Pages From the Past: No Way T/A

10 months ago Heritage

Follow-up albums can be a tough thing for rock ‘n roll bands. The initial spark of genius behind the debut album usually took years to manifest into reality. And often, the band’s best efforts were spent on the first go ‘round.

In the case of the 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A, Dodge’s effort to homologate the Challenger for duty in the SCCA’s Trans Am Sedan road racing series – and to grab a chunk of the corner-carving pony car market launched by the 1967 Camaro Z28 – was a one-year effort.

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A advertisement

Here, “the band” (namely Dodge product planners and engineers) came out swinging with perhaps more base-level, standard-issue equipment than any of its competitors (note: much of the following also applies to Plymouth’s sibling offering, the 1970 AAR ‘Cuda).

While other SCCA Trans Am series homologation packages retained conventional full-length dual exhaust (Camaro Z28, Mustang Boss 302, Firebird Trans Am and Javelin Mark Donohue edition), Challenger T/A delivered outrageous side-exit dual exhaust with first-ever blunt-end mufflers (the inlet and outlet were at the leading ends of the mufflers). And where others equipped their offerings with properly sticky tires and upsized 15-inch rims, only Challenger T/A rocked the industry with America’s first “staggered size” tires.

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A

Mounted to suitably large 15×7 inch wheels (stamped steel on base models, W21 Rally type as optional) were fat E60-15 Goodyear Polyglas “boots” up front and out back, even fatter G60-15 tires of the same make. And to make the nose down effect of the different diameter tires even more stark, specific “increased camber” rear leaf springs lifted the T/As saucy tail even higher off the ground. And to solve the matter of what to do in the event of a flat tire, the first collapsible “Space Saver” tire went into the trunk just in case. As for rotating these mismatched tires for maximum tread wear, Dodge rightly assumed people so “square” as to worry about wringing every last mile out of their tires weren’t buying T/As anyhow. Tire rotation was “not recommended”.

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A

No other Dodge muscle cars went this far, not even the heavy artillery Street HEMIs and 440 Six Packs. Taking things even further, the T/A got its own aero package consisting of a slick trunk lip spoiler (and optional J78 front chin spoiler for $28,95) with aggressive body-side tape stripe graphics running along the front fenders and doors before abruptly terminating on a jaunty diagonal angle triggered by the inner line of the roof’s B-pillar.

And in typical Mopar® fashion, the driveline wasn’t ignored. Thanks to an SCCA rules relaxation for the 1970 model year, carmakers no longer had to whip up special 5.0-liter (305-cubic-inch) V8s to meet the on-track law limiting racers engines to 5.0 liters. These street-going homologation cars could now go big. And they did.

Though Pontiac’s 1969 Firebird Trans Am got an early “easement” in ’69 allowing the Ram Air 400 for street-going T/As, for 1970, the Camaro’s Z28 went from 302 to 350 cubes and Ford got ready to poke and stroke its Boss 302 into the Boss 351 for 1971. As for Dodge, the natural Challenger T/A (and AAR ‘Cuda) engine was the high-winding 340.

But being the chronic over-delivery specialists they were – and continue to be – Dodge drivetrain engineers replaced the 340’s single 4-barrel carburetor with a pint-sized version of the 440 Six Pack using a lightweight aluminum 6-bbl intake manifold from Edelbrock – but with the 440-sized (1,350 cfm) trio of 2300-series Holley 2-barrel carbs mounted in tandem. Power went from 275 to 290, but everyone knew the reality was the 4-barrel 340’s real-world 310 horse rating jumped to around 340 with the extra breathing potential. The new and improved 340 Six Pack (340 6BBL in Plymouth-speak) was so new it even got its own in-house Chrysler engineering designation. While the 1968 340 4-barrel was the A105, the 1970 340 Six Pack became the A340).

But there was more. Though many mistaken historians have claimed the Challenger T/A’s 340 Six Pack had a special solid lifter camshaft, all the better for higher rpm capability before valve train flutter, they were confused by the fact the specially prepared 340 Six Pack also got special cylinder heads. Though functionally identical to the excellent 340 head castings, these new heads were cast with thicker port walls to allow for major porting work to be done. The level of material removed from a standard set of 340 head castings would have cut through to air and scrapped the effort.

But the extra metal on the A340 (T/A) heads allowed cylinder head magicians working with the SCCA race teams to hog out the ports to the volumes needed for race use. Because the added metal was on the outside of the port walls, the push rods would have made contact and rubbed. So to wiggle the push rods’ tubular mass outward the small amount needed, special offset rocker arms were devised. Though the standard 340 (A105) rocker arms were simple stamped steel items of one-piece construction, for the new A340 (Six Pack) items, Dodge (once again) overdelivered with stiffer forged steel rocker arms, drilled and tapped to accept adjustable pivot balls and locking nuts.

