'58 Dodge | Aprilia RSV | BMW Streetcarver | Sketchpad
The Dodge Challenger's existence can be traced back to an event that changed the second half of the last century: The attack of Pearl Harbor. December Eighth, 1941, FDR asked congress to declare war on Imperial Japan. What does this have to do with our Challenger? It set the course of the next fifty years, including events that lead up to fruition of the musclecar!
Out of the ashes of a destroyed Europe, small car companies emerged. Auto-Avio Costruzioni Ferrari and Societa Italiana Auto Trasformazioni Accessori started producing lithe roadsters intended to devour the Alps . A small German firm noted for the production of the KDF and Panzer tanks during the war, started turning out similar automobiles as well. A certain British Sports car is responsible for the germination of this specialized niche in the automotive industry: The MG TB.
Allied soldiers grew familiar with the English drop head two seater, and its predecessor, the TA. After the war, returning soldiers from all sides started their lives where they left off armed with technological advances gained from the war. In the garages of their subdivided homes were these European Sports cars. For soldiers returning stateside, these cars developed with a different way of thinking was a refreshing breath of air compared to the stagnant offerings at home.
Post World War II was a bright spot in America's history. The economy soared. Subdivisions were blooming out of potato fields in New York, and there was a general feeling of optimism. The public clamored for new cars, and the warmed over prewar design offerings weren't fitting the bill. Visionaries such as Preston Tucker stepped in to fill that void, and in turn, fostered automotive innovations that weren't around at the beginning of the decade, such as air conditioning, overhead valves, and fenders integrated into the body.
Detroit's claim in the sports car market arrived in January, 1953. The Corvette featured many innovations, such as glass fiber construction, and a overall height that was lower than the contemporary Chevrolet's hipline. Ford answered with the Thunderbird. Chrysler auspiciously stayed out this market, however the Mopar Contingent was represented by the Briggs Cunningham built Hemi-powered C4R. These nimble sports cars lead the way to subcompacts, compacts, and our beloved pony cars.
April 1964, both Chrysler and Ford unveiled sporty cars with the crosshairs squarely aimed at the burgeoning youth market. Both the Barracuda (with the largest backglass in automotive history-14 square feet, specially manufactured by Pyrex)and the Mustang were based on pre-existing platforms- the Valiant and Falcon, respectively.The Pony car was born; essentially a small sports car with a backseat. General Motors, however had another idea of capturing the emerging market.
John Z. Delorean took the Tempest, a mid-sized Pontiac, and spawned the GTO. What was different about the GTO (a name blatantly ripped off Ferrari, an acronym for Gran Turismo Omoglata) was its image. Delorean added an appearance package and created a success.
The 1964 Daytona 500 was an absolute shut-out, thanks to Chrysler’s Tom Hoover. A new hemi engine based on the 426 street wedge was finally available to the general public so the Coronet R/T could do battle with the GTO.
The proverbial nail in the coffin for Chrysler was when General Motors started the Panther project in 1966. While the idea of a big motor in a little car was old news, Mustangs were flying off showroom floors with a popularity unrivaled by any other manufacturer. These cars were light and nimble, much like a European sports car, and didn't need a large engine. These cars were meant to devour windy mountain roads, not fast straightaways. General Motors responded to the Chevy II/Nova based F-Body platform.
During the 1966 Superbowl, Dodge unveiled the Charger. Taking a cue from Plymouth by grafting a fastback body on an existing automobile, Elwood Engel and Bill Brownlie gave the Coronet a sloping roofline. The Coronet, still was no match for the ponycar offerings from the boys in Flint in Dearborn. The suffering sales of the Barracuda, and the Dart that didn't fill the niche, were clearly evident.
Something had to be done.