The Dodge Challenger is one of the most beloved muscle cars from the Golden Age of American performance. It looked great, had racing pedigree, and could be optioned with everything from a thrifty slant-six to a fire-breathing Hemi V8. But there’s another reason why the Challenger looms large in our collective automotive imagination: It died young. The Challenger was around for just five model years, from 1970 to 1974, just long enough to experience the peak of the muscle car movement, and disappear before things got really bad.
The first-generation Mustang infamously gained 1,000 pounds before being replaced by the Pinto-based Mustang II. The second-generation Camaro and Firebird went from some of the most refined sports cars of the era to overweight personal luxury cruisers almost overnight. Ditto the Dodge Charger. But the Challenger never got too slow. Or too fat. And it was never weighed down with massive safety bumpers to ruin its good looks. Like its nearly identical cousin the Plymouth Barracuda, the Challenger seemed to get it right the first time, then duck out at the best possible moment. That was good enough to canonize it for thousands of gearheads around the world.