The Challenger hatched on September 25, 1969 – 54 years ago to the day – as Dodge’s new E-body ‘super car’ (one of Chrysler’s two ponies built on the then-new platform, with the Plymouth Barracuda being the other one). A decade later, at the dawn of the 80s, a Texas-registered Challenger is bought by a man who took on a new job at the (former) Packard Plant.
The new Mopar owner was the warehouse manager at the industrial building complex. Still, he never got to drive his particular muscle car (not on public roads, at least. Judging by the race helmet on the back seat and by its replacement motor, maybe the car has seen the far end of the quarter-mile races organized within Packard's former grounds). He stored it away and left it there until the grand eviction of 1998.
Chrysler assembled 56,024 Challengers for the inaugural year of its new Dodge pony car and 45,367 received engines. To make piston algebra a little captivating, let’s throw in another five-figure number: 26,604 – this represents how many carburetor barrels came in squadrons of six. I nearly solved the equation for you: divide 26,604 by 6, and we get 4,434.
‘And what are we supposed to do with that number?’ That’s how many Six-Packs were planted between the front fenders of the 1970 Challengers. 2,399 danced atop the 340 V8s, and the rest (2,035) armed the gigantic 440-6 eight-cylinder of the new Scat Pack alpha – the R/T.
Mother Mopar was incredibly proud of her track-derived offspring, affectionately calling it ‘The Chiller’ in hopes of future competition-freezing performance. Dodge reinforced the 340’s main bearing webs and recast the heads for improved breathing through the altered exhaust ports. A unique – and extra-large –scoop sat on the blacked-out fiberglass hood to shove more air in the thirsty three carbs.
The direct cold air duct is the tell-tale sign of a T/A, and it only adorned the Challenger in 1970. (Its Plymouth milk brother, the All American Racers AAR ‘Cuda, had a similar trait, with a uniquely carved air scoop). The Trans Am Dodge introduced the staggered wheels, with the G60x15 white letter rear tires being two sizes wider than the front E80x15s.
To house the fatter tires, the camber of the rear springs was increased - this also gave extra space for the side exhausts, but it also made the back end taller. This had the welcomed effect of reducing high-speed nose lift, giving the Challenger more stability. The standard ‘ducktail’ on the trunk lid and the optional ‘chin-whisker’ under the blacked-out grille also conspired for better traction.
The 340 Six-Pack Challengers came with 3.55 rears as the norm, but a 3.91 was offered at extra cost – both had to be accompanied by a Sure Grip diff. A close-ratio four-speed manual or the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmissions were mandatory for the 340-cube output of 290 hp (294 PS) and 345 lb-ft (468 Nm). The self-shifting gearbox was the preferred option, with 1,410 cars produced, while the manual put the go in only 989.
Somehow, it made it to 1980 without the error corrected. Then, it was sold to the warehouse manager, who placed it in storage at the former Packard facility. In December 1998, the municipality of Detroit ordered that the buildings be evicted and sent a troop of executioners to cut the locks on the gates.
In the chaos that followed, the Dodge was pulled out of its retirement that very night, and its grille, tail lamps, and deck lid were forcibly ‘repossessed’ by hoarding thieves. The car's owner – and until then, the caretaker of the entire facility – rushed to the scene but only arrived when the desecration was over.
He was also about to get married and talked his wife into using part of the money set aside for the wedding to pay for the Dodge. Now, you may be wondering what kind of man does that; a Mopar guy, that’s who. At the time of this Trans Am’s adventurous meeting with its current owner, the buyer had a regular 340 Challenger from 1970.
He still owns the pair of Mopars and plans to restore the Trans Am to its correct – and deserved – factory condition (he does have the original numbers matching 340-CID V8). When – or if – this project will come to a happy ending is anybody's guess since the duo of Burnt Orange 1970 Dodge Challengers has been sitting in his garage for the past quarter-century.