the first Challenger wasn't the beginning of a series. It was a one off.
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 two-door Club Sedan, and as the name suggests, only in metallic silver paint. As we mentioned above, this car was not representative of a new direction for Chrysler Corporation. It was simply a special Dodge Coronet spruced up to move cars during the slow summer months.
Even so, the Silver Challenger was a good-looking automobile. It featured a distinctive all silver metallic "Lustre-Bond" paint -a high-baked enamel that could go two or three years before waxing. The 1959 summer promotional package also included black carpeting, silver vinyl and black brocade interior fabrics, whitewall tires, and full wheel covers.
There were but two engine choices for the Silver Challenger. The 135HP "Get-Away" 6-cylinder or 255 HP "Red-Ram" V-8 engine. Transmission choices included a three-speed manual with column shift' or a two-speed Powerflite automatic. Suggested factory retail prices at the factory in Detroit were $2,530.50 for the 6-cylinder and $2,650.00 for the V-8.
Poor Sales Numbers
Even though it was an attractive car, sales of the Silver Challenger were disappointing. Chrysler records say that just 352 Silver Challengers built (both the 6-cylinder and the V-8 versions) before the redesigned 1960 Dodges went into production in late August.
The Challenger is a good example of a car name that came on quietly and later was transformed into a roaring success. Up until that time, it was the lightest body style Chrysler ever offered with a V8 in it, and it offered the first Metallic Silver painted car on any Detroit Car.
Image Source: Google Images