1971 Dodge Challenger Parked for 44 Years Hides Indy 500 Secret, Gets First Wash

1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible 11 photos
Photo: Kleps Garage/YouTube
1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible
About a month ago, I introduced you to a 1971 Dodge Challenger that was unearthed after sitting for a whopping 44 years in a barn. A rare convertible still sporting a numbers-matching engine, the Mopar emerged back into the light as a decent-condition survivor.
We did not know then that the Challenger was much rarer than its body style and drivetrain combo suggested. Nearly a month later, the owner released footage of the Challenger's first wash in over four decades and unveiled all the exciting info he had gathered since finding the car.

If you're a Mopar gearhead, you probably already know that the first-generation Challenger was available as a drop-top for only two model years, 1970 and 1971. It's not surprising it was short-lived because it was far from popular. Dodge delivered 3,884 drop-tops in 1970 and just 2,165 units in 1971. That's only 5.8% of the total production for the said years.

This HEMI Orange rig is one of 1,870 convertibles shipped to US dealerships in 1971. The 318-cubic-inch (5.2-liter) small-block V8 and automatic gearbox combo narrow it to 1,230 units. That's fairly rare, given that many drop-tops are rotting away in junkyards as we speak. But our host discovered this is no regular 1971 convertible.

When checking the serial numbers, the owner discovered that this Challenger was one of the official pace cars for the 1971 Indianapolis 500. The story is quite interesting because that year, the Big Three refused to provide the race with a factory pace car due to the new emissions regulations that began to cripple muscle cars.

How did the Challenger end up pacing the iconic race? Well, a group of four Dodge dealerships in Indianapolis took matters into their own hands and ordered 50 cars. The story goes they were all finished in HEMI Orange with white soft tops and shared common features such as hood pins, a flat hood, and drum brakes. It's unclear if all were ordered with the 318 engine, the entry-level V8 at the time, but the car that actually paced the event used a 383-cubic-inch (6.3-liter) big-block mill.

This drop-top did not lead the pack, but it was paraded on the track and was part of the usual marketing campaign that preceded the race. By the way, the official pace car crashed while re-entering the pits, causing the first such incident at the Indy 500, which was celebrating its 55th anniversary that year.

After the race, the dealers needed to get rid of the 50 Challengers, so the cars were stripped of their "Indy 500 Pace Car" decals and listed for sale. The repurposed Mopars proved to be tough sellers, so many of them were sent to other dealers across the US. This example, number 29 of 50 made, ended up in Miami. It was sold a year later after it had been driven by a dealership employee.

The car was rear-ended in 1980 and parked for good because the owner did not trust his own welding. Fast-forward to 2024, and the Challenger is out of storage and has a bright future ahead. The new owner wants to return it on the road and keep it as original as possible.

The numbers-matching 318 V8 will remain under the hood, and the owner will try to save as much as possible from the original paint and upholstery. This car will morph into a nice survivor, and that's the best thing that can happen to a rare gem like this. Sure, it's not one of those super rare and super expensive HEMI drop-tops, but its Indy 500 pace car heritage is nothing to sneeze at.

But until we can see this old Mopar run and drive again, watch it getting its first (and much-deserved) wash in more than four decades. The car cleans up nicely, and it's a very satisfying process. Hit the play button below to check it out.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Ciprian Florea
Ciprian Florea profile photo

Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories