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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Vision Thing: Challenger, once more

Hello there! My name is Adrian Clarke. I am a professional car designer, earning a degree in automotive design from Coventry University and a Masters in Vehicle Design from the Royal College of Art in London. I worked for several years at a major European OEM.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/vision-thing/vision-thing-challenger-once-more/
21 REPLIES 21
Flashman
Technician

Your column is as well-written, knowledge-imparting, and honest as your previous articles. I look forward to them.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

Thank you for your kind words.
hyperv6
Racer

My take on the muscle cars is this, The retro thing was good and it worked for a while. The fact that the pony car concept of a low price performance car on an econo chassis is dead the styling helped them live again at higher prices.

Today the retro thing is gone. Companies are more afraid to take chances in classes where sales are in a decline. None of the MFG are taking risks in these cars and all are down to a fraction of sales they once enjoyed.

Today many of the past potential buyers of these cars are now in trucks and Jeeps. This is where I think Ford did right with the Bronco. Not only are they popular in sales due to being lifestyle vehicles but women are very much half the buyers anymore.
The other factor is you can modify them 101 ways and do it fairly cheap.
I grew up in the 80's owning and racing muscle cars we could easily buy at good prices. Those days are over and most youth are not into cars or if they are they want something that is more than a 1/4 mile car.

As for global markets it is not one world and many never fully be. There are cars in each market that no one wants in another. Europe with their high gas will favor smaller cars. Japan and their limited space micro cars. Here in the states we have room to do about what ever we like be it on or off road. To us the Fiat is of no interest. Too small and most likely on the LA freeway a death trap here vs in a small village in the Alps.
The real shame is today we are seeing less specialty cars and mostly the same two box CUV in various forms. Maybe with the shared platforms of BEV we may see more variations on those platforms.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

Agree that retro for retro's sake is done, but fondly remembered models from a manufacturers past can still be redone and remixed successfully if the vehicle has something to offer. The Bronco is a prime example of this - it's not overly retro but has a distinct look and feel the recaptures the old model in a modern way.
On the global markets thing, this is the OEM dream but it really only works for European premium manufacturers selling in the US because those customers are willing to pay for image and perceived quality at the expense of space and features. I've just finished reading 'Secret Fords - volume 2' and it covers how both the Escort and the Mondeo/Contour/Mystique were conceived as world cars but ended up diverging into separate Euro/US models at great expense. When Ford of Europe took the final Fusion as the EU market Mondeo, it was late and too big because it was developed in the US.....
elvacarsdallas
Intermediate Driver

My daily driver is a 16 Challenger. I have had 65 Mustang, 68 GTO, Van's, SUVs among others. I had a Mini S that had a "funny" noise. I was quoted half the price of the car before they got into the engine.
I wanted a V engine with two doors that I liked the looks of, I have a Challenger and it's not bad on long roads in Texas.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

It's a great looking car, and was recently featured in Autocar's top 100 best looking cars feature. If I ever lived in the US I would definitely consider one.
WyattBowman
Intermediate Driver

I'm sure it's a little late now, but it appears the car in your photos is a standard R/T model with the 5.7l engine, not the Scat Pack 392 the counter guy said it was.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

I’m into this stuff and I can’t keep up with all the variants..
PDMRCAING
Intermediate Driver

I waited until the m6 Challenger was available & I traded my SRT8 for an RT classic with track pack. What a great cruiser, Dodge hit it out of the park with the styling & it has worn well. Now with a Demon next to it my garage It still looks right! The competitors from ford & chevy feel like a clown car compared to this big brute. I love them
AdrianClarke
Instructor

Classic A body Demon?
Figgy308
Intermediate Driver

I agree that the Challenger and the Fiat 500 have been very successful reinterpretations of old classics. However for ever 500 there is are three like the Jaguar S type. Retro works in the cases you've highlighted because they are a niche. People aren't wandering into Dodge dealerships choosing between the R/T and an SUV. They are the halo car and can exist for a longer model cycle than regular cars.
When you make your mainstream cars "retro" it leads you down a blind alley. How do you update it so that the car non-enthusiast neighbour knows that you've got the latest model? No-one is looking in their catalogues from 1978 and thinking Hmmm those big bumpers look good. And velour interiors are due for a comeback.
In the 60's the S type was a bit of a stop-gap. So what comes after in the retro world XJ6? Didn't they do that? XJ40 said no-one ever. No, build the hero models and let them draw punters in, just how it was done in period.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

The S-Type was conceived because Ford needed another model to share the DEW platform (2000 Lincoln LS/2002 Thunderbird), although Jaguar had been kicking around the idea of a sub XJ saloon for some time. My strong suspicion is it was actually designed in Dearborn rather than Coventry, like the later X Type.
The XJ40 looked fresh for it's time, but soon regressed backwards (X300/308/350/358). Hence the 2010 X351 XJ blew all that out of the water - Jag had designed themselves into a retro corner.
geozinger
Detailer

Count me as a fan of the retro-Challenger and the retro-500. (I'm pretty sure I'm a unique vector of folks who can appreciate both cars, especially here in the US.) Daimler, then later FCA, did a masterful job of creating and then sustaining the Challenger (plus the Charger and 300, too) much to my concerns about "furrin" ownership not only not concerned about the heritage of the cars, but only interested in pimping the Jeep and RAM divisions, like Daimler did. This was one car where the MCU was actually better than the original edition, something that rarely happens.