The locking nuts were a nice bonus. Though totally unnecessary with the 340’s self-adjusting multi-piece hydraulic lifters, SCCA Trans Am racers uniformly discarded these low-rpm “street” items and replaced them with aftermarket adjustable rocker arms that opened the door to much more radical aftermarket (and factory) camshafts with race-winning specifications. Happily, the 340 Six Pack’s forged rocker arms came equipped with the needed adjustability thus saving race teams the several-hundred-dollar investment in aftermarket rocker arms.

The 340 Six Pack’s engine block was also different. Though equipped with the same durable two-bolt main caps as the 340 4-barrel, like the special cylinder heads, engineers added metal to the bearing bulkheads that allowed race teams to drill and tap them for four-bolt main bearing caps, a necessity when racing on the professional level.

And finally, as if all of these goodies weren’t enough, power front disc brakes were included and Dodge whipped up a special fiberglass hood for the Challenger T/A that fed cool, dense, outside air to a special ovoid air cleaner mounted in a rectangular metal tray sealed to the underside of the fiberglass hood skin with a thick rubber gasket. Rolled together (plus a fast ratio steering box, rear anti-sway bar and more), these goods elevated the already potent Challenger into the legendary Challenger T/A.

Dodge offered the Challenger T/A upgrade package as A53, priced an extra $865.70 on top of the base Challenger V8’s $2,953, for a total of $3,820. This price got buyers all of the special 340 Six Pack goodies with either a 4-speed or 727 TorqueFlite® (buyer’s choice, either transmission was included in the A53 T/A package with no external charge), the unique tail-high suspension, crazy side-exit exhaust, sinister body graphics and yes, that wicked snorkel-like hood was part of the deal.

By contrast, a base Challenger R/T with a 383 Magnum and floor shifted 3-speed manual transmission cost $3,266, $554.70 less than a T/A. If the 383 Magnum’s 330 horses and 425 ft/lb wasn’t enough, for $3,591 the 440 Magnum’s ($130.45) 375-horsepower and 480 ft/lbs could be had. Since the 383 Challenger R/T’s base A230 3-speed manual gearbox wasn’t tough enough for the tall deck 440 Magnum, 440 buyers were forced to choose between the 4-speed ($194.95) or 727 TorqueFlite ($227.05). Sweetly, the big Dana 60TM monster axle was included in the 4-speed’s $194.95 price tag, the deal of the century for axle fetishists. But thanks to the 727’s cushioning effect on upshifts, 440 Challenger R/T’s retained the 8-3/4 rear axle (unless one of two extra cost Track Packs were specified which put a Dana behind the 727 TorqueFlite).

And if the 440 Magnum’s single 4-barrel carburetor wasn’t extreme enough, for $3,710.50 you’d have a 440 Six Pack ($249.55), 4-speed ($194.95), Dana 60 (still free with the 4-speed) Challenger R/T sitting in your driveway. This was still $109.50 cheaper than the Challenger T/A’s $3,820 price tag. For the ultimate in forward acceleration – and cruise night status appeal – for $4,239.70 ($419.70 less than the Challenger T/A) you had King Kong, a 4-speed HEMI engine-powered Challenger with the 425-horsepower Street HEMI engine ($778.75), 4-speed ($194.95) and Dana 60 (yep, again it was free with the stick).

With all of this choice – and its rather high price tag – Dodge still managed to sell 2,399 Challenger T/As in 1970, 989 with 4-speed transmissions and the rest (1,410) with TorqueFlite automatics. Ok, so that brings us up to date on the 1970 Challenger T/A. So what’s the deal with this month’s Pages From The Past magazine advertisement?

Depicted for all of the world to see in numerous car magazines in the late fall of 1970 was an 8-page, full-color pull-out ad for the 1971 Dodge Scat Pack lineup. On the fifth page, between pages devoted to the Challenger R/T and Demon 340, appears this fascinating item. Perched motionless at the apex of a corner that’s obviously at a race track – perhaps somewhere within Dodge’s exclusive Chelsea, Michigan, Proving Grounds – is what appears to be a 1971 Citron Yella Challenger T/A.

While major external differences between 1970 and 1971 Challengers are minor, the key detail are the twin rectangular grille inserts. A close look at the magazine image leaves one with the distinct impression they’ve been added with an artist’s air brush. The small “Dodge” logo on the driver side is obviously highlighted a bit for clarity. Perhaps it was a regular 1970 T/A standing in until actual 1971 production commenced – with the obsolete 1970 details covered up.

