Curbside Classic CA Vacation Sunday's Posts On Saturday Edition: 1981 Dodge Challenger

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic ca vacation sundays posts on saturday edition 1981 dodge challenger

On Sunday, we hit the road back home to Eugene. I’ve shot more cars than I’ve had time to post, and we’ll come back to some of them soon, like on a coming President’s birthday (hint). I’m going to keep throwing up a few posts from my hangout at Peet’s in Half Moon Bay, until Stephanie is finished doing her thing. So let’s start (or end, depending) with this 1981 Dodge Challenger. And don’t overlook this triple CC: the Toyota van and a Mitsubishi/Dodge pickup in the driveway.

Obviously, when folks think “Dodge Challenger”, they tend to think of the original and the current one. But in between was the gen2 Challenger, a rebadged Mitsubishi Galant Lancer sold as the Plymouth Sapporo and this Dodge Challenger from 1978 through 1983. And there were two versions of this car; the pre-’81, and the ’81 and on, like this one. I’ve got a cherry early version Sapporo in the can, but when I found this second series Challenger, it was show-and-tell time.

These Mitsu coupes were pretty garish in their first incarnations: padded half-vinyl roofs; bright landau bands, carriage lights, garish colors and over-stuffed interiors; they were trying way too hard to be down-sized Chrysler Cordobas or Dodge Miradas. But the second series, like this ’81, took a decidedly sportier turn: cleaner flanks, a “normal” roof, and lots of graphics to suggest a sporty demeanor. Did it work?

Now here’s an interesting thought: all three generations of Challengers came with “hemi” engines, although only the first two were true hemis. We all know about the legendary 426 hemi available in the ’70 and ’71 Challengers; in reality very few were actually built that way. And the current Chrysler “hemi” isn’t really a true hemi; its combustion chamber is best described as a modified pent roof, since a true hemispherical chamber runs too dirty for smog regs. But the Mitsu 2.6 four, like so many fours back then, had hemispherical heads; not that it resulted in anything too dramatic in terms of actual performance. But why didn’t they put big HEMI badges on this little puppy?

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  • Accs Accs on Jan 09, 2010

    Wh, Wh, Wh, What, what, HAPPENED?! If I didnt know better... Ida thought it was a early Fox body Mustang with some awful badge work.. and a early messed up rear clip.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on May 12, 2010

    Couldn't they have called it something other than Challenger? This should have been a Chrysler deadly name sin if there ever was one for this under performing pony dog show of a car that was anything but a Challenger. The oil burning 2.6 POS was capable of strolling to 60 in 11-12 seconds which any good Mustang or Camaro Z-28 could out perform, even the low point 1982 edition with it's weak carbed 145 HP 305 V8! And that was assuming it would accelrate at all for the light weight and RWD configuration made it all but impossible to take off on any surface that was snow covered or slippery! The exterior tried too hard to be Japans version of a Chrysler. It didn't work then and it still doesn't today. The interior was a mass of black lunged ribbing and I rememeber riding in numerous examples of this time period with warped dashes from the sun, center consoles that wobbled more than a drunk lady and lots of ill fitting pieces. If this exact car were made by Chrsyler I would bet that it would be under the Deadly Sin series faster than this slug could accelerate from a stop sign.

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).