Dodge reviving Challenger muscle car for '08

Some factual errors about the Camaro project in the story below, but some good Chrysler history in the following story. - July 30, 2006

The all-new Dodge Challenger "is a go!"

That's the word from Chrysler Group President and Chief Executive Tom LaSorda, who recently announced plans to bring the Challenger concept to production as a 2008 model.

Making the announcement via Webcam from Daytona International Speedway, LaSorda gave longtime Challenger fans the news they had been hoping for since the concept vehicle was unveiled in January at the 2006 Detroit auto show.

Some Chrysler officials said at the time of the Detroit showing that bringing the Challenger to production was already a given. But the company waited until just before the recent Daytona Pepsi 400 NASCAR race to make the official announcement.

"We haven't seen this kind of spontaneous, passionate response to a car since we unveiled the Dodge Viper concept in 1989," LaSorda said during the announcement.

"But it's easy to see what people like about the Dodge Challenger. It's bold, powerful and capable. It's a modern take on one of the most iconic muscle cars, and sets a new standard for pure 'pony car' performance."

The new Challenger has the same "long hood, short deck, wide stance and two-door coupe body style that distinguished the iconic Challengers of the 1970s," Chrysler said in a news release accompanying the Daytona announcement.

But that's something of an understatement. Those of us who watched the unveiling in Detroit were immediately struck by the similarities to the original Challenger -- so much similar that the new model almost looks like a restored version of the old one.

"We drew on the rich heritage of the Dodge Challenger, but with contemporary forms and technologies," Chrysler Group Chief Operating Officer Eric Ridenour said during the Daytona event. "It's not just a re-creation; it's a reinterpretation."

The Challenger came to market in fall 1969 as a 1970 model, using the same architecture as the Plymouth Barracuda.

But the Challenger was roomier, thanks to a 2-inch-longer wheelbase. It was discontinued after the 1974 model year, but thousands of them live on in the garages and driveways of Mopar collectors.

Chrysler notes that the Challenger was originally offered in coupe and convertible models; there was never a four-door sedan version.

Here is some history, related in the Chrysler news release:

In the first year, the Challenger was offered in a limited-edition model to meet requirements for SCCA Trans-Am racing.

In 1971, a Challenger was the pace car for the Indianapolis 500.

New front-end styling was introduced for 1972, featuring a larger "egg-crate" grille.

In April 1974, production ceased. Over that five-year run, Chrysler sold about 188,600 Challengers.

Onstage at Cobo Hall for the Detroit unveiling, Chrysler Group chief designer Trevor Creed showed off the 425-horsepower Challenger concept to an enthusiastic group of automotive journalists and a few Mopar muscle-car buffs who had been invited to attend the unveiling.

"The Dodge Challenger concept propels the pony car into a new era," he said.

Chevrolet followed a day later with the introduction of its pony car, the Camaro, with a version of the 400-horsepower V8 engine found in the 2006 Corvette.

The Camaro's exterior styling, however, is decidedly less retro than that of the Challenger or even the current Mustang.

We had the opportunity to compare the old and new ones almost side by side.

As a prelude to the Camaro concept's introduction, Chevy officials rolled out six 1969 Camaros owned by collectors -- including Ed Welburn, General Motors Corp.'s global design director, who drives his yellow Camaro to work every day.

GM said that the '69 model was the one its designers used to help them create the concept, but the concept draws more from the future than the past, with some cues from the current Corvette as well as some high-performance aircraft, the company said.

To me, it looked like a cross between the current Corvette and the Cadillac CTS sedan. It has a high beltline similar to that of the CTS.

As for the Camaro, there is a concession to high gasoline prices. The V8 engine has displacement-on-demand technology that cuts out four of the cylinders during highway cruising to give the vehicle up to 30 mpg.

Chrysler has similar technology available for its Hemi engines, and I assume that would also be made available in the Challenger, just as it is in the current Dodge Charger, which has the same underpinnings as the Challenger concept.

The decision to bring the Challenger to market next year was fairly easy for Chrysler. The company already has an available chassis for the car. GM, though, has no ready platform for the Camaro unless it uses the rear-drive architecture of the CTS.

The automaker is still considering whether to continue development of its so-called Zeta rear-wheel-drive platform that was put on hold last year as GM's financial woes increased.

The Zeta platform probably would have to be the basis for a new version of the Camaro.

GM said it would need to be able to sell about 150,000 of the Camaro annually to justify bringing the car to market.

The Camaro has been out of production since 2002, when it was discontinued because of lagging sales and an aging chassis that needed major redesign to meet new safety standards.

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