1970 was the first year for the Dodge Challenger, Dodge’s response (along with the redesigned Plymouth Barracuda which was on a 2" shorter wheelbase) to Ford’s Mustang and Cougar and GM’s Camaro and Firebird. Challenger’s body echoed the corporate family “Coke-bottle” shape, a lithe and purposeful look, distinctive from the competition. The chassis was a typical pony car with drum brakes, independent front suspension and a solid axle on leaf springs at the rear. The performance R/T package included a Rallye instrument cluster, performance suspension, heavy-duty brakes and exterior identification. Engines ranged from the week-kneed 198-ci/101-hp slant-six to Chrysler’s tire-smoking legendary Street Hemi.

Chrysler’s hemispherical combustion chamber V8 debuted in 1951 and powered Chryslers, DeSotos and Dodges until 1959 when it was replaced by wedge-head engines. But the best was yet to come. In early 1963 Chrysler engineers put a Hemi head on a modified raised-block 426 wedge to create a competitive NASCAR engine, the 426 Hemi. It was shaped by all the experience gained in years of competition and, best of all for Mopar enthusiasts, in order to be eligible for NASCAR competition, it had to be available in a regular production street configuration. The Street Hemi incorporated many of the race version’s performance components, including the crankshaft, connecting rods and cross-bolted main bearing caps. The milder grind camshaft used hydraulic lifters and lower rate springs in an attempt to limit rpm and keep to the 425-horsepower limit imposed by management. With dual Carter AFB carburetors, it was the most awesome engine of a period when awesome engines were the rule. History has passed judgment on the Street Hemi, and it is now the most sought after and valuable powerplant of the Muscle Car era.

The 1970 Challenger R/T Hemi-powered two-door hardtop pictured here is one of only 418 produced in 1970-71. In addition to the standard R/T equipment, it has a four-speed transmission, 11" clutch, 15" x 7" Rallye wheels and a bumblebee stripe.

In storage since 1991, its repaint has not stood up well, but the Challenger R/T shows less than 5,600 miles on its 150-mph speedometer. With its massive Street Hemi engine and manual transmission, this Challenger R/T is one of the rarest and most coveted examples of the Muscle Car era, a purchase that should reward its new owner with awe-inspiring acceleration and enduring value.

SCM Analysis


The car shown here sold for $38,775 at Christie’s Auction at the Petersen Museum on June 17, 2000. Christie’s pre-sale estimate was $18-22,000. When the bidding opened at $15,000, Craig Jackson, Rob Myers and several other muscle-car players in the audience nearly fell out of their seats in a rush to put up their paddles. But at $38,775, all thoughts of stealing a Hemi had disappeared.

A ’71 Hemi ’Cuda convertible brought $410,000 in December 1999 at a James G. Murphy Auction in Kenmore, Washington, which would seem to make this car cheap, at less than 10% of that price (January 2000, page 41.) But this was a coupe, not a convertible, and a Challenger, not a Barracuda. The ’Cuda is more popular with collectors today, primarily because of its cleaner lines and attractive, two-headlight front end.

Furthermore, this Challenger needed work. Its purple paint was flaking off, revealing bare metal underneath. It also appeared that this car had been stripped and repainted at some point in its past. However, it was relatively straight and free from rust. According to SCM’s Chip Baldoni, who examined the car at the auction, the engine sounded healthy, and overall, he felt the car provided a great basis for a restoration project. (This car can be verified as a genuine Hemi by the R in the fifth position in the VIN.)

A numbers-matching Hemi Challenger in excellent condition could bring as much as $50,000, according to Mitch Silver of Silver Auctions in Spokane, Washington. It would take a fresh, high-quality paint job and a show-quality detailing to bring this car to that level. Take the selling price of $38,775, add in the amount necessary to make it worth $50K, and suddenly it becomes clear why the muscle-car bottom feeders shoved their paddles back in their pockets when the bidding crossed the $30,000 mark. This car, at this price, was a fair deal for buyer and seller both.—Bill Neill

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