But beyond the grille, the rest of the car looks legit, right down to the boundary effect hood scoop, hood pins, side-exit exhaust trumpets, rear-mounted radio antenna (needed because of the fiberglass hood’s inability to shield it from ignition system electronic interference from the ignition distributor and spark plug wires), big-and-bigger E and G series Goodyear tires, tail spoiler and base-level 15×7 steel wheels with center caps and trim rings.

Newspaper article

The ad copy claims it’s the “end of the road for the Do-It-Yourself Kit” (which echoes the message of the classic 1968 Charger R/T “Ramrod” magazine which touted: “Charger R/T just arrived. End of the road for the do-it-yourself kit, Charlie”) and says the Challenger T/A is built “just the way you’d do it yourself. If you had the time. And the money. Yeah, the money. Frankly, it would probably cost you more to do it yourself. So why bother with do-it-yourself dreams? Check out this bargain for the man who’d rather be moving than building.”

The ad continues with a list of standard equipment that’s unchanged from the ingredients list applied in 1970 – with one glaring (and easily overlooked) exception. The first item is listed as “340 4-bbl. V8”. Woah! Wait a second…the “4-bbl.” refers correctly to the same high-winding 340 small block used in 1970, but is not the same as a 6-bbl. Is it possible Dodge planned to de-content the second-year Challenger T/A by eliminating the exotic Edelbrock / Holley Six Pack of 1970? It seems so.

Elsewhere in the 8-page advertising supplement, a close search reveals no mention of any Six Pack other than the 440 Six Pack, as offered in the Challenger and Charger R/T at extra cost. Mention of the 340 4-bbl. is limited to the Challenger R/T page (“…A few words for the hearty…340, 440 Six Pack, Hemi…See your dealer”) and the Demon 340 (“340-cu.-in. 4-bbl. V8 premium fuel).

History has proven that exactly zero Challenger T/As were sold to the public in 1971. Unfortunately, the 1970 offering was a one-and-done deal. But the existence of this high-profile, full-color magazine ad for the car that never was has triggered much confusion in the collector car world. In fact, there are folks who still insist that 1971 Challenger T/As were built – as they point to this magazine ad.

It all goes to support the fact that fine print at the end of many “official” advertising materials is the only item that can be taken at 100-percent face value. In this case, it reads: “All product illustrations and specifications are based on authorized information. Although all descriptions are believed to be correct at publication approval, accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Some of the equipment shown on product illustrations is optional, at extra cost. Dodge Division reserves the right to make changes from time to time, without notice or obligation, in prices, specifications, colors and materials, and to change or discontinue models.”

This ad was created in August of 1970 and appeared in the November 1970 issue of Car and Driver magazine. Clearly, Dodge was still gung-ho on the Challenger program. But as Dodge looked back on the 1970 sales year in early 1971, the numbers showed that Dodge Division sales had slipped by 10.75 percent versus 1969 (543,020 vehicles versus 608,452). The all-new Challenger E-body was struggling for recognition amid a flooded pony car marketplace.

Going up against the Mustang-Cougar-Camaro-Firebird-Javelin stampede, Challenger entered a highly competitive, 6-year-old pony car marketplace that had already peaked by 1970 as baby boomers started having their own kids and sought larger cars than the essentially 2-seat pony cars that got them in trouble in the first place. And with in-house competition coming from Plymouth’s also-new E-body Barracuda, just 83,032 Challengers were built in 1970 (and only 50,617 Barracudas / ‘Cudas), a disappointing tally that certainly must have stifled corporate interest in model proliferation of cars like the T/A.

And so it was that 1971 never delivered on the promise of a follow-up to the mighty 1970 Challenger T/A. Oh, what could have been! But was this the end for the Challenger T/A? Not so fast … well actually, yes, very fast. The 2017 model year brought us a revived Challenger T/A based on the third-generation LC-platform Challenger. Though the 340 small block, Six Pack induction, staggered tires and side exhaust weren’t resurrected, Dodge wisely reserved the T/A package for HEMI engine-powered models only, adding Hellcat-style inner headlamp Air Catchers, retro-inspired graphics and spoilers and, truthfully, far more power and performance capability than any vintage Challenger – the mighty Street HEMI included – let alone the 340 Six Pack (especially when the outrageous modern 392 T/A with 480 horsepower is considered).

Retro or new, the Challenger T/A is a desirable machine. Just don’t let anyone try to convince you Dodge built any in 1971…

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