The Dodge Challenger is legendary because of its first iteration, the 1970 model and for its crazy modern Hellcat version, but between the two existed a very interesting version, a lightweight Japanese RWD coupe powered by an HEMI 4 banger. Travesty you say ? Wait a minute, this might have been the best Challenger ever.
Welcome to Forgotten Classics
As demonstrated in the previous articles, the goal of this series of essays is be to bring cars that are getting no love back in the limelight. FC is also a thorough analysis of why such cars remained obscure and never got the praise they deserved.
Thanks to the 1973 oil crisis, Chrysler LLC decided to kill its halo performance car, the Challenger, in an effort to preserve its brand equity for the future.
That future came 3 years later. In lieu of a thirsty muscle car from Michigan, Chrysler introduced a sophisticated subcompact RWD coupe made by Mitsubishi cars of Japan. Tipping the scale at only 2,500lbs, the base 105hp 4 pot mated to an Aisin 5-speed transmission was enough to experience what we like top call oversteer. As a matter of fact, the JDM Mitsubishi Galant Lambda was already becoming increasingly popular on the emerging Japanese tuning scene.
But the piêce de résistence of the Challenger was its exclusive optional HEMI engine. A derivative of Mitsubishi’s 2.6L Astron 4-banger, the HEMI was the largest production 4 cylinder engine of its time. It featured an exclusive shaft balancing technology that was later licensed by Porsche.
The second gen Challenger was not intended to be a track day queen but rather a personal luxury coupe. It featured a state-of-art cassette player, custom upholstery, adjustable bucket seats, leather wrapped shifter and steering wheel and plenty of gauges the keep the pilot busy. The second gen Challenger cabin was a very nice place to be.
Despite all these qualities, the second gen Challenger was a complete failure. The North American market was not ready for such a forward thinking vehicle and it was sadly the entry-level models that accounted for most of the sales. Plymouth a version of the car too, the Sapporo. Oddly named after a beer company, the Plymouth version was more conservative in its approach and featured stuff like a vinyl half-roof and burgundy velour interior. It sold just as poorly.
Both cars were phased out after the 1983 automotive season and were replaced with FWD-based atrocities that would define Chrysler for the following 20 years. It’s a very sad story because Chrysler had a game changer with the second gen Challenger. Poor marketing and dealership incompetence are largely to blame for this debacle.
Thank you for reading.