As a member of the late Boomer demographic, I have enjoyed the revival of the competition between the brands, but the GM and Ford machines have turned into BMW chasers while Dodge has gone down the retro road with great results. At the last local dealer new car show that actually had cars in it, circa 2020, I was able to sample each of these cars and found that only the Challenger fit the way I expected it to. They've gotten the formula down to a science and are smart enough not to mess with it.

I'm hoping that with the acquisition of FCA by the PSA group that Stellantis will have the sense and sensibility to continue with what works for Mopar in the US. I was pleasantly surprised by what FCA did for some of the individual models, but time will tell what Stellantis has up it's sleeve.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

Within the whole group there’s scope for dedicated RWD platform to exist (conceivably Alfa/Dodge/Opel). Dodge are essentially a two car company now (apart from RAM) I doubt they will stray too far from their formula, because while it’s a narrow niche they are doing it well.
Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

Excellent write-up. I purchased two Challengers new and was sent 3rd party marketing surveys both times. I remember checking the "styling" box on each with extreme prejudice, along with "size" as reasons for purchase. I figured there would be hundreds (or thousands) of others checking the "performance" related boxes, so those areas didn't need any help from me.

What I thought manufacturers need to know was that the appearance of a vehicle is still a top concern for many buyers and that some of us like to bring along the kids and buy groceries so a back seat and decent trunk were required. As my parents told me when I complained about climbing over the front seat of their 70s personal-luxury coupe... "Your other option is to walk." America needs more parents like that so the kids will appreciate the freedom they gain living on their own. But I digress.

BTW, the reason this car has done so well under three different owners is because the last two didn't understand its success any more than they understand Rams and Jeeps. Thus "the foreigners" pretty much stay away from those studios, powertrain wings, etc.* because they DO like money. I'd assume the Germans liked money as well, but rather than simply allowing the metaphorical tree to bear fruit, they decided to save money by not watering it. And when it dried out, they burned the branches for heat. Thankfully new life sprouted from the old stump.

*I mean this semi-literally. A few foreigners who "get it"; the way someone who'd own a Duster or T-bird in London might, are allowed to give input. I'd tell you how I know but I can't. At least until I retire. Ideally I'd be barred from a "mini" or "Porsche" studio as well in that perfect world that used to exist before automobiles became global commodities.

AdrianClarke
Instructor

Any good designer should be able to recognize the needs and wants of different markets - I think this is sometimes lost outside of the design studio, where executives concern themselves with parts commonality and development costs. We had a competitor vehicle in the studio against one of our new designs. Both were similarly painted. The problem was the competitor was available with a V8, and at the time ours wasn't. It took me to point that out, and the markets we were aiming at would expect and want a V8, particularly at that price point....
RG440
Instructor

Super Article ! Really enjoyed it…From a design standpoint one thing that has always “Spoken Muscle” to me has been the round headlight with the top of the round sliced off with the hood and Dodge knows that along with backing the look up with respectable (very) performance ! My first car was a 69 340 Dart triple black four speed. The first motor in it was 485 hp at 3mpg. The second motor in it was a stock 340 with the 833 trans in both. First gear with the first motor the car was 45 degree angle with the ass end left. Second was 45 degree with ass end right. Third it started straightening out and forth that thing was GONE due to the overdrive. The second motor I also included a 276 rear gear and a “Catch Me If You Can” bumper sticker. Dodge still does many, many super fun combos with the Challenger’s over the years with the HP to back them up along with the fuel economy if you so desire that option and still have the HEMI attitude to back it up with just the Challengers looks. Dodge also knows that in the marketing of the Challenger. Check out these two commercials that have helped to sell this platform to this day ! That kid on the side of the road was me before driving and YEP it was that LOOK and SOUND that sold me for life ! Thanks Dodge and Thank You ! For the great article !

1st commercial is 2015, second ones 2014…

https://youtu.be/hHpnq4G7-tE

https://youtu.be/Le7nm7JNVk8
AdrianClarke
Instructor

Those are great, the first one I wasn't familiar with, but the second one I do remember. I've spent more time than I should have building Challengers on the online configurator (purely for research purposes obviously)....
srh563
Pit Crew

Interesting story. I have a 73 challenger 340 (with a 727 slapstick) in my garage that I bought new. Original numbers matching . The brakes with disks up front are not too bad just leave enough space for stopping.
The newer ones are nice but a bigger car, I'm glad they brought back the name. People used to ask me "what a Challenger was ?"
AdrianClarke
Instructor

Sounds nice! I'd love an E body with a 340 in - something about that speaks to me rather than the bigger engines, I'm not sure why, because I've never tried one. My Duster was hopeless - I put all new cylinders, shoes, and a steering link on it and it was still terrible. I eventually swapped out the front tyres for slimmer ones in a commercial vehicle compound just to make the turning the damn thing less hernia inducing. It was wicked fast though - both a tuned Sierra Sapphire Cosworth and an original Honda Fireblade got the fright of their lives. Trouble was I had to brake way earlier than they did....
fueledbymetal
Advanced Driver

“And I still haven’t had a go in a pickup”

Looking forward to hearing your continued adventures here!