The 426 HEMI is one of the best engines around.  It’s made already-good cars spectacular.  It also sounds splendid.  The level of aural trauma one receives just listening to this car is incredible, but it’s well worth ear surgery!  It also is one of the best-looking engines out there.

One can argue that the best Dodge to come with the 426 HEMI (or the Elephant Motor) was the 1969 Dodge Daytona.  It was built to rule NASCAR.  It did.  In fact, it did so well that NASCAR banned aero cars after the Daytona and it’s sister car, the Plymouth Superbird, dominated NASCAR in the 1969 and 1970 seasons.

However, I think that a second-best Dodge is the Challenger R/T with the 426 Street HEMI.  Yes, they had to have a street tune for this engine!  That should give you an idea of how good this motor is.  The Challenger R/T is relatively rare, powerful, and really represents the muscle car craze of the 1960s and early 1970s.

The new Challenger is a throwback to the original.  Dodge made the original Challenger to be something that you could pack the family into and drive on a daily basis, yet take to the drag strip and dominate.  It’s still that way today.

All of the hype surrounding the new Challenger Hellcat has me thinking how the old Challenger stacks up against the new Challenger.   Here goes.

The most astute Mopar fans among us will likely call the Hellcat a cheater against the 1970 Challenger R/T.  Yes, Dodge is using a big supercharger to squeeze 707 yowling ponies out of the Hellcat’s 6.2-liter V-8, while they used natural aspiration in the 1970 R/T.  I think for a fair comparison, the Challenger SRT8 is a good car to compare it to.  It’s got a 485-horsepower 6.4-liter V-8 (392 cubic inches), the option of an 8-speed automatic or a standard six-speed manual, and lots of performance goodies.

Why include the Hellcat?  Because right now, it represents the pinnacle of the Challenger line.

Let’s go back 44 years to when the Challenger was new.  In 1970, you could walk into any Dodge dealership, and special-order a Challenger R/T with the 426 c.i. HEMI  V-8 engine.  To do so, you had to start with a Challenger R/T.  This set you back $3,266.  The E74 426 HEMI was an additional $778.75.  However, checking the option box for the Elephant Motor meant you had to get the A34 Super Track Pak (4.10:1 rear end ratio, a 9-3/4 Dana rear end, a Sure-Grip differential, a seven-blade Torque Drive fan [essentially a serpentine belt-driven fan], a high performance radiator with a fan shroud, and power four-wheel disc brakes) for $236.65, a four-speed manual transmission (the A727 Torqueflite transmission was available for a higher cost) for $194.85, and a collapsible spare tire for $12.95.  And that’s before add-ons.  This bare-bones Challenger would have set you back $4,488.20, about the same price as a Corvette with the L-88 Tri-Power (427 cubic-inch solid-lifter V-8).  That’s the equivalent of $27,559.63 in today’s money.

The car would have weighed 3,402 pounds as optioned above.  Add on air conditioning, an automatic transmission, and other such luxuries, and you’d be looking at about 3,600 pounds.

Performance-wise, you were hard-pressed to find something faster than the Challenger R/T.  It could get up to 60 mph in under 6 seconds (the Subaru WRX does it in 5.5), and rumble through the quarter mile in about 14 seconds at 104 mph.  And that was before you slapped a pair of drag slicks on.  I wasn’t able to find any information on how well it gripped, but quite frankly, those interested in going around corners in a Challenger would have picked up a Challenger T/A.  Fuel economy?  Let’s be honest here – if you don’t have a heavy right foot, are good at short shifting, you would be lucky to eke out double digits.  This isn’t made for beating a Prius in fuel economy.

Warranty-wise, the Challenger R/T came with a 12-month, 12,000 mile powertrain warranty good for the original owner only, instead of the standard five-year, 50,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Let’s go back to the present.  $40,485 is the minimum price of admission for any Challenger carrying the SRT badge.  The weight has ballooned 800 pounds (mostly safety equipment and electronics) to 4,231 pounds.  Horsepower has gone up to 470, but torque has dropped from 490 lb-ft to 470 lb-ft.

When accelerating, the big Challenger will thunder to 60 mph in about 4.9 seconds, on its way to a very-respectable 13-second quarter mile on it’s sticky Pirelli P Zero tires.  Despite all of these impressive numbers, the Challenger will return 23 mpg on the highway.

In terms of the powertrain warranty, it’s a five-year/100,000 mile deal, but Dodge can and gladly will void the warranty if it is deemed that the car was used for “competition purposes.”

What about the Hellcat?  By January or February, you can walk into any SRT-approved Dodge dealer, plunk down $60,500, and say, “I’d like a Challenger Hellcat, please.”  Just remember, that’s before price gouging and options.

The Hellcat is heavier than the naturally-aspirated Challenger, tipping the scales at a monstrous 4,488 pounds.  But, it does come equipped with a 707-horsepower Hemi V-8.  It will sound like nothing else on the road for 3.6 seconds as you get to 60 mph, and then obliterate the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds at 126 mph on street tires.  Slap on a pair of drag slicks, and you’ll see 10.80 seconds at about 137-14o mph.

The massive supercharger requires 80 horsepower to keep it spinning, but it gives about 70 back when driving air into the engine.

To keep things semi-sane on the street, the car is limited to just 500 horsepower (you can even drive it with 300 horsepower), unless a special “red key” is put into the ignition.

To sum it all up, this may very well be the golden age of muscle car performance.  It just depends on how you view it.

Should I happen to be blindfolded and have to point at either a 1970 Challenger R/T, an SRT8 Challenger, or the Hellcat, I’d hope that I pointed at the Challenger R/T.  That’s not to say I’d be unhappy with the Hellcat or the SRT8 – I’d rather just have the 1970 Challenger R/T.  It’s not stupendously quick, safe, or conspicuous.  But, that’s why people buy them.  It’s just something that you will get thumbs up in everywhere.

If I had all three of said Challengers, I would use them as follows:

  • Challenger SRT8 for daily driving
  • Challenger Hellcat for scaring the life out of everybody on the road and road trips
  • Challenger R/T for weekends and road trips

THIS is HEMI Orange.  This is the car that I dream about.  This is the car that I will own before I die.  This is a legend.

This is the new HEMI Orange.  I’m still waiting for that matte black speed stripe on the hood.  Hmmmm…I see some slight modification work to do…

What’s that modification work?  The chrome bumper around the grille and headlights, a black roof, and some mag wheels.

This is under the radar…until you hear it!  I heard one at speed recently, and there’s no real way to describe it.  It’s just the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.  If you want it to be louder, get a set of Cherry Bomb mufflers – they’re smog-legal, and they make more noise than anything this side of a Bonneville landspeed racer.

6 thoughts on “Old Elephants Still Rule